An Open Letter to the Ban Bossy Campaign


Dear Sheryl,

You’ve asked us to ban bossy. I object. I’ve disagreed with your point of view on “leaning in” since seeing your first interview on TV. I’ve read excerpts of your book and like the overall message.

What I don’t like is taking a word that already has a negative connotation and banning it in order to give it a positive one. Your point is that we want girls to think being bossy is good because being someone’s boss is good. I get the logic, I just don’t think you can play with the meaning of words that way (Sorry, but I’m an English teacher and words are my thing).

Bossy has never been a compliment in my vernacular. It’s a criticism and it’s pretty universal. I have called my son bossy, my daughter bossy, my husband bossy and have even called myself bossy (when I deserved it!) The last time my son was reprimanded for being bossy, I did not think to myself “oh what a great leader he’ll be!” I’ve thought this: He’s being rude and he needs to be told he’s being rude so he knows that telling people what to do is—-well, rude.

To make my point, I looked up the etymology of the word boss. It’s actually a derivative of “master.” Meaning that a person who is acting bossy is acting like they own or are in charge of another person. My child will never act like that in my presence–without correction. And if he gets a negative connotation to bossy, he should! It means “domineering, fond of ordering people about.” And if I saw either of my children doing this, I would call them bossy. I would teach them that being bossy is being rude. If you want to ask someone to do something, you are gracious and polite. Bossiness will get you no where.

Your story is that your siblings gave a toast at your wedding and identified themselves as “your first employees.” You make the comment that this is funny only because you are a woman. I don’t know why but I see this so, so differently. People who want to push forward and want to lead find their way through any number of experiences and opportunities. Some are encouraged by their parents and family, some aren’t. SOME of these factors have to do with gender, race, ethnicity, socio-economic background, etc. and some don’t. You showed early signs of being a leader. I don’t think there’s anything bad about noting that.

Surely men and women aren’t equal in the opportunities, promotions, wages and accolades they are given. I’m not arguing that this is a fact. But I just don’t think that women have to be treated the same as men TO BE leaders. We are fundamentally different in what society expects of us and what we are capable of doing. We should instead be looking for girls to change the face of leadership. We don’t have to lean in to learn more, we should be stepping up to expect better.

I agree that words are powerful. I think the adjectives we use to describe our children are important. But I do think that bossy can easily be substituted for “bratty” (the preschool version of b@&$$) or “bold” or “fresh.” These are all words I use with my kids to say they are speaking in a way to someone else that gives the idea that they are better than him/her.

Instead, I’ll take your Ban Bossy
Campaign and start using words that are empowering to boys and girls alike. Clever, smart, resourceful, inspired, creative, brave, thoughtful. Because if we want our words to have import we have to use the definitions that have been “employed” (see what I did there?) for ages. And those words and their positive connotation will always describe a leader that I would like my children to aspire to be.

Not all leaders are bossy. Not all bossy kids are leaders (I dare say many aren’t). And correcting bossiness should not be see as stifling. Unless being a leader is synonymous with being rude, being a “boss” or manager or CEO or principal or president does not have to do with being bossy.


Shortcut Girl

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