Negative connotations of ‘bossy’ detrimental to female confidence

Opinions Columnist | Journalism Sophomore

The word “bossy” feeds into the gender stratification that places leadership roles with men and gives negative connotations to any female who breaks away from submissive roles.

“Ban Bossy” is a campaign created by Facebook C.O.O. Sheryl Sandberg and the Girl Scouts organization. The campaign is all about extinguishing the word “bossy” and promoting leadership among young girls.

As a little girl, “bossy” might as well have been my birth name seeing as I was called it so much. I have always been a planner and the person in my group of friends to put ideas into action. Somehow, my planning and stepping up was labeled as being too pushy and yes, bossy, negative connotation and all.

At this stage in my life, the word “bossy” hurts me no more than being called short. It is no more than an obvious observation—but as a young child, this was not the case. I would do anything to stop this association, including not volunteering to read aloud in class or be line-leader. I could not contain myself, however, and I eventually gave in and lived with the label “bossy” like some kind of premature pimple, festering and permanent.

Bossy can be detrimental to young impressionable females and can prevent them from achieving their full potential when they are constantly criticized for asserting themselves. The term “bossy” not only encourages gender stereotypes. It can diminish a young female’s self-esteem and prevent her from taking any type of leadership role in society.

During this constant internal struggle of whether to raise my voice, I never once heard a male friend being called bossy—assertive, yes, but bossy, no. In fact, according to a Google Ngram, books over the past century have had the term “bossy” referring to girls four more times than boys. This is because boys are labeled leaders and decisive, while girls are left with the negative term “bossy.”

If society is going to strive to create an equal environment for men and women, it must get to the root of the problem. Even if equality is achieved, women are not likely to step up if they have been indoctrinated to avoid being bossy since birth.

The argument that this whole campaign is counterintuitive and plays into the negative characterization of feminism that puts restrictions on society rather than creating options is completely absurd. While the campaign is technically named “Ban Bossy,” it stands for something bigger than a word. The fight is not against the word itself, but against the idea that women having leadership roles is a negative thing.

By middle school, young girls are less likely to pursue leadership roles. This, unfortunately, extends beyond adolescence. According to an article in the Wall Street Journal, while women earn the majority of college degrees, they make up less than 20 percent of leadership roles, including CEOs of Fortune 500 companies, Congress members and heads of state. If there is to be any hope to increase the number of women in leadership roles, society must first allow females to be confident and lead freely without the fear of being ostracized.

People must realize how powerful words can truly be. The word “bossy” has enough strength and meaning behind it to completely stop a young girl in her tracks from growing into the leader she is capable of being. Young boys do not face this, and neither should girls. If there is any hope for equality, society must obliterate the word “bossy” and stand behind these possible future leaders.