A new campaign by the Girl Scouts of America seeks to ban the use of the word “bossy” in describing women in power. In doing so, the organization hopes to encourage girls to become strong leaders – without the social ramifications of being seen as overly aggressive.
According to Anna Maria Chávez, CEO of the Girl Scouts of America, men and boys have been praised throughout history for being “assertive and bold, strong and courageous,” while women and girls have been deemed “bossy” when exhibiting the same characteristics.
Although these words are meant to portray the same meanings, the negative connotations of the word “bossy” have a tangible impact on young girls during their crucial developmental years.
“Words have power and meaning, especially during the critical early grade-school years, when boys and girls alike are developing their sense of self and finding their place in the world. According to the Girl Scouts Research Institute Ban Bossy National Youth Poll 2014, more than a third of girls who are called ‘bossy’ lose interest in leading and stop making decisions or suggestions,” said Chávez in an article for CNN.
Although the message is not necessarily deliberate, recent studies definitively show that society is discouraging girls from exhibiting leadership qualities and pursuing leadership positions for fear of being disliked or being deemed “too aggressive.”
When a girl demonstrating leadership qualities is described as “bossy,” she gets the sense that she is doing something wrong, despite the fact that she is exhibiting the same characteristics as boys her age that are typically praised for being leaders and thus limiting her potential.
According to Chávez, this outcome is a loss for all of us. “We can no longer afford to have half the population sidelined, their skills and their insight ignored, because of the messages they received as girls,” she said.
On a slightly different note, some experts are advocating not to prohibit the use of the word “bossy,” but to alter its connotations: instead of being used as a put-down, the word should be used to describe a strong and ambitious female.
Dr. Sonya Rhodes, an expert on marital and family relationships, upheld this viewpoint in a blog post for The Huffington Post. “I think banning bossy is the wrong approach. Why not own the word instead? It’s just as much our word as anyone else’s, and we can choose to use it in a positive way. Instead of rejecting the word completely, what about teaching girls and boys that bossy is powerful – that it means you have leadership, spunk and guts?” said Rhodes.
Although their intentions may be noble, the “ban bossy” and “own bossy” arguments have received criticism on the opposite end of the spectrum for failing to recognize the fact that some girls are simply introverted.
“Of course it’s good to encourage girls to be leaders. But not all leaders have extroverted personalities. In fact, some of the best ones are quiet, shy loners who were likely never called ‘bossy’ in their lives,” stated Olga Khazan in an article for The Atlantic. “Promoting all forms of ‘bossiness’ among kids might also mean trampling the desires of the meek.”
Despite the differing viewpoints surrounding the use of the word “bossy,” they all share the desire to support all children on their paths to becoming leaders, meaning encouraging extroverted kids to continue to speak up while also respecting the introverted tendencies of others.