On Banning the Word “Bossy”


The hot topic in my newsfeed this week is the new movement to ban the use of the word “bossy”.

Some big names are supporting it- Sheryl Sandberg, Beyonce, Diane Von Furstenberg.  Women who’ve been called bossy a time or two in their lifetimes.

And I can get behind it. I think the trend toward squashing leadership initiative in little girls is wrong. I think it’s deprived us of women who might have grown up to be really strong, world changing leaders. At the same time, I think it’s created women who have the ability to rise above the labels that were placed on them to succeed, anyway.

And the most common response I’m reading from those who aren’t behind it?

“People need to be less sensitive. We’re giving a word too much power.”

Followed by:

“Ever been in a preschool classroom? Some of those little girls ARE bossy.”

Well of course they are. They’re four. Ever gotten a kiss from an 18 month old? It’s open mouthed, sloppy, and usually involves mushy cookie crumbs. They’re refining the skill. It takes practice.

But that’s besides the point.

The Ban Bossy movement shouldn’t just be about one word. Every word has power, and more often than we realize, we’re using them in casual, offhanded ways that our kids are remembering.

When my son was a baby, we had a t-shirt that said “Reasons Why I’m in Trouble” and a short list of reasons. It was meant to be cute and to some degree, it was. But the more I thought about it, the more I realized I didn’t want to literally put a label onto him every time he wore it. And people were reading his shirt and parroting it back to him “Oh, are you a troublemaker?!”  And then I started noticing all the clothing out there that has this sort of negative messaging on it. It’s meant to be cute. It’s meant to be harmless. But I couldn’t help but think about all the times someone then called my child whatever his shirt said he was. So we stopped buying them.

This isn’t about banning one word. This is about thinking critically about the words and messages we are feeding to our children, every day. Not just our daughters. About being aware of the things children then carry forward into adulthood. We are teaching them the things they will believe about themselves. Because we’re the very centre of their universe. They believe what we say.

Part of Vivid & Brave’s coaching program involves identifying and then silencing the negative voices in your head. More often than not, those voices have been fed a script from years before, one we heard from our parents, or teachers.

I heard (and still hear) “You’re so sensitive!” But what I really heard was “Your emotions are messy and inconvenient. They make you weak, so you should learn to ignore them.” I’m sure you can guess how well that’s worked out. What I’ve decided to hear is “You feel things with your whole heart, because your heart is open. Be cautious and aware of what you let in.”

So. Ban bossy. Ban sensitive. Ban stubborn, loud, pushy, prissy, weak, lazy. Ban words you are using that are diminishing your child’s light. Choose your words carefully, as though someone will have to carry each one with them. Because they will.

Ban Bossy Movement is More Than One Word

Stephanie Ostermann

I’m the sort of girl who you meet for coffee and end up pouring your entire heart out to. The friend you come to when you need someone to call it straight. No bullshit. No extras. Just truth.

I’m a communicator. That’s a PC way of saying I like to talk, but I also spend a lot of my time listening, and over the years, I’ve developed a sense for subtext – how one or two words can change your entire message, what people are really trying to say and how to weave the varied layers of your story into one cohesive brand message that your clients fall in love with.

When I'm not acting as editor in chief for Vivid & Brave, you can find me geeking out over words here.

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