So there’s a campaign that’s caught my eye: BanBossy.com is sponsored by Lean In and the Girl Scouts of America, just to name a few, and its message is to promote leadership in young girls while educating the world about the double-standard that exists: boys aren’t bossy, they’re leaders. Girls aren’t leaders, they’re bossy. And that very message is something that silences girls through-out the years, and in some ways teaches them to be passive, though often disguised as teaching them to be polite.
It hits home.
I was definitely called bossy as a kid. But what I remember most about that isn’t the simply the fact I was called bossy (and nosey: those were the two main criticisms leveled at me during my formative years), but rather I remember the people who leveled the criticism at me, and those people were my friends.
Those people were girls.
I never realized how easily those labels held me back, mentally and socially and developmentally. Oh, I was certainly a leader when I was a youth, but I was a deferential one, always: I lacked the self-confidence to really stand for what I believed in because I didn’t want to be aggressive. I also didn’t want to be wrong.
And I remember those criticism, those labels, so clearly: they’re a thorn in the memory of my childhood, and as an adult, I can now fully recognize the power those words had on me: they, in short, shut me up. Because god-forbid I did something that made me less likable. I already felt like an outcast as a kid, so any criticism was taken to heart almost immediately: in order to be liked, I had to be normal. And normal wasn’t bossy. It wasn’t nosey or curious.
This campaign hits home because I wonder now, as an adult, how different I might be if not for those labels. While lately I’ve been working really hard to break my brain of the “What-If” game, I’m quite cognizant of the fact that my interactions with people, everyone from strangers to acquaintances to friends to loved ones, from readers of my blog over the years to my very own husband, are all based on my being able to accommodate, to put my needs aside, to feel like in order to be heard, I have to be super calm and rational and sweet. Don’t get me wrong: there’s nothing wrong with learning how to put other peoples’ needs before your own, so long as you know where the line is, so long as you know when you need to be number one. There’s nothing wrong knowing how to finesse an argument: there’s a time and place for anger, but it’s not always needed, nor is it always necessary to prove that you’re right.
But one of the things I’m realizing this year is that I’m at my most confident at work: I know my job, I know what I’m good at, and I have no trouble seeking help or second opinions when necessary. I’m direct and forthright because I’m an expert in my field, and while sometimes I have to “rounding the edges” a bit, that’s part of learning the art of compromise and finesse. I’m not perfect, but my role as a leader in the workplace is about learning when to lead and when to follow, when to be direct and when to be subtle, what to fight for and what to let go of.
Why I feel this way at work rather than other areas of my life is a story for another day, and probably not an interesting one. However, my point is this: how much braver would I be, right now, if I hadn’t grown up being afraid of being bossy? If curiosity hadn’t been ridiculed? If I hadn’t been taught that in order to succeed, I had to hold back?
Ban bossy. If I had daughters, I’d be right there with Jennifer Garner: I’d teach them to roar. In the meantime, I’ve got some catching up to do.
You can learn more about this campaign, and check out all of the awesome graphics, at BanBossy.com.