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The Other 'B' Word

Photograph by Getty Images

I called my daughter the "b-word." No, no, not the technical name for a female dog, I called her the “other b-word.” I called her bossy.

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From an early age I have been referring to my daughter as bossy. She is opinionated, strong-willed and a force of nature. Using the word bossy to describe her came naturally to me. As a child, a teen and even as an adult, I, myself, have been labeled "bossy." I noticed that when that word was applied to me, the fierce instinct I had to take on the world would shrink. I would retreat into my shell and would adjust my behavior from "bossy" to "I’m just going to act in a way that will please everyone."

It is a word that would squash the power that I was trying to grasp, stealing my thunder. And now, as a mother, I was doing the same thing to my own daughter. I was slowly chiseling away at her drive to be outspoken, and the worst thing was I had no idea I was doing it. I was completely oblivious that the word "bossy" was so bad. I had to be schooled on this fact by my daughter’s teachers.

Not that long ago I was at our parent/teacher conference at my daughter’s school—an all-girl progressive independent school, I should add. We were chatting about my daughter’s work ethic, her participation in class and her interests, and I used the "b-word" when describing my then 7-year-old daughter as “really, really bossy.” They immediately corrected me, saying that she is not “bossy,” but that she's a “leader” and every classroom needs leaders. They then informed me that they did not use the word "bossy" ... ever.

I do not want a word to keep her from reaching her full potential.

I totally did not realize the negative connotations attached to that word, even after knowing how it made me feel as a kid. Someone did, however, as Sheryl Sandberg, the chief operating officer of Facebook and the author of Lean In: Women, Work, and the Will to Lead, has declared war on the word "bossy." Sandberg has started a nationwide initiative to “Ban Bossy,” and I love it as a wake-up call for all parents of daughters.

"We know that by middle school, more boys than girls want to lead," Sandberg said to ABC News, "and if you ask girls why they don't want to lead, whether it's the school project all the way on to running for office, they don't want to be called bossy, and they don't want to be disliked." That’s where my own, “I’m just going to act in a way that will please everyone,” kicked in. I see in hindsight that this has hindered me at certain crossroads in my life. Had I been stronger and embraced my inner bossy, instead of having it squashed, I may have had a completely different life and been in more of a position of power. This makes me think of my daughter. I do not want a word to limit her. I do not want a word to hurt her. I do not want a word to keep her from reaching her full potential. I want her to lead, to embrace her power and to be true to herself.

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"Leadership is not bullying and leadership is not aggression," Sandberg said. "Leadership is the expectation that you can use your voice for good. That you can make the world a better place."

Let’s take this as a call to action, to "Ban Bossy" and to instead encourage all our daughters to lead. Who’s with me?

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