Why I regret calling my daughter the ‘B’ word

Woman in a black shirt holding a mug that says 'Like a Boss'

The Popple walked over to our keyboard and turned on the rumba beat.

“Mummy dance!” she yelled.

I stood up and swayed awkwardly.

“Daddy dance!” she yelled. Adrian did the same.

“So many dancing!” She stomped around in circles with her arms over her head, then stopped.

“No Daddy! Daddy over there!” Adrian had apparently danced too close to her. She pushed him back into the corner. He danced in her direction again.

“No Daddy! No! Over there!” She pointed in the corner again.

“Popple, why are you being so bossy?” I said.

Bossy (adjective): fond of giving people orders; domineering

Is the Popple fond of giving people orders? Clearly. Can she be domineering? Absolutely. So why did I feel so bad about calling her bossy?

Because bossy is a word that’s usually only used to describe girls.

Little boys who assert themselves are hardly ever called bossy. They’re called leaders. Assertive. Self-assured. It’s a far cry from bossy, which implies undeserved confidence. A girl who is bossy has stepped out of line. She should stop being pushy and keep her opinions to herself.

According to the Ban Bossy campaign, girls are twice as likely as boys to worry that leadership roles will make them seem ‘bossy’. They’re called on less in class and are interrupted more. Their self-esteem drops 3.5 times more than boys’ does between primary school and high school.

That’s why I need to encourage my daughter to speak up about what she wants more, not less – even if what she wants is for me to dance in a very specific place in a very specific way for an unspecified amount of time. And that’s often what she wants. That and cookies.

I can teach her to ask for what she wants in a less autocratic way (“Mummy, would you please dance with me?” would be nice), but I’ll probably keep on being her dancing monkey. Because let’s face it – I may the responsible adult here, but she’s the boss of the house.

The boss.

Not bossy.

I hope she grows up knowing the difference.

Rhyming with Wine
Tammymum

26 Comment

  1. Laura Brittain says: Reply

    I completely get where you are coming from… but I call J bossy!! He is after all bossing us all around without manners as all toddlers do! Yes it is showing strong potential qualities but at the same time it is something they need to realise is not the way you speak to people if you want them to do something.

    1. Squirmy Popple says: Reply

      Oh, they definitely need to learn how to speak nicely to people – we’re working on that slowly but surely. We sometimes get a ‘please’…but it’s rare. I just want to make sure that I’m not discouraging her from speaking her mind the way that so many little girls are. It’s a fine line!

      1. Completely agree that women worry about being assertive in an inappropriate way (aka – bossy) more than men. That needs to change. And it is, slowly… but boys can be bossy too. I call my son bossy. And I would call a girl bossy. The term, to me, means inappropriately telling me what to do. It’s just a shame that it’s not the case across the board and that it is used more for females. Maybe you’re right and better safe than sorry I suppose and avoid the word altogether. But i definitely think it needs to be used for males more! It is indeed a fine line.

  2. I couldn’t agree more. I haven’t been blessed with a daughter, but two sons, so can’t speak as a mother. However, I was the one labelled bossy as a child. As long as we teach our children to understand that leadership is a great quality, and that we always treat people with respect – they can shoot for and will reach the stars. At the age of 29 (just!), I’ve taken on a role as team leader for my department. I might’ve been bossy but, that, coupled with respect for others, makes me a good leader.

    1. Squirmy Popple says: Reply

      Exactly – those ‘bossy’ qualities often make girls into good bosses when they’re older. It’s all about teaching them how to speak their mind while still respecting others.

  3. Goodness, I’d never considered bossy being used only with girls but you’re right. It’s so wrong! I love the fact that you stopped yourself to consider this. Those stats about girls in school are terrible and really need to shift. Love your closing statement – the boss, not bossy! Brilliant #DreamTeam

  4. Very well said. I’ve never actually thought about it like this but you’re right x
    #DreamTeam

  5. I have to disagree sorry! I call my sons bossy if they’re being bossy and I’m not sure that typical small kid bossiness has actually got much to do with great leadership either tbh. It’s definitely not how I treat the members of my team at work!

  6. I’ve never really thought of the term bossy being used more for girls, but you’re totally right. You’ve given me a different insight on that. #DreamTeam

  7. Oh I think this is one of my favs of yours. Although I also think I may have said that before. I am so conscious of hat word and make a point not to use it toward my daughter or my son. I don’t like and it’s connotation as you have pointed out. I think you are right there is a way to teach said leadership skill without eliminating it. My children are the bosses of my house too! Thanks for joining us at #familyfun

  8. Ahhh so interesting! And such a good point about boys not being called bossy. Never thought of that before. I will try to avoid to B word too now. Thanks! xx #FamilyFun

  9. Completely understand this, but it’s so easy to call my 9 year old mini mum bossy as the twins don’t get a minutes peace from her!! #familyfun

  10. Couldn’t agree more hun it is a massive double standard. You are doing a great job of raising a strong woman. Thank you 🌸 #FamilyFun

  11. Well said. Like to think that speaking nicely does come through eventually. But a good distinction between boss my and boss. #dreamteam

  12. I frequently tell Rev T that I’m not bossy, I have leadership skills! And he’s benefiting from them so he should be grateful … I hadn’t realised that bossy was a word just applied to girls until you said. Total lightbulb moment!

  13. I totally agree. Sometimes I’m thankful to have a boy because he won’t have to navigate all the shit we’ve had to navigate as girls. It’s also just as important to raise boys into men who are aware of these things too. #stayclassymama

  14. I have found myself doing this recently and thinking about the Ban Bossy campaign too. I really need to stop doing it. I will start trying to ask her to ask nicely instead. Although I think it will fall on deaf ears. Yesterday when reminding her how to set her GroClock properly she said “No speak mummy” and put her hand over my mouth. Well that told me… Hmmm. #DreamTeam

  15. Like the saying goes, “I’m not bossy. I just know what you should be doing.” Plenty of women have leadership roles today and really are The Boss. However, they’re not bossy bosses. But you’re right… little girls do tend to get tagged with the bossy label more quickly than the boys. Perhaps it’s just a little girl trait. Similar to why boys like trucks and girls like dolls (stereotypically speaking, of course).

  16. Oh Katie I hear you I hear you! This is one of the posts I’ve read on my linky travels this week that makes me nod vigorously in agreement and want to sit down over a cuppa and discuss it endlessly with you. I shamefully admit I’m guilty of using that word too. Why do we do it?!! As if our daughters aren’t already growing up in a world that staggeringly still has so SO far to go in terms of how females are viewed. #dreamteam

  17. This is such an important message, speaking to the power of words that have found their way into the foundations of our speech and ultimately shape our children’s personalities and self-worth. So many other words need to get the same treatment so that we don’t marginalise, diminish or racially discriminate against others, for example. #blogcrush

  18. I understand the point you are trying to raise but in all honesty I call both my son and daughter bossy because they both are bossy. I do agree that we need to encourage our children to speak up about they wants and needs but I don’t think that applies to girls. I think it applies to both boys and girls. It’s the first time I have seen those statistics though and its quite sad really. Thank you for sharing with #StayClassyMama

  19. Ahhh this is such a good point. There is a difference isn’t there, and I completely agree that it seems to imply different things according to which gender it’s aimed at. Thank you for sharing with the #DreamTeam x

  20. I hadn’t ever really thought of it this way but it instantly clicked with me as I read your post. You’re right. Bossy is such a negative term, when in fact we should be nurturing and encouraging those leadership tendencies. The word sadly does seem to be applied more to girls when I think about it. I for one will be so much more mindful in the future. Thanks for sharing with #DreamTeam x

  21. This is so true – I’ve never thought of it like that before. I will never call BB bossy again! #familyfunlinky

  22. Oooo I love a post that gets me thinking! You’re right – confident females are often labelled in a negative way whereas confident males are praised and encouraged. It’s not fair and, as a mum of two girls, it’s something I try to be aware of. Great post!

    Also congratulations are in order because someone liked this post so much (and with good reason too!) that they added it to the #blogcrush linky. Hurray! #blogcrush

  23. My little one is 5 and full, loads of leadership qualities. She definitely keeps her more authoritarian tone for me. I’m starting to rebel and insist that I’m the boss, especially around safety, chores and my own self care. I need my daughter to have consideration of others feelings as well as her own. But name calling whether “bossy” or “good girl” isn’t an ideal response. But I forgive myself. I’m not perfect.

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