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Carmen Rasmusen Herbert: 'I'm not bossy, I'm the boss'

Published: Wednesday, April 2 2014 12:15 p.m. MDT

“When a little boy asserts himself, he's called a ‘leader.’ Yet when a little girl does the same, she risks being branded ‘bossy.' … By middle school, girls are less interested in leading than boys — a trend that continues into adulthood."

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My very first spoken phrase was, “You’re not the boss of me.”

This is 100 percent true. Apparently, I used to say it all the time to my older sister by three years whenever she’d try to tell me what to do. I knew my own mind, even as a sassy 2-year-old, and I knew I didn’t want anyone to have control over what I did or who I played with or when I went to bed.

I wanted to be my own boss.

But why is this word so strongly associated with girls in particular? I’m sure I never called my brother “bossy.” Even in school, when boys would take the lead on a project or assignment, I’d voice my opinion, of course, but naturally let them take over and be in charge.

I always felt more comfortable not being completely in charge. As long as I had a strong say, I was content.

Sheryl Sandberg, CEO of Facebook, wants to change that way of thinking. She is campaigning hard to ban the word “bossy,” especially among girls.

“When a little boy asserts himself, he's called a ‘leader.’ Yet when a little girl does the same, she risks being branded ‘bossy,’ ” it reads at the website banbossy.com. “Words like bossy send a message: don't raise your hand or speak up. By middle school, girls are less interested in leading than boys — a trend that continues into adulthood. Together we can encourage girls to lead.”

Thinking back to my junior high years, my first attempt at student council and leadership was cheerleading. I made the squad and had a blast cheering for games. Running for student government was something the boys did, I thought. Girls who ran probably did so because they were a little nerdy, uncoordinated or more of a tomboy, I so very wrongly thought.

I did throw those stereotypes to the wind in ninth grade when I decided to run for student body office. Or perhaps I just decided to embrace my own nerdy, uncoordinated, tomboy self.

I didn’t make the cut.

Devastated, I went back to what I knew — cheer and dance — in high school. I did, however, become vice president of my dance company. But accepting responsibility sometimes seemed daunting, even unappealing to me. Just like in elementary school, I liked taking the lead in small groups and enjoyed voicing my opinion — a little too much sometimes. But the thought of leading others was a bit scary for me. I think I was afraid I’d mess up.

Well, fast forward about a decade and a half, and I am now in the biggest leadership role of my life: motherhood. There was no backing out once I saw those two pink lines on the pregnancy test, and now with three growing boys of my own, I understand why taking leadership opportunities at a younger age could have prepared me for this most important title of “parent.”

Even after almost six years of doing my “job,” I find myself questioning my decisions and leadership ability. I second-guess my abilities often and wonder if I’m really capable of raising children. I compare like crazy and whenever my husband’s around, I find myself deferring to him. “What should we do today? What should we feed the boys? Should I put Briggs down for a nap now, or wait another hour? Do you think Beck should wear a coat?”

To his credit, my husband’s usual response is, “What do you think?” To which I respond, “I don’t know … that’s why I asked you!”

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