My daughter is a force of nature. She cannot be ignored. At two-years-old she is the size of a three-year-old and has a correspondingly enormous personality. She is a cheerful Viking of a girl and never shies from making herself known. As she gets older, however, I can't help but worry that all the wonderful things that make her who she is will one day be seen as "too much." That she'll feel pressure to shrink herself any way she can. So I've already established rules to let people know my daughter isn't bossy, you're just being sexist, preempting any subliminal attack on her confidence, assertiveness, and desire to use her indomitable personality to lead.
I am so proud of both of my children, my son and my daughter, for demonstrating such consistent self-assertion and boldness. Of course, hello, I'm their mother. (I also frame their scribbles and date it because I think they're so artistic.) I'm biased. Deal with it. At the same time, no one can deny that these two are only ever themselves; they cannot be kowtowed into being anything other than completely true to who they are. I love their steadfastness because, even though I think of myself as bold and steadfast as well, I am nevertheless a people pleaser. I took it upon myself, from a young age, to try to be charming and non-threatening in order to be listened to and taken seriously. I didn't want to be seen as bossy. It breaks my heart to think that someone (or, more accurately, a wide variety of "someones" and "somethings") will try put pressure on my daughter to do the same, when my son will be encouraged — for the most part — to continue to be himself.
Not on my watch, jerks.
"But wait, some girls are bossy," you might say, "And bossy is bratty! Do you want your daughter to grow up to be a brat?" Of course not, but I want to encourage you to look at the behaviors my daughter is demonstrating, take her gender out of the equation, and see if it still looks "bratty" to you. Because "bossy" is very, very subjective. So, with that in mind, here are some handy dandy ways you can check yourself to see if you're actually working in the best interest of little girls...
When She Asserts Herself, You Tell Her To Calm Down
Teaching our daughters to stand up for themselves is a crucial life lesson, and they won't learn it sufficiently if someone is consistently giving them negative reinforcement every time they do stand up for themselves. That's not to say, of course, that anyone should flip out any time they feel they've been slightly wronged. However, there are ways to guide away from angry indignation and toward constructive confidence.
Too often, women and girls do not express their wants and needs because they don't want to be viewed as "pushy" or "bossy." They need to know that being assertive is neither of those things, so we cannot allow ourselves to see a girl being assertive as either of those things.
When She Takes Charge Of Games, You Say She's A "Little Dictator"
For myriad reasons, both proactive and insidiously institutionalized, women have been kept from leadership positions. I mean, we've been a country for 240 years, more or less, and we've never had a female leader? Come on, bros: don't act like it's not on purpose or some random, crazy coincidence. So, perhaps it goes without saying at this point that we need to encourage girls and women to nurture their leadership skills, instead of shaming them for taking the initiative. Again, this doesn't give anyone a free pass to be a domineering bully. Rather than scoff at the instinct to lead, we should encourage all children to lead in a way that's fair.
When She's Opinionated, You Make Fun Of Her Opinions
Opinions are a good thing. It means you've engaged with the world enough to develop strong feelings about it in some way or another. While strong opinions in children can certainly be, um, let's call it "challenging" in the spirit of remaining positive, it's also absolutely amazing to see a child think about the world and their place in it.
So, instead of mocking a girl's (or any child's) opinions (even if it's an absurd opinion) talk with her about it instead. Express admiration for the fact that she's thinking about things and encourage her to continue to think about issues critically. Don't suggest that being opinionated automatically means she's bossy.
When She Isn't Endlessly Accommodating, You Say She Needs To Be Nice
Too often, "nice" is coded language for girls. When people say it, they don't always mean "be kind and fair with others," even though that's probably what they'll say (and think) they mean.
Instead, "nice" regularly contains unspoken expectations with girls: be flattering, be submissive, and don't forget to smile, and after you do all that then you can try to have your voice heard, but don't be pushy about it. Girls shouldn't have to constantly put others first (and their own needs on the backburner) in order to be "nice." That's not even really "being nice," that's being a doormat.
When She Participates In Class Discussion, You Call Her A Chatterbox
It's one thing if a child is socializing while class is going on, but to accuse a girl of being "chatty" or controlling for diving into a lesson? What the hell kind of message is that sending? "Hey, dork! Yeah, you. Way to be engaged and interested. Can you shut up for a minute?" Ugh.
Way to encourage learning and put an emphasis on education there, friend. (BRB: banging my head on my desk, repeatedly.)
When She Doesn't Preface What She's Saying With, "I'm Sorry, But..." You Assume She's Interrupting
It's getting absurd and it's ubiquitous and it's completely unnecessary. No one needs to apologize as a way to get into a conversation. If you join a conversation and someone asks you to remove yourself from it, and you realize you've overstepped your bounds as a result, then apologize. However, apologizing off the bat establishes an idea that you don't belong and shouldn't speak. Girls should not receive the message that they need to apologize for speaking in order to avoid seeming bossy.
When She Disagrees With Someone, You Tell Her She's Being Rude
Disagreement isn't rude or bossy. It's disagreeing. As with all other points, we can certainly show our children to do these things in a civil manner, but telling girls that voicing different opinions in and of itself is "rude," is a bad message to send to anyone, especially, perhaps, girls; who are already encouraged to keep quite in order to keep the peace and "be nice."
When She Tells You She Doesn't Want To Be Hugged, You Tell Her She Has To
Nobody owes you physical attention. Not even children. Not even your own children. A child doesn't have to be cuddly to be loving, and we all need to respect a child's physical boundaries whenever possible.
When She Tells You Her Plans For The Future, You Say She's Adorable
I get it, it's easy to be somewhat condescending towards little kids regardless of their gender (because kids are ridiculous, lovable little weirdos) but, anecdotally, I find this is done much more to girls.
Moreover, little girls will often continue to be discouraged as they grow up in ways that boys usually will not. Setting an encouraging, positive tone early when it comes to girls ambitions, therefore, is important.
When People Call You Out On The Fact That You're Applying A Double Standard To Girls And Boys And You Spend More Time Denying It Than You Do Thinking About Whether Or Not That Might Be True
Seriously just listen to what we're saying. It doesn't mean you're a bad person or that we think you're terrible. It means we'd like you to look at yourself critically, as everyone should.
Maybe you'll do that and still come to the conclusion, "No, you're crazy. I'm awesome." Fine. But please, at least think about it.