Better, More Accurate Words to Use About Girls and Women (Instead of "Bossy")

4 years ago

I was called "bossy" as a girl. So were Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg and Girl Scouts leader Ana Maria Chavez, and BlogHer editor-in-chief Stacy Morrison, and many other girls who grew up to be leaders.


Reading the #banbossy stories and tweets, I realized: "Bossy" tends to mean "assertive," and it tends to be applied to women and girls, but it also covers a huge range of behaviors, and it means a lot of different things to different people. I know Stacy's bossy and my bossy are different, and I'm sure my bossy is different from Jennifer Garner's, or Michelle Obama's, Kelly Ayotte's, Victoria Beckham's, or Jane Lynch's bossy, as well. I'm not sure I even define "bossy" the same way as other people do. It's a word we keep on a low shelf to describe any kind of assertive behavior in women and girls.

That pisses me off, as a woman and as a writer. I like using specific words. And there are so many specific words, and so many of them are so very juicy—and most of them are the same words you'd use to describe boys and men.

So why is banning "bossy" even necessary in 2014? I don't know if I have much more to add than what Sandberg has already said so well. But what I do know are the words—and so do you. Let's come together as the writers we are, and create a treasury of words that describe how we really are.

I'll start you off with 10 fantastic ways to describe positive "bossy" behaviors for girls and women (and, for that matter, boys and men).

  1. Assertive
  2. Smart
  3. Has a clear vision
  4. Honest
  5. Committed
  6. Fearless
  7. Great organizational skills
  8. Gifted
  9. Quick
  10. Eager to share opinions and ideas

Of course, there's also a very negative connotation to the word "bossy." It's commonly used to describe people who are not consensus builders; who need to work on empathy, understand diplomacy, lead by example; who always must have their own way.

I don't think anyone's trying to ignore bad behavior by changing the way we use "bossy" to describe ONLY women and girls for assertiveness right AND wrong. So it's a good thing we've got other words for that kind of bossy, too.

These words can be helpful …

"We need to talk about helping A work on her listening skills."

Or deadpan…

"I wouldn't necessarily call B an inspirational leader."

Or blunt and demanding of action …

"C is an abusive boss."

Or a more powerful insult word that happens to be mostly male-gendered (for now) …

"D is an asshole."

(Here's a link to a great post about why you should call your female boss an asshole ... though, one assumes, maybe not to her face).

But one of the key points of the #BanBossy campaign is that, while empathy and listening skills are necessary for great leadership, girls and women continue to receive too much reward and encouragement for those skills—and by far not enough reward and encouragement for assertiveness skills. I therefore leave you with my very favorite words to reward assertiveness (so far):

OH HELL YES, Katie, you are. (Image:

The hilarious Georgia Getz took back the entire word "bossy" with her blog full of awesome. Here's what she says about the word:

"If bossy is a descriptor powerhouse women share — a confidence of personality that propelled them to greatness — then the more liberating thing isn’t running from the word, but owning the grit in its meaning. I should know, because I am Bossy."

Yes. This project is all about owning that greatness! (Image: Courtesy

The same, and yet so different. (Image:

Or, in the immortal words of Beyonce,

BOOM. (Image:

And now it's your turn: What words would you use to describe women and girls, instead of "bossy?" Is it primarily a positive or negative term for you? Were you called bossy as a girl, and/or as an adult? And will you help me add to this treasury of words? We're going to share these with, Lean In, and the Girl Scouts, so please join in and add your suggestions in the comments!

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