Wednesday, March 12, 2014

Why You Should Not Call Your Daughter Bossy But a Boss Lady

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By Nkem Akinsoto

Yesterday, there was the news that the Girl Scouts with support from Sheryl Sandberg, COO of Facebook, wants to ban the word bossy, used as a perjorative against little outspoken girls who begin to show leadership qualities early in life. A discussion with Atala took me down memory lane.

I remember I was called stubborn a lot growing up. A lot of people grumbled when between 8 - 9 years, I would lead my younger brother and other boys our age in exploring the neighborhood, we also climbed trees and played football. Sometimes when we fought, I emerged victorious.

My mother took strict action when at 10 I took my first common entrance exams. My leading the troop, tomboy days were basically over as I got locked indoors to focus on getting ready for the exams. I also got instructions on how to be a girl, the only allowed play being dancing, and oga'. Since those got boring quickly, I buried my head in novels where Georgiana of the Famous Five, gave me life.

But bossines in a book set in fantasy England is different from bossiness in Enugu, Nigeria. My first incident of bullying was in primary 6 when a classmate punched me on the playground for being a stubborn girl. I was the class captain, he had told me to remove his name from the list of noisemakers and I refused.

So at break time, he found me and meted justice. Some words he hurled before his fist flew included stubborn, bossy, ITK (I too know or know it all for the uninitiated). He told me that as a girl, and a small one at that, I should do what he told me. I tried to fight back but I was not punching in my size, I'm short now, then I was tiny, and he was easily the biggest in our class.

I was 11 years old.

Those words have stayed with me. Bossy, Pushy, Aggressive, Stubborn, Assertive.

As a teenager, I tried to tone down that part of me, while being groomed in Queen's school to be seen and not heard, and at Science School, to obey before complain. I stopped raising my hands to ask or answer questions in class. I stopped pushing myself forward for positions of authority among my peers. When appointed, I played the role poorly just so I did not tick anyone off.

At home, I was being groomed to be a young woman who would soon get married, and my mom and everyone, including the home videos warned me I would never find or keep a man with an outspoken attitude. That warning of being unmarried was supposed to strike fear into my life, and partly it did. Though I still got into one or two fights, mostly, I stayed away from leadership positions and kept my mouth shut when I could.

But I continued to read novels, and the people I met in them kept telling me that some things I dreamed off could only be got from being pushy. So those traits stayed with me though I was a quite confused by then.

My first year in Uni was the epitome of all this confusion. Did I want to be a doctor or not? But a doctor had to be a leader, right? Why should I get a first class when I was a second class person? Should I focus on books or boys, seeing as some of my classmates were already getting married? Who should I please, myself or the society represented by the men around me?

My poor results woke me up. Forget society, I was not happy at my performance, and I knew I could do better if I allowed myself to be more assertive, and to begin to raise my hand up again in class. But I got in trouble for it soon enough. With a Senate position campaign under my belt, as well as two consecutive years on the executive of our dept. association, and some stints as class rep or assistant, a male coursemate slapped me when we were in final year. By then I was more mature, so I turned the other cheek. The particular reason for the attack I cannot remember now, but it had to do with me trying to "boss" him around.

Anyway, that incident still didn't cure me of my pushiness and by the time I graduated uni, I stopped apologizing for being bossy, and started striving to be a boss in all parts of my life.

Today, I'm happy with being a boss lady. There may have been road blocks and detours but those were all chance. If I had begun to doubt or change who I was so as to please some boys and men my life would have definitely been less happy and less fulfilled than it is. And although I survived being called bossy, I know that some other girl's ambitions could have been truncated by those very words. So I say yes to Ban Bossy


I know it's a controversial campaign, and may never take off. But the fact is that girls are called bossy four times more than boys, and women face the same in the workplace where bossy is used in a way to make them feel ashamed of themselves when they try to assert themselves or lead others.

I also know that bossy can sometimes mean that a person is overbearing and egotistical, and loves to dominate without taking other people's feelings or contributions into account. If that is your little girl, friend or work colleague, correct in love with the right words, not bossy.

However, if your little girl is simply exhibiting leadership skills in the way that other children follow her lead happily, then encourage her. Do not call her bossy or try to put her in her place, behind the boys. That could be the future president you just replaced.


  1. God bless you for this write-up Myne. We basically had the same life experiences. But my dad encouraged me to strive for and push for things. My mother know mothers, the 'long term' ie marriage is the major concern. But she played her part and my father's encouragement was the loudest. He pushed me to read every piece of literature I found, to ask questions, to be direct, to look people in the eyes etc. But it gets confusing when you are being groomed for greatness at home but outside, society insists on curbing your enthusiasm. I eventually went the way I was groomed at home: take no prisoners, claw your way to the top, be strong, think for yourself, question things. Yes, some people have used bossy, stubborn, argumentative, loud mouth to describe me but you know what, I wear those things as a badge of honour. I am not bossy, I am a BOSS. I totally support this movement. It is time to end the suffering of little girls who are like I once was; who have often confused their innate leadership skills with being ornery because that is what society tells them. *sorry for the post /comment btw.*

  2. I hope my girl grows into a boss lady...I promise to do all I can to help her be who she is! Great piece.

  3. I think my favorite part of the initiative is that they were smart enough to focus on children. Our next generation should not feel the need to down because of their gender.

  4. For the sake of gender equity, I would prefer boss to boss lady. Great write up.


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