I was sitting in a meeting with about 15 of my peers. The conversation had wandered and lost any productive integrity it initially held. I tried to get it back on track: sum what everyone had said, paraphrase the meaning I gleamed, ask action plan ideas.
"Someone's feeling awfully bossy today."
I stopped speaking, astounded and hurt. That word hit me like a curse and slammed me into the back of my seat. Why does leadership have a negative connotation?
That was not the first time I had been called bossy – just ask either of my poor, permanently scarred siblings – and I am sadly convinced that it will not be the last.
To be fair, I have spent more than my fair share of time bossing people around. When appropriately done, being called out can be incredibly edifying. We must, however, be conscious of the language we use to describe one another.
I submit that this issue is larger than my lack of personal refinement. It is not reaching to state that the language used to describe women in our culture differs largely from the language used to describe men. It does not take a cultural anthropologist to realize that sexism is alive and well in our culture.
While you have probably seen – and hopefully participated in – debates about degrading language on social media or in your classrooms, popular debates often center around the language of the obvious: cursing, rape culture, graphic physical descriptors. I encourage you to go deeper. This form of sexism is far more subtle than cat-calls, and it has expressed presence in your life since your toddling days.
As a child, I was constantly reminded not to be bossy. Most of the time, I had no intentions of being rude or hurtful; I simply stepped up when no one else would.
I was not taking college-level leadership courses. There were no clubs in which I might serve in office. I was not refined; I was a 5-year-old.
I dearly wish that in those pure moments when I had chosen to lead for the sake of task accomplishment rather than a resume or recommendation, I had been rewarded and developed. Each time I have been called bossy, my future has been diminished.
Even as I mourn the loss of opportunities for my own accomplishment, I shudder at the thought of bossy young women across our culture being shut down each and every day.
Like I said, subtle.
The term "bossy" is used almost exclusively to describe the systematically limited as they attempt greatness: children and women who have overstepped the constraints of their roles.
Hillary Clinton is the perfect example: despite her many accomplishments– (first First Lady to serve as a Senator or member of the Cabinet, third female Secretary of State – and continuous passionate advocacy for the needy (about 15 years of fighting for healthcare reform), many Daily Beacon readers would only describe her as bossy if asked – or perhaps, even worse, a more indelicate b-word would be used.
Feeling despair at my gloomy cultural assessment? Luckily, I have a solution: a new nonprofit founded by Ms. Sandberg, called Ban Bossy and endorsed by a diverse range of women and groups, from Beyoncé to the Girls Scouts of America. The Ban Bossy campaign aims to encourage girls to lead and achieve and, more importantly, generate a culture shift so the organization will be obsolete in the future.
Imagine a world in which we cultivate our children instead of shushing them. Imagine a world in which we recognize and encourage the potential to push boundaries.
Oops, I guess I'm telling you what to do again. But hopefully this time, you'll call me anything but bossy.
Amy Prosise is a junior in human resource management. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.