Feature

Stop calling women ‘bossy’

Let’s ban “She’s bossy.” Instead, let’s try, “She has executive leadership skills.”

Sheryl Sandberg and Anna Maria ChávezThe Wall Street Journal

“Call it the other B-word,” said Sheryl Sandberg and Anna Maria Chávez. Despite growing up with vastly different backgrounds, we both heard the same put-down as kids: “You’re bossy.” And whether it is said directly or simply implied, girls today get the same message: “Keep your voice down. Don’t raise your hand too much. Don’t lead.” Words have meaning, and even subtle messages can have an immense impact on childhood aspirations. Studies have shown that by middle school, girls have less interest in leadership roles than boys do. In the catalog of priorities presented to girls, being seen as “competent” and “independent” just doesn’t stack up against being “popular.” And terms like bossy are just the beginning. “As girls mature, the words may change, but their meaning and impact remain the same.” Bossy becomes “aggressive,” “angry,” “shrill,” and “overly ambitious.” This kind of gendered speech—and the stereotypes that come with it—“become self-fulfilling prophecies,” undermining girls’ ability to see themselves as leaders and discouraging the very traits that are meant to level the playing field. That’s ironic, seeing that “so-called bossy women make great leaders.” So let’s ban “She’s bossy.” Instead, let’s try, “She has executive leadership skills.”

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