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Your urgent thoughts, urging action

In Defense of Bossy Girls

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March 20, 2014

Sheryl Sandberg, Facebook’s chief operating officer and the author of the famous Lean In, is calling for a ban on the word bossy. Sandberg argues that words are powerful and that the word bossy discourages girls from taking on leadership positions, ultimately holding them back long-term.

I love the message this campaign sends to young women as well as those who help raise them. Words do matter, they are incredibly powerful, and the way they’re used when we’re growing up helps to shape the way we interact with the world around us. “Bossy” girls are often strong-willed and opinionated, two of my favorite attributes in any person and vital skills that we need in the workplace and in society. 

But I’d argue that another huge part of being taught to lead is being empowered to say “no.” Good leaders say yes when things are right and no when they’re not. As a society we spend too much time telling girls that it’s not okay to say “no” while we tell the rest of the world that when a girl’s talking, yes means yes and no means maybe. Girls who can’t say no will not only struggle in their professional lives (taking on too much at work or in the home, for example) but also in personal relationships.

When girls are brought up to shy away from taking leadership positions and being empowered in their personal lives, they will struggle to define their sexuality and their sexual relationships on their own terms. Banning “bossy” isn’t just about young women in the workplace, it’s about young women who are told not to be bossy about their bodies. Young women are told that their desires are unimportant, that their bodies are commodities, that others should be able to make choices for them and their bodies. When we tell girls that being “bossy” about their bodies is wrong, we deny them the chance to authentically make choices for themselves. I, for one, love girls who can be bossy.

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