Are you bossy or a boss? How words influence young minds

As an assertive person with the surname Boston the amount of times I have been called Bossy is uncountable. I was called a “bossy little thing” as a child and “such a bossy woman” as a teenager. Even though it was normally said with a smile, it was implied through context it wasn’t a good character trait, neither was dominant, difficult, overbearing or pushy.

At secondary school one very persistent school friend was desperate to find a nickname for me that would stick, so she searched long and hard mixed Jessy plus Boston plus my character and brilliantly came up with Bossy. I didn’t like it and it didn’t catch on, despite her attempts. Now away from school and in my professional life, I do have to give orders and although I have a very good relationship with all my clients based on friendship and mutual respect. I have in the past been met by the odd uncomfortable although well meaning gesture like a salute, eye rolling, or whip cracking. If and when this happens it isn’t usually about them not appreciating my strength of character, in fact I find it has nothing to do with me. I am generalizing but what it normally comes down to is an unconscious bias that they have about women and how they are supposed to act. In this situation I will let them know that it won’t be acceptable.

Even though I no longer associate myself with the word bossy when I see or hear it I can’t help but feel I identify with it, as if it were a name I used to have in a past life. It may be for this reason I am really interested in the “Ban Bossy” campaign which has been met with very mixed reviews. The comments under the Youtube clip are not exactly positive and the gist of the majority of the Facebook messages have been along the lines of “isn’t banning a word kind of bossy”. I agree with some of the reviews to the extent that I don’t believe words should be literally banned, besides if you ban a word you have a busload of words in the queue behind it ready to take its place. I don’t think that’s the point they are trying to make either.


I think for the sake of the campaign “Ban Bossy” is a little catchier than “Try not to call your little girls bossy, which is a word that holds negative connotations, instead try replacing it with a word that has a powerful and positive connotation that will encourage and inspire them and teach them that women can be leaders too”. If you look at the message above the words “Ban Bossy” at the end of the clip, it simplifies its message and says “Encourage girls to lead”. That is the message.

Let girls know that leadership is an option for them if they want it and reinforce that message instead of dimming that switch and eventually putting out that fire.

Another one of the many complaints about this campaign that has come up is people saying there are bigger issues than this to be resolved, but I believe there will always be bigger issues, what a big issue is, is subjective, because within all the huge issues that need resolving in the world we all have issues that are slightly higher up than others on the infinite To-Do list.

Awareness of gender bias, which is the main message in this campaign, is in my opinion definitely an issue worth discussing and fighting for. Most women I know will have been in a situation where they were affected by gender bias and they may choose to brush it off or confront it, but the bigger picture here is what it can eventually lead to, which are situations where it becomes acceptable to pay a woman less or not let her delegate. Teaching this message to young girls is the best place to start, the earlier this message seeps into their unconscious the better.

The campaign isn’t about bending the world backwards to adapt to you and your child by removing inconvenient words that aren’t to your liking. In the development of a young person there will always be external factors that influence. There will always be people that are going to say mean things and that child will have to be strong and learn to deal with situations as they arise and it will make them a better person.

You don’t only want to throw positive statements at a child and have them grow up believing they are an untouchable force. That will only shock and confuse them when they leave the nest and realize the world is not a perfect utopia and they are not queen of the universe. What would be better is a well adjusted child that is aware that there are options out there for them should they want them and these options are based on their character and determination and not on whether they were born male or female.

Of course there are times when a child will behave in a negative way and that should be addressed especially if you believe that this behaviour could be limiting and needs correcting. If this is the case, a good way of resolving this is to identify the behaviour and not make “I” or “identity” statements. Instead of “you are bossy” let the child know they are behaving in a very bossy manner.

This would be more effective as the child doesn’t directly connect that behaviour with them as a person and on identity level. Any negative verb in a sentence with the verb “to be” will eventually connect to the way that person perceives themselves on a neurological level such as belief or identity. “You are being foolish” is not the same as “You are a fool!”. One word is an adjective describing you in that moment and one is a noun and that noun is you.

Words have a universal meaning but we all have words that carry more weight for us and connect to us on an individual level.

As a hypnotherapist I am especially aware of the heavy weight of certain words and the personal difference we can make between one word and another. What this campaign means to me is just to be aware that words have great power and we are all sensitive to them, especially young children. If what you are really trying to say is that you admire that assertive side of a young developing girl instead of calling her bossy drop the “y” and use boss a word with a more positive connotation, ultimately the overall message is the same.

Except one encourages and one squashes. If you or your child don’t like the word boss or identify with it use a word you feel comfortable with, just be aware of what you are saying. If you are using a negative word to dull someone’s flame you may want to question why you are doing that. Young boys aren’t called bossy, they are called future leaders and what´s good for the gander, is good for the goose.


There is a lot more to this campaign worth exploring, I suggest you have a look at

Whether gender bias affects you directly or not, it is a subject worth your time because it may come to affect someone that is important to you. The earlier we teach this message to little girls and boys in their development, the earlier we can start to see the signs of gender bias no longer being an issue.

I have to say no one has called me the word Bossy in a long while, maybe because I live in Spain and the word would be different or maybe because I don’t allow it, but if you did call me bossy I would let you know that´s not going to happen and you can drop the “y”. Jess and Jessy, but Boss not Bossy.


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