What Does #banbossy Mean For Introverts?


This week the Ban Bossy campaign has exploded online and #banbossy is one of the hottest trending topics on Twitter. I first heard about this idea when I read Sheryl Sandberg’s book, Lean In and since then LeanIn.org has taken the concept one step further to launch an entire campaign, asking people to pledge their support to end the use of the term “bossy” when referring to strong-willed girls who are labelled bossy simply because they exhibit behaviors that many would consider to be leadership skills in boys.
I am a supporter of the idea behind this campaign. I understand that Sheryl Sandberg and Condoleezza Rice and many other now powerful women were once labelled as bossy by their peers, parents and teachers and this is wrong because little boys exhibiting the same behaviors would be encouraged. It is wrong because girls and women are expected to be nurturing, not opinionated. For the reasons of equality, I fully agree with the idea behind this campaign.
However, as a woman who was once a little girl full of passionate ideas and opinions, but painfully shy to express them, I worry about banning bossy, because I am concerned about what nurturing and encouraging such behavior in girls OR boys will do to little girls like I was.
I was an only child and certainly not a fan of sharing or teamwork, and believe me I was opinionated, but I was also an introvert, terrified to speak up about my opinions, and I was bullied by girls in school who were more aggressive than myself and my equally introverted peers.
In classrooms today where class sizes are growing, team activities and group learning is encouraged and extroversion, as we all know, is often rewarded, I worry that we risk marginalizing introverted kids more than ever before.
If we reward “aggressive” behavior, I’m afraid that we’ll continue to reward extroversion over introversion and I don’t think that’s right. Introverted kids are full of great ideas and passionate about them too, but they wouldn’t necessarily consider stating them out loud or even raising their hand to share them until they’ve listened and taken in all of the facts, or simply until they feel comfortable enough in their environment to do so.
One thing I know about myself as a youngster and have observed and read about in other introverted children is that we are truly listeners. I think of my cousin, Mitchell as I write this. He is one of the most gifted people I have ever had the pleasure of knowing. He is not extroverted socially, but his true talent lies in his listening skills. He listens to every word spoken around our family dinner tables and doesn’t make a sound and then, just when you forget he’s even sitting there, his voice rises above the yammer and he says the most profound observation that silences everyone with its wisdom.
And so, let’s not label little girls and little boys differently for exhibiting the same behaviors, but let’s also not go too far and reward “bossiness” to the point that quiet little girls and boys are silenced. Imagine what insights we might miss out on.