This past Monday, Google’s homepage chose to highlight the “Ban Bossy Campaign,” an initiative spearheaded by the Girl Scouts of the United States of America (U.S.A.) and the Lean In Organization. Leanin.org is a nonprofit organization founded by Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg to empower women to “lean in” and achieve their ambitions. The “Ban Bossy” campaign is based on the following message: “When a little boy asserts himself, he’s called a leader. Yet when a little girl does the same, she risks being branded bossy. Words like bossy send a message: don’t raise your hand or speak up. By middle school, girls are less interested in leading than boys — a trend that continues into adulthood.”
The Ban Bossy website points out that “between elementary and high school, girls’ self-esteem drops 3.5 times more than boys,” and “girls are twice as likely as boys to worry that leadership roles will make them seem bossy.” Jennifer Garner, Condoleezza Rice, Jane Lynch and Beyoncé, among other celebrities, have come out in support of the cause.
This new “Ban Bossy” campaign is an incredibly important message to send to girls, and young women as well, to speak up, be heard and trust themselves. It strives to set up an equal playing field for both genders in positions of leadership as well as in life.
Girls and young women should not be afraid of receiving criticism for speaking up. They should, instead, be encouraged to have and express assertive opinions. Women are amazing leaders. Perhaps Beyoncé said it best when she said, “I’m not bossy. I’m the boss.”
We think this new campaign is incredibly important and as such have decided to talk about our own experiences being labeled “bossy.”
I’ve always been my father’s daughter, and not in the stereotypical “Daddy’s Girl” sense. My dad has always been enthusiastic about my achievements, be it in school or on the field, and a lot of this success has been due to his influence and the aspects of his personality that I’ve inherited. Like my father, I am extremely competitive — especially when it comes to sports. When playing soccer and softball in both elementary school and high school, where the pressure is not only on me, but on my teammates as well, I find myself attempting to control the situation as much as possible in ways that will benefit my team and our chances at winning. Unfortunately, this assertive behavior was not always seen in the most positive light. My own teammates, though understanding that I was only being “bossy” because I cared, were frustrated by the way I started to take control. That was something that the coach — usually a man — was supposed to do.
I furthered my role as a leader with the seven years that I served as Student Council Secretary. Four of those seven years I was the only female that held, or even ran for, a position. It was not standard for girls to be interested in public speaking, so many refrained from even trying it. A lot of discouragement comes from the idea that one is “going against the norm” by doing something with connotations depending on one’s gender. Eventually, in addition to playing, I started to volunteer as a Little League Softball coach, a position where this “bossy” behavior was more acceptable — however not taken as seriously as the rest of the coaches, all male, who surrounded me. Yet the “bossiness” that I embodied helped the young athletes turn into better individual players as well as an overall better team. I embraced the “bossy” and competitive part of me and helped others because of it. So why should I — or any other female for that matter — give up part of our identity because society perceives and expects us to act in gender-specific ways? The “Ban Bossy” campaign embodies the ideal that behavior should be gender-neutral and that the term “bossy” means assertive, empowered and not afraid to stand up and speak out for what one believes.
In elementary school, I was always very active and took the lead in group projects. People would occasionally call me bossy or pushy. I would especially notice this pressure against girls, including myself, to speak up and be heard in my math and science classes. At times I would know the answer or have a question but hold back, and I was not sure why. It was sort of assumed that girls were bad at math and could not do well, which was ridiculous, since the best math student in the class was my best friend Cassie (who went on to study aerospace engineering).
Today, I see a lot of the same things at the Rosedale Achievement Center, where I tutor local female students. I have been tutoring there since freshmen year and have had five different students. Every single student has told me that she is “bad” at math, regardless of whether this is actually true or not. It seems to me that girls are surrounded by a culture that tells them they cannot be assertive and cannot do certain things. Girls are afraid of admitting how smart and capable they really are for fear of being labeled. My father is an engineer, and he would never accept my “I’m bad at math” excuse. It was expected that I would pass algebra I coming out of grade school and take calculus in high school — so I did. I was the only student in my eighth grade class to pass the math placement exam for Catholic Schools, and it was because my father told me that I could do it and not to let anyone tell me otherwise. I have been so lucky to have people like my parents, my teachers and my Girl Scout leaders telling me not to be afraid of my own ambition and not to dumb myself down for anyone. I try to teach my students at Rosedale those same values and encourage them to speak up in class, go for that leadership position and ignore anyone who tells them they cannot.
Katie Nolan and Felicia Czochanski are Copy Chief and Assistant Opinion Editor at The Fordham Ram.