Some thoughts on some B words…

MissBossyLately, I’ve been hearing a lot about the word BOSSY, and that it is holding girls back.   There is even a hashtag: #banbossy.

Here’s their argument:

“When a little boy asserts himself, he’s called a “leader.” Yet when a little girl does the same, she risks being branded “bossy.” Words like bossy send a message: don’t raise your hand or speak up. By middle school, girls are less interested in leading than boys—a trend that continues into adulthood. Together we can encourage girls to lead.”

First of all: Really??? If this is true, it’s terrible. Girls should never be discouraged from speaking up. From being leaders. 

But Bossy? Really? Are we that sensitive? These are middle grade readers we’re talking about. I have a hard time believing that this one word holds some kind of power over girls.

What do you think about the word, BOSSY? Why DOES the word, bossy, have such a negative connotation?

Some of my favorite middle grade characters are bossy. The Great Gilly Hopkins was sort of bossy. So were Lyra and Stargirl and every role Barbra Streisand ever played. These girls were unique. Quirky. Interesting. And yes, a bit flawed. As a writer, I love writing about girls who might very well be described as bossy. 

They are strong.

Which is sort of ironic, isn’t it?

But maybe that’s not the point. If ONE WORD gets adults to start paying attention to girls, this sounds good to me! I am for anything that promotes strong healthy girls. I am delighted that the world is starting to pay attention to the development of female leaders and thinkers.

Because frankly, it seems that in our world, especially the middle grade world, we spend a whole lot of time thinking about boys. As the author of a middle grade novel about soccer, I am often asked:

How do you write a book for a boy?

How do we get more boys reading?

(These are important questions. If you like, check out my interview with Rich Wallace…he has a lot to say about the subject.)

But here’s the problem: even though one of the main characters in that soccer book is a girl…and even though I am a girl….I have NEVER been asked how we get girls reading. Or how I reach girls. Or write books for girls. In fact, the discussion is so lopsided that one might conclude that we take girls…as readers and thinkers…for granted.

And THAT is not cool. (Way worse than bossy.)

For the record: Like a lot of authors I know, I needed help finding books. I was not a natural reader or writer.  (But I think I WAS bossy.) I am grateful to the brave teacher who handed me a book that was NOT necessarily marketed to girls.

As a parent, I think it’s dangerous to say, “This is for boys,” or “This is for girls,” because frankly, how do we know? My kids (a girl and a boy) have loved all kinds of books. Making books that weren’t “quite for them” available opened their eyes to new kinds of people and cultures. Those books made them think. And ask questions. As a writer, this is my dream!

When the opposite happens…when a grown up tries to steer a young reader away from a book, it is usually out of fear.

That would be a good thing to ban, too. Fear of books.

So what’s the bottom line? Ban bossy? Are you in?

As writers and teachers and mothers and fathers and librarians and everyone else who cares about the next generation, we should be thinking about all kids, bossy and quiet, loud and silly. Boys and Girls. Just like we need to encourage boys and find them good books, we need to do the same for girls.

Instead, let’s ban limitations. And stereotypes. And low expectations.

Let’s strive to nurture girls with the same attention and enthusiasm that we give boys. Let’s show all kids how to BE AMBITIOUS. Let’s show them how to get beyond labels and talk about strength in a meaningful way.

(And while we’re thinking about this, let’s not forget to thank our kids’ teachers and librarians for helping them find the books that are RIGHT for them.)

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6 Responses to Some thoughts on some B words…

  1. http://www.mediapost.com/publications/article/221747/marketing-ban-bossy-what-went-wrong-and-why-we-ne.html

    It looks like MediaPost agrees with you too Sarah. :) JMO, we need to come to some kind of understanding that girls/women – OK, people period – all have unique strengths and goals and it’s all right to structure our interpersonal interactions and careers accordingly and differently. It’s what I see feminism consistently missing and as a woman and the mom of a daughter, it’s profoundly frustrating.

  2. Great job, Cathy! You have to ALWAYS be a strong advocate…esp when your kids have different abilities.

    Thanks, Sue! We do need more Do’s!!!!

  3. Amen, Sarah! When I first heard about the “ban bossy” plea I thought, huh? Instead of creating more and more don’ts, maybe we should focus on what we DO want and teach kids to regard themselves and others with respect. Good post!

  4. Amen! I’ll sign and share that pledge.

    It’s so subtle and pervasive at times. My child is on the autism spectrum. When he started elementary school, his teacher was not bringing the class to the library for read alouds or to borrow books. (low expectations) I made sure that changed very quickly!

  5. Sarah Aronson

    Thank you, Elly!!!!

  6. Sarah – Another incredibly thought-provoking post. I love your pledge to “ban limitations. And stereotypes. And low expectations” and promote strength.