Bossy? Bitchy? Why, thank you!
It’s not the only B-word I’ve been called. Not by a long shot, and it also runs a far distant second place to the Big Girl B-word.
“Bossy” is the shiny new buzzword of the week. Facebook Chief Operating Officer Sheryl Sandberg recognized that girls who demonstrate leadership skills — such as assertiveness, argumentativeness and competitiveness — get called “bossy.” Boys do not. Boys get called leaders for the exact same behavior. “Bossy” is an attempt to shame girls into behaving like little ladies, and in particular, not telling the boys what to do. And “bossy” is just “bitch” before it has hormones. Bossy girls are just baby bitches, and will one day grow up to stand in good bossy, bitchy company, like Madonna, Barbara Walters, Margaret Thatcher, Oprah and Hillary Clinton.
Sandberg teamed up with another bossy gal, former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, and the Girl Scouts organization to launch the “Ban Bossy” campaign to curtail the “bossy” labeling of assertive girls. There’s even a website: banbossy.com.
I’m with this in spirit. However, I take issue with the strategy. We don’t make girls strong by coddling them and sheltering them from everything that hurts their feelings. Imagine that we’re teaching girls martial arts. Would we try to get crescent kicks to the head banned or would we teach girls to anticipate an oncoming kick and learn to avoid it, and, more important, should that kick meet its target, learn to shake it off, keep their fists up, and return the kick twice as hard?
Me, I’m a “return the kick” kinda gal. Maybe it’s because I grew up riding horses, and Barbara Worth (the meanest, most cantankerous, and by far the best riding instructor ever) was my instructor. All Barbara’s students feared getting yelled at far worse than anything a horse could do to us. If we were thrown, she’d roar at us to get back in the saddle and do it again. And we did — still covered in dirt and half-rattled from being launched head-first into a plywood brick wall at a dead run.
Contrast that to today’s riding instructors, who probably direct today’s fragile children to go sit down for awhile before getting back on the horse, while Mom and Dad hover nervously over their golden child and readjust all their elbow pads and kneepads.
God, I hate today’s kids.
No. I take it back. Today’s parents. I hate them. They’re raising an entire generation of crybabies and creampuffs. And girls who shrink away and cry if someone calls them bossy.
The takeaway from my riding story is this: You got knocked out of the saddle. You hit the ground hard. Yes, it hurts. Yes, you might even be crying (for God’s sake, don’t let Barbara see!!!). Get back on the horse and do it again. Feel the pain and do it anyway. And, with no fear. When you’re facing five-foot high fences on a huge, galloping animal with a mind of its own, fear is death. Transmute your fear into determination. Do it again. And if you fall again, get back up and do it again, and again and again, until you clear that fence. YOU are the boss. Not the horse. And certainly not your fear.
Sheryl, Condi, Girl Scouts — listen up. You don’t make a girl (or boy, for that matter) tough and resilient by padding their lives against every little thing that might hurt their feelings. Feelings got hurt? Deal with it. Teach children to take responsibility for their reactions to other people’s words. You have two choices: You can accept someone’s attempts to label you or you can reject their labels as erroneous. That goes for “bossy” or “bitch,” and “ugly,” “fat” and “stupid” too. Calling someone something doesn’t make it reality. Don’t believe me? Call me a giraffe and see if I grow a long neck.
Secondly, reframe what “bossy” means: I’m bossy. I’m a bitch. So what. Bring it. Whatever. In fact, thank you!
Girls, you have my permission to use my favorite response when I get called “bitch”: “What’s your point?” In your head, learn to hear bossy in male terminology: Tough. What’s bossy for the goose is tough for the gander. No, it’s not fair. Or even accurate. Welcome to the world. You can spend your energy trying to make the world be fair and accurate, or you can spend it facing reality and taking it on. With both fists up.
Bossy girls and both future and fellow bitches, don’t ban your inner B. Embrace your inner B. Don’t hear B-words as insults, hear them as compliments. Victories, even. People who attempt to belittle you or put you in your place by calling you names have run out of valid arguments. Name-calling is the last desperate attempt from someone who has already lost the battle but can’t quite accept it. Got called “bossy”? Bitch? Don’t run away crying. NEVER let them see you cry. You can cry later. Funnel those welling tears into anger. Well-channeled anger is the fuel for determination and strategy.
Kick back, and make it sting!
Get back in that saddle!
One of my favorite quotes is “Well-behaved women seldom make history.” And unless you’re Mother Theresa, this is so true. Girls and women need to toughen up, and not fear their own power. As my friend author Amy Ferris loves to say, “Make a ruckus.”
You want to shake things up? Assert yourself in an astonishingly still patriarchal world? You won’t do it by being a well-behaved little lady.
#BanBossy? Hell no. #BossyGirlsRule.