Wednesday, March 12, 2014

bossy. feisty. strong. powerful.

I was 8. Maybe 9. Just a little older than my Audrey. A thin, small-ish girl, long hair, not blonde, yet not brown either, blue eyes taking in all of the world. I was getting on the bus after school when a classmate, a boy, started hassling me. I didn't take kindly to being hassled, my mama and her mama before her taught me better than that, so I fired off a sarcastic remark that stopped his hassling self in his tracks. I didn't hit him. I didn't make a scene. I just stopped him from teasing me. I thought that was the end of it. That should have been the end of it.

The bus driver looked at me. Was it a sneer? Then he looked to the boy. "She's a feisty one, isn't she?" His words dripped with condescension. His glance gutted me. His camaraderie with the boy was more than unexpected; it was inappropriate. I learned then and there that feisty was not something I should be. I probably wondered how standing up for myself could be wrong. Or maybe I was too young to know I should ask that question of myself. I was just a kid.

Yet I remember it all these years later. Writing it down, I feel its sting fresh. I remember knowing he was wrong, yet feeling my power, my strength diminish in his demeaning gaze. Even now, I am ashamed at how it impacted me. How weak I still feel knowing my power was so easily hijacked.

I spent middle school doing that thing that way too many girls do. Giving my power to a boy in hopes he'll like me enough to make me like myself. Spoiler alert: it didn't work. But you knew that already, right? That never actually works.

I've read Reviving Ophelia. I've been a Women's Studies minor. I've reclaimed my power as a human. I've done the research and there is something in those middle school years that is so tough on a tender, growing up heart. Something that makes girls, our girls, my girl, especially susceptible to giving up their strength and their power. It is heartbreaking. It is wrong. It is time to stop it. For all girls, of course, but I am also thinking specifically of my strong, beautiful, powerful 7-year-old daughter. The thought of her feeling shame because of her strength is too much. I cherish her bold, colorful personality and take on this world far too much and I would mourn the loss of "feisty" Audrey terribly if I watched her give up on her true self.

So, what can be done?

my little rockstar at 2
There has been much talk lately about bossy girls. Sheryl Sandberg, Facebook's COO, has launched a Ban Bossy campaign to empower girls to become leaders and decrease the rate at which self-esteem drops in elementary and middle school grades. Take away the stigma of the word bossy and replace it with the power of leadership. And it makes me think: have I ever called my sons bossy when they are overreaching? Or is that a word I apply only to girls? I can't actually remember. And that worries me.
basking in the beauty of the world
practicing her ABCs
Studies show that girls who play sports are more likely to grow up as leaders. Today's girls have Girl Scouts and Title XI and moms who grew up playing sports and classes on leadership and woodworking and and astronomy and writing and they have never known a time when women weren't politicians and nurses and astronauts and teachers and moms and interior designers and CEOs of major corporations.

Yet here we are. Or, rather, here we remain.
silliness with Elliot
more silliness with Isaac
The whole gang.
In empowering girls, I am in no way suggesting that boys should be emasculated. I've got three boys that I am trying to raise to responsible, loving, strong, empathetic adulthood. I'm not trying to take from Paul to pay Peter. There is plenty to go around. Strong girls don't take away from a boy's strength.
Facing her fear head on and smiling when she had a broken leg

Audrey is so tender. And she is so, so brave and strong. She is quick to cry, quicker to laugh and help a friend. She loves to help and serve and sometimes it takes a turn toward controlling or, here's the buzzword of the week, bossy. In fact, last week it took a hard turn in that direction. I asked her to stop doing something her brother was perfectly capable of doing and she kept doing it. So I asked her again. Then I said it louder, not a shout, but a forceful voice. It was wrong of me, done in haste because I didn't want to get up while nursing the baby to deal with the issue. And she started to cry.

I quickly walked over and gently grabbed her two teeny, soft hands, in my larger, coarser hands. I apologized for hurting her feelings. I told her that one of the gifts God gave her was the gift of helping others and that she was so very good at it. I told her one of the challenges of being so good at helping others and having such a big heart for helping others was to know when to help and when to let people do things themselves. And I asked her if it would be okay if I helped her to know the difference. She sniffed. She wiped her tears. She nodded her head, yes.
Showing her playdough invention: telescope with the cover on 
Telescope in action

And I have to believe, I fervently hope, I pray, that giving voice to her strengths, the gifts given to her by a God who does not make mistakes, while also acknowledging things that challenge her will serve her well as she gets older. I have to believe that helping her see her place in this big, beautiful, terrible world will equip her to stand strong on her corner of the world when it feels like it's crumbling around her. I have to believe that conversations like this now will continue to ring in her ears when others are attempting to fill her mind with lies.

I have to believe my strong little girl will grow to be a strong young woman. And I know I will help her in any way I possibly can, hoping I know when to step in to help and when to step back and watch her do her strong, beautiful, powerful thing all on her own.
Some of the many strong women in Audrey's life

What are you doing to help your children, both sons and daughters, grow up strong and empathetic and powerful and loving? Is it different for your boys or girls? What do you think of Ban Bossy?


  1. I think it's time to stop changing words and making them fit into an agenda. I don't think banning a word and making a word a "bad word" is what needs to happen. Even if she is right and boys aren't labeled bossy, they sure are labeled as "arrogant", "chauvinistic", and you can think of many more derogatory terms for men that are used. Also, Sheryl Sandberg herself was bossy and look where she is now? What about the high profile women following her? They were bossy when they were young and now look where they are. They don't see how it didn't hurt them ultimately? She wants us to replace bossy with telling them they have "leadership skills". But that is changing the definition of the word itself. Leaders don't have to be domineering, and overly authoritative (which is what bossy actually means). But I totally agree with you that we need to teach our children to develop their personalities. You do such a good job at that, anyone who knows your children knows that. :o)

  2. You have many good points here, Queen. I some ways, I was taking a bigger issue and looking at how I handle it. I certainly never call my boys arrogant or chauvinistic, but I have called Audrey bossy. Was her behavior different than her brother's behavior? I'm not sure. And, yes, her bossiness certainly helped her, hasn't it?