'Ban Bossy': Smart Women, Stupid Solution

ban bossy

There are so many things wrong with Sheryl Sandberg’s latest push to 'ban bossy' that I can’t even think straight. 

As the mom of a beautiful, smart and assertive 2 1/2 year old girl, I can't even contemplate how smart, powerful women — the likes of Beyonce, Robin Roberts, and Jane Lynch — are not only on board with this initiative, but actually agreeing to attach their faces to it.

To suggest that banning words from our vocabulary is an acceptable solution to the way society treats women and children is irresponsible at best and dangerous at worst. Do we really want to live in a world where certain words are off-limits just because we're worried they might offend our little girls?

First it's 'bossy.' Then it’s 'fat,' and then it's 'pretty' or 'special', because we want to make sure we protect each and every one of our little darlings so no one feels offended or left out. That's how we're protecting them? That's what we're teaching them — that the world will change to accommodate them? Is that really how we want to prepare our girls to step out into a world that defends the freedom to express yourself however you like?

And frankly, what about the girls out there who are bossy — not in a leadership sense, but in a way that's inappropriate? It’s dangerous to overlook unacceptable behavior and brush it under the rug in the name of a "level playing field."

Now, my daughter Aria is an assertive little girl, but not necessarily bossy. If she were, though, I wouldn't have a problem with someone calling her 'bossy.' She could handle it. Some of her little friends could stand to have their bossiness called out, though. Where kids are concerned, bossy can too easily turn into bully, so if we're concerned about keeping our little girls safe and strong, why not make sure we do it the right way: by calling them out on inappropriate behavior?

As for those little girls afraid of contributing because they're worried about their peers’ perception and being called "bossy," how about we address that at the root of the problem? The problem is not the word 'bossy'. The problem is the diminishing of our children's confidence and self-esteem. If Aria were asserting herself and were unfairly called bossy (or any other critical word), I'm pretty sure that wouldn't shut her down. She's a kid with too much self-confidence, and, more likely than not, she'd just keep on going, or even defend her action. We don't need to coddle our kids. We need to give them the tools to deal with a world that is not always catering and kind.

Just the other day Aria and I were on the playground, and two older girls had a toy stroller and doll that captivated Aria. Immediately, her eyes lit up and she was after them, trying to work her way into their little circle and get her hands on that doll. As a sweet toddler who is an exceptional sharer, Aria saw no reason why she shouldn't have a chance to be in on the fun. Unfortunately for her, the older duo didn't share this logic; They had no interest in her or her wants. 

Initially, this didn't really phase my girl. She pursued her counterparts, fixated on the prize, sure that in time they would let her in on the action. Instead, quite the opposite happened. You see, the older girls weren't nice girls. What started as simply ignoring my sweet tot turned into running from her, and I even caught a nasty "baby!" thrown her way. At some point the older girls even started throwing the little doll around and recklessly pushed the stroller off one of the slides with no care about Aria, or her horror at witnessing it all.

Now, my first instinct as a parent was to pull her away and protect her from the dolly distress. But I didn't. Why? Firstly, because Aria is determined and likely would not have been happy with my interference. And secondly, because our world is not an ideal one, and sometimes people aren't nice and don't do the right thing. Our kids need to be prepared for this.

So, I let the pursuit play out, and when Aria came over to me for the third time exclaiming, "The dolly!", I explained to her that those girls didn't want to share, and not everyone out there is always going to be nice, even though she is (and should be). Of course, she initially looked at me, with wondering eyes, but I know deep in that smart little brain of hers she was coming to an important conclusion.

In an ideal world, this would not be a lesson I'd want Aria to have to learn, but unfortunately, it is a lesson she has to learn. This is the world we live in. I also know that just because she essentially was rejected and felt bad about the whole situation, she's okay She's just two but already has a great sense of who she is in the world. She's kind and sweet, but also smart and confident because we've taught her to be and given her endless love and support since the day she was born.

While she may get shaken along the way, I know that Aria is going to be fine in a multitude of tough situations that are bound to come down the road — including the possibility of one day being called 'bossy.'

So let's not find false solutions in silly things like banning words or taking away the evils out there. They'll always exist. Instead, lets focus on the positives — the things that build confidence and self-esteem in our kids — and give them the tools they truly need to take on the world ... and all the stroller-wielding mean girls out there.

Vanessa Alfano is a NYC mom & the Founder of A former TV reporter she now seeks out the healthy in the big city, and recounts days on the playground on her blog MommyhoodTake1.

More great parenting advice stories on YourTango: