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!”

But having a husband back at school for his MBA has been a really great thing for me the past two years. Instead of calling him every hour (not that much … well, maybe that much) and asking his opinion on every little thing, or suddenly falling apart when he walks in the door, I’ve had to really step it up and trust my own instincts. And I’ve realized something — I am so much stronger than I give myself credit for. And I am absolutely capable of leading. But it’s something I have to remind myself of, out loud sometimes, when I feel I’m going to break down.

“I can do this,” I say when I’m tripping over laundry, trying to feed a screaming baby or balancing a basket of toys and two fighting boys in my arms. “I am a strong woman.”

Sandberg wants to light a “can do” fire in girls now, before they get too old and think, “Oh, I could never do that. I’m not that smart/talented/well-spoken/assertive.”

Celebrities such as Beyonce, Jane Lynch, Jennifer Garner and former secretary of state Condoleezza Rice are getting behind the campaign as well.

“I think the word 'bossy' is just a squasher,” says Lynch in a YouTube video to ban bossy.

“Be brave. Be you,” superstar Beyonce encourages.

The latest thing my boys say when I tell them to clean their rooms or do their chores is, “I’m not going to invite you to my birthday!” Which is kind of hilarious, seeing that I’m the one who literally created their birthday, and throws them their stinkin’ parties in the first place.

Just out of curiosity, I asked my husband the other day if they’d ever said that to him.

“Hmm,” he thought for a moment. “Nope.”

For Pete’s sake. I wonder if it’s because the boys are secretly a little intimidated by their dad. I think a little healthy fear (respect) for parents is a good thing, but I probably don’t help the problem when I yell things like, “You just wait until your father comes home!” I don’t want them to assume Dad’s the one in charge and Mom’s just being “bossy.”

“I’m not bossy. I’m the boss.”

Or a boss. Together, my husband and I are both leaders, exemplars, mentors and the boss of the Herbert family.

Carmen Rasmusen Herbert is a former "American Idol" contestant who writes about entertainment and family for the Deseret News.

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