Ban Bossy

Intense. Ambitious. Competitive. Aggressive. Bossy.

If I had a nickel for every time someone said this to me, I could retire basically… now. I really didn’t understand the ramifications of this, of course, when I was younger. These labels, I assumed were just who I was. And the real problem though was that I knew they were negative words. The way a teacher might say, “She’s too competitive,” after a classroom spelling bee. Or a boy might respond with a text after a fizzled relationship with, “You’re just intense.” Or a report card might come home with “Bossy” scratched into the notes section after a long list of As. And “ambition”? Well that might as well have been a four letter word.
For years and years I just assumed this was who I was. Intense, ambitious, competitive, aggressive, bossy… or more generally, unlikeable. And because girls are supposed to be likeable and nice and quiet and agreeable, this must mean there was something wrong with me. I was less than what I should be.
I carried around these thoughts with me wherever I went. The more I heard those words, the more I believed it. The labels became my identity, or so I thought.
Maybe it was age or maybe it was a lot of self-reflecting, but I started to discover that I wasn’t intense, I was passionate. I was ambitious, but that’s not a bad thing. I may be competitive, but I’m not cut-throat. I’m not aggressive, I’m vocal and firm in my beliefs. I’m not bossy, I’m a leader.
Once I changed my own mindset, I felt a lot more confident in who I was. I saw myself differently and it made me much happier in general. But that didn’t mean that other people weren’t on board and it didn’t mean that I wasn’t susceptible to returning to those feelings of unworthiness.
I’ve had, just like anyone else, a ton of ups and downs over the years… especially since graduation. The 20s are totally volatile (more on the later!). However, when I think about what moment that I felt the most vulnerable, the most insecure, and the most hurt? It was this summer at my old job. Frankly, I loved my job, but (like I would assume any job!) there were some things I didn’t like. Working at a startup was always filled with roller coasters of insane deadlines, strong personalities, and lots of brilliant people. Put all that together and sometimes it could cause serious riffs.
On one of those more stressful days, we had a team meeting with an advisor who had flown in from the west coast. This advisor was a woman and someone that I had heard so so so much about. My friend worked closely with her and I have to admit that I was jealous at times. I wished that I could work with her because everyone talked about how smart and great she was. I wanted to know her, work with her, and most importantly learn from her. Honestly, I had this brilliant picture of who she was painted in my head and I could hardly contain my excitement to meet her.
During the meeting, everyone was voicing concerns and opinions and thoughts about the current state of affairs. Was I vocal? Absolutely! What we were doing was really important to me!!! I wanted us to more than succeed, I wanted us to knock it out of the park. I was frustrated how… negative the conversation was getting. Yes, the situation would be a challenge, but it was such an amazing opportunity that I thought we could really nail if we were all together on it. At one point, the advisor, the woman who I looked up to and respected entirely turned to me and in an impolite tone curtly asked, “I’m going to interrupt you– has anyone ever told you that you’re really aggressive?” This was not a one-on-one conversation, it was in front of everyone on the team. It was inappropriate and rude. I felt my face and ears burn with frustration and simply responded, “Yes, I’ve heard that before.” Then I swallowed my anger and continued with my thought.
Somehow I held it together long enough to not cry in front of everyone, but my manager took me into an empty conference room after and I cried and cried. All of a sudden, I felt like I was that insecure fifteen year old afraid to speak up, afraid to show too much passion, afraid of being labeled in a way that girls shouldn’t be labeled. Over the next week, coworkers (some I was close with, some I wasn’t so close with) apologized to me for not saying something in the moment.
That one incident took me a really long time to recover from. I lost myself after it. I could hear this woman’s voice in my head with everything I did for months afterwards. “Don’t say anything,” she might whisper when in a meeting the next week. “Keep your mouth shut and just nod ‘yes,'” she might advise. “Your opinion doesn’t matter,” she informed me right before I would go to speak. 
Slowly her voice was getting softer and I was finding my own voice again, but man oh man. I still get angry, upset, and emotional when I think back to that afternoon. I felt little and unimportant and “bad.” 
I absolutely love Lean In’s new campaign to “Ban Bossy.” (Cameo by Beyonce?! Awesome.)

Have you ever been called bossy?

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Wow. This post really hit home to me. I've been called aggressive, ambitious, and intense, all in such a negative context. I feel like I'm constantly being silenced, and pressured into keeping my mouth shut and going through the motions while I'm at work. I love this campaign, and I love that it is encouraging girls to speak up and refuse to hide their passion. If you can work hard to silence those voices, then I can too! #whorunstheworld

Mary Kate Nicholson

I can totally relate to this, and it makes me feel reassured to here someone else's similar situation. Thank you for being open about this experience, because it's something that needs to be heard. I've been called bossy (and the other b word) before and when I look back it's made me not want to speak up, but that's not who I am. When a guy is authoritative, pushy, direct, etc, he is called a leader, but when a girl is all these things she's bossy. Thank you for voicing these same feelings, Carly! I love your blog more and more with each post.


I'm in college now, and phrases like "You're such an over-achiever" or "Well, aren't you quite the know-it-all" still pop into my head when I'm working with other people. These negative labels need to be replaced with some more positive adjectives!

Friday I Wander

Scalloped and Bows

Speaking of voicing your opinion, I don't necessarily agree with this campaign. I think a more appropriate alternative is to embrace the word, not denounce it. Bossy is clearly derived from the word "boss", meaning "a person who employs or superintends workers; manager." The word it's self has no negative connotation. It would make more sense to have a campaign that restructured how we interpreted the phrases "bossy", or "competitive", or "aggressive". They are all neutral words that can be applied in a variety of circumstances.

Embrace your inner bossy, and own it with pride.


Julia D.

Actually, the negative connotations are definitely there. It is a very gendered term that only seems to apply to women. The way we talk to young boys about being assertive and driven is much more positive and that's a problem. Look at the stats on the Ban Bossy website. Banning "bossy" may not end the problem, but it calls attention to it and that's a great place to start.

Nicole van Helvert

Well, I've heard bossy, intense and verbally agressive many times. Even from my teachers, the ones who are suppossed to make you aim for higher goals. Luckily I have a strong personality, so it didn't really shut me up. It only made me a bigger fighter. Doesn't mean it didn't hurt though. We need to learn who we truly are, accept it and own it. There are always going to be haters in this world, don't let their words define you, ever.


It's spooky how you always hit the nail right on the head and even spookier when you do it right when I hit a bump in the road.
I absolutely get what you mean! It can be so hard to be self-confident when you're called cocky or bossy or too aggressive and that you haven't "earned" that level of cockiness yet (how can a girl be cocky anyway…lol)
I would like to think it's normal to doubt yourself at times and to think about these comments, to reflect and then come out stronger at the end. Really, it's the confident ones that can deal with that kind of comments, grow and move on!

I love your comment to turn them around and make them positive adjectives! Optimism and being positive are always the better way out 🙂

Victoria Norris

I saw this video last night (how crazy that you posted about it today!), and I completely agree. I find myself being overly tentative when it comes to chasing my dreams for fear of coming off too strong, and I shouldn't have to feel that way at all.

Thank you for the encouragement, Carly.

– Victoria

CT Cupcake

I have to disagree with you that being called ambitious is a bad thing. It's not and saying it so discounts the "ban bossy" campaign.


Totally agree! My point is that the words themselves aren't bad, but the tone and connotation can be. If you read into the post, I clarify that I am ambitious and it's not a bad thing 😉

Amy Marie

I really love this! I am have always been told that I was born yelling orders. Is something so wrong with that? Too know what want, and not let anything get in my way? I'm pretty sure guys have not dated me based on my intensity. It is very unfortunate that bossy turns into a much crueler word when we are older. Another very inspiring post!

Thanks Carly!

Madeline Rose

When I was younger, my teachers in school complained to my parents that I couldn't keep my opinions to myself and that I was too bossy. Because I was young for my grade, they suggested that my parents hold me back until I was more "mature" and quiet. Thankfully, my parents didn't listen. People tell me I am bossy and aggressive, which unfortunately makes me want to be shy and quiet. It's sometimes difficult to find the balance.

Madeline | Ring-a-Round a Rosey | Bloglovin’

Meredith Davis

Thank you for writing this. I think many women, myself included, have heard this statement. I am working my first job out of college and trying to not step on any toes, but at the same time, stand up for myself and make sure my voice is heard. It's a tough balance. But I refuse to be told to be quiet and demure because I am female, I know that for sure 🙂

Jessica Joyce

I always remember and take pride in this moment when I was in the 3rd grade and two girls came up to me and said, "You're bossy." It's great because it's always been put in my brain that I am "in charge." Of course, not everyone takes it that way, but all girls should feel empowered when they're young.
Your Friend, Jess


I know that this topic has recently blown up, but really, I don't get the big deal. These descriptors, like any other word, can have a negative connotation. But so can words like pretty, smart, and talented when it comes to women. I have never felt bad about being called ambitious-in fact, I took it as a compliment because I am ambitious. Just because we are women and feminine does not mean that we should not be allowed to have dominant traits. And just like any other trait, having too much or too little of it may not necessarily be a healthy thing (in the case of bossy…which can also be called assertive). For me, this goes along with the gender neutralization discussion. Just because we take something away does not fix it. I think for women to be successful we have to own all parts of ourselves and stand up for our right to be assertive (or bossy), ambitious, or competitive. By taking these words away we are really just letting "them" put us in our place, and that does nothing for women's empowerment.

Ivonne Mata

This was so inspiring! Thank you. It really made me reflect on my life and the times I've been called those words. They really can stay with you. BUT! As time passes I'm learning to embrace these qualities and use them to their full potential. Girl power all the way Carly! 😉

I totally signed the Ban Bossy petition! *does 30 second dance party*

Hilary Sauls

Your description of passion, ambition and competitiveness is on point! Its almost like you are in my mind, ha! For some reason being certain and passionate are frowned upon far too often. Hold your ground and let em' frown!

Kira Truelock

Thank you so much for touching on this. It's always been "Kira, you're so bossy" or "Don't let Kira boss you around". It's so frustrating because I just want to see people succeed and I've gotten to the point what I want and what I don't want. This was a great thing to wake up to. Thanks, Carly!

Ashley Stockwell

Ugh, I had a similar situation where I was called "abrasive" by one of my professors (also a woman) in front of my entire group that I was leading for a semester-long project. It was so jarring, especially coming from a figure that's supposed to be supportive of growth and new ideas. I think it's interesting that it tends to be other women who say things like that.

Mallory Ann

This is amazing! Since I entered the job world many of my guy friends have said I have had a b*tch streak that comes out… I call it decision making and standing up for myself! Right on Carly!!


Carly, thank you so much for having the courage to write about problems like this! I come from a family where debating across the dinner table is the norm, and having people tell me I'm either too opinionated or argue too much is something I hate more than pretty much anything else I could be called.


Red Lipstick

Adult bullies is what they are! Like you, I stopped speaking at meetings (first he said I have a voice like a chipmonk (lol), then I'm 'bossy'?!). I ended up filing a grievance and won, but the damage was done. Nobody really ever 'wins' these things. I love that you wrote about this and this campaign! I did not know how to deal with this positively then.


Since I got my Masters in School Counseling this is such an interesting post for me. The goal of a counselor is to help their students see their full potential (especially young girls prone to self esteem issues). So I'm totally with you, ban the word bossy!

Kate Baldwin

I found myself nodding along to every word of this! Bossy, competitive, aggressive all have such negative connotations, but they can be truly powerful traits. I'm proud to be competitive, passionate and ambitious, no matter what anyone else thinks. Those are the things that have made me successful. Thanks for writing about this topic!



What a great piece Carly!!! Though I have been called the "other b-word" since childhood, and have always seen it as a complement, I can understand how it may hinder a girl's confidence. It takes encouragement and support at home, from friends and from educators and colleagues to accept your a passionate female. What irks me is that still to this day a passionate mom is totally acceptable but a passionate professional is labeled a b-word.


I think there can be different kinds of bossy. Using bossy to describe someone who is ambitious is a bad thing. I've been in that spot where my opinions, often passionate, we're met with an eye roll and comments like "know it all". However, I think we have to be careful in how we label situations as bossy. Kids are often told "not to boss" their friends around, and as adults we tend to do that too. Someone above me in their comment said "Don't let her boss you around." I don't know the background story obviously, but that made me think about the times when we impose our "bossy" on others. Yes, girls can be leaders, and should be, but no one has the right to boss others around in their vision of a goal. I've been in meetings where people who would be considered "bossy" would take charge of an idea and expect everyone to just go along, not listening, not caring about others. We need a meeting place where everyone can feel comfortable to participate and share ideas, but not impose their ideas on others. I guess it comes down to connotations again and the correct use of the word bossy. I say ban it when it comes to describing girls who are ambitious, and go-getters, but understand that sometimes someone who is bossy, is just that, bossy.

Connie B

Thank you so much for sharing this! Using words like "bossy" and "competitive" are ways that bring down young girls and women. This is so important to talk about!

Constance || Prep Northwest


I was a very bossy child, but I was pretty rude about it, too. Now, I'm learning to have a balance between polite and opinionated. Embrace the bossiness!


I've never been called bossy, that I can recall. It's only been recently that I've been able to stand up for myself and what I believe in. It feels good to do what's right and take some control of my life.