Please Don’t Call Your Daughter Bossy

In a recently published Wall Street Journal interview of Sheryl Sandberg, COO of Facebook, and Anna Chavez, CEO of Girl Scouts of the USA, they implored parents to not let their daughters be called bossy. Both of these successful women admit to being called bossy and aggressive from a young age. They were often told to keep their voices down, not to lead and to not raise their hands so often in class. Interestingly, the term bossy is almost exclusively used in connection with females and the term does not carry a positive connotation. This adjective peaked in its use in the 1930s, when it was deemed unthinkable for a woman to “steal” a job from a man and reached it highest use in the 1970s with the rapidly growing women’s movement. Even our dictionaries use female pronouns or the word woman when giving a definition or usage example for the word bossy. Ms. Sandberg points out in light of this informaton that it should not surprise anyone that even though women earn the majority of college degrees they lag men in leadership positions as elected government officials and in executive postings within the Fortune 500.

Calling a girl bossy not only affects how she views herself but it also can dampen any goals or aspirations she has been picturing for her future and creates an aversion to leadership. What seems to be even more important is the affect this word’s usage has on people hearing it and their treatment of those it is bestowed upon. Studies have shown that in public school settings teachers call on boys more frequently, allow them to be more assertive and shout out answers more than girls. Parents have been shown to be culprits also because they admit to being more prone to encourage and place importance on leadership skills for their sons than their daughers between the ages of eight and seventeen. What a crucial time, the teenage years, for our daughters to need positive reinforcement for their decision making skills. This negative treatment does not stop with adulthood either. Society glorifies aggressive successful men and even women tend to dislike successful and powerful women. Ms. Sandberg points out that historically celebrated female leaders cannot escape insult; from Margaret Thatcher to her modern day counterpoints of Sandra Day O’Connor and Hillary Clinton these women have been labeled as intrusive, too ambitious, difficult and nasty.

The truth is our world needs great leaders from all walks of life and as parents we need to infuse leaderships skills in our sons and daughters equally. Homeschooling families have a unique opportunity to not engage in gender bias and help our children learn to appreciate great ideas and leadership skills when they see and hear them. If you would like to stay up to date on what Ms. Sandberg and Ms. Chavez are working on their public service campaign site is banbossy.com.

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