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“Bossy” girls become female leaders

“Let me take a minute to say that I love bossy women. Some people hate the word, and I understand how “bossy” can seem like a shitty way to describe a woman with a determined point of view, but for me, a bossy woman is someone to search out and celebrate. A bossy woman is someone who cares and commits and is a natural leader.” – Amy Poehler

When I was a kid, my classmates always nagged me for being too bossy. I’m not going to lie – I was more tenacious on the playground than was necessary. But “bossy”? I distinctly remember hating this word and considering it one of the ultimate insults one could throw at another girl.

My friends and I would pick fights with each other at recess, each vowing that the other was the bossiest. There were naive, behind-the-back discussions about who talked too loudly and who was rude for always trying to be in control. Kids are always going to be obnoxious – they’re still desperately trying to figure out how to be humans, after all. Everyone in my friend group, including myself, was just trying to prove that our ideas were worth hearing.

I never heard a boy call another boy this word.

So, I did what so many other young girls who have internalized a historically sexist phrase have done: I changed my behavior to try and fit what was socially acceptable. I retreated into myself in a lot of ways, downplaying my opinions when working group projects and changing my tone to be more understanding and submissive.

It was particularly problematic in situations where I worked alongside males. Teenage me was constantly trying to say something funny or self-depreciating, seeking validation in the form of laughter from people who had no authority to validate my existence.

As I got older and found myself in more and more professional settings, these behavioral alterations continued to evolve. In customer service settings, my voice goes higher in pitch but softer in enunciation. I’ve heard a voice come out of my body that in no way belongs to me. A lot of women I know have that voice, the Customer Service Voice, that’s high-pitched and lilting.

Society might have quieted me, but it didn’t hinder my ambitious mind. The “bossy” little girl I was, after I grew up and gained some more self-awareness, is now a professional project manager. A huge part of my current job is making sure people are doing what they should be doing so that our team can accomplish what it needs to. I still break out the Customer Service Voice regularly at work, but I am trying to be more intentional about not changing my pitch to sound more feminine. I know that I am good at my job, largely due to the fact that I understand how important it is for every company to have good leaders.

When I retire, I want to be able say I was a leader everywhere I worked, whether it’s at in my entry level gig or when I become an executive someday. If not being afraid to speak up and to push my team members towards the finish line means that I’m “bossy” then I guess that’s what you can call me.

Just know that it’s not an insult. Like Amy Poehler, I’ve learned to embrace it.

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