She’s not bossy, she’s showing leadership

She’s not bossy, she’s showing leadership

Last year, on International Women’s Day, I reflected on a Nicole Kidman interview.  She refused to accept the bossy label for her two alpha daughters, preferring instead to praise them for their leadership qualities.  I think her comments captured some hard truths about the way we women and girls are perceived by others.  And also, perhaps more uncomfortably, the way in which we tend to view ourselves.  This year the IWD theme is #PressforProgress, aimed at encouraging people to continue the vocal fight for equality.

The bossy label

But I’d like to return to that word bossy, which has such negative connotations and is rarely if ever applied to boys or men.  Why not?  Why aren’t they perceived as bossy?  Rather they are considered assertive, confident and showing leadership.  Feisty is another label that doesn’t seem to apply to boys and men.  Again, why not?

Confidence in our abilities

Why don’t we apply for jobs and seize opportunities for which we are ideally suited?  How many of us zero in on the one or two requirements where we don’t tick the boxes?  Instead of focussing on the majority of areas where we do fulfil the wish list?  I’m generalising here but this is the complete opposite to how men approach things.  If they don’t have all the required experience or skills, that doesn’t stop them going for an opening and just ignoring the criteria they don’t satisfy.  Why don’t we do the same?

Equal opportunities

We always hear a lot about the forthcoming skills shortage in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Maths) careers.  Many companies are trying to encourage more women to apply for jobs in these traditionally male-dominated sectors.  I worked with one in the past, Tideway, who employs lots of women.  Construction and engineering offer much more than muddy boots and high visibility jackets, and women are ideally suited to many careers within the industry.  Communication, multi-tasking, creativity, problem solving are all skills that most women and girls (especially mums!) possess.  And they are completely transferable to STEM opportunities.  Why do so many of us ignore these potential careers?


Watching an old episode of Channel 4’s The Secret Life of 5 Year Olds, I was captivated by one of the girls.  She went her own way, preferring to play with dinosaurs instead of make-up and dolls.  Part of me was cheering as I watched her but part of me felt terribly sad as she was left on her own because none of the other girls wanted to play with her.  Why do so many girls conform to stereotype and follow the herd at such an early age?

Ban Bossy

My daughter

Co-incidentally, today is also my daughter’s 8th birthday.  I remember Flora as a five year old dinosaur enthusiast, with an ambition to be a paleontologist.  Now her focus has switched to whales, dolphins and porpoises, or cetaceans – I had to look that one up!  She already knows far more than I do about all kinds of things and her thirst for knowledge truly awes me.  I’m proud to say she inspires (and sometimes frustrates!) me every single day.  And I love that she goes her own way, has no interest in conforming, and frequently tells everyone what they are going to do.

We’ve always encouraged Flora to do anything and be anything she wants to.  I hope she’ll continue to believe in her own abilities as she grows up.  Listening to her with her friends, I’m reminded of the apocryphal military testimonial: “His men will follow him anywhere out of sheer curiosity just to see what he does next.”  That’s completely applicable to her and I too need to remember that she’s not being bossy, she’s showing leadership.

What do you think about the “bossy” label? Do you think it matters how we label women?  Are you joining the #PressforProgress on IWD?


Leave a Reply

14 Comment threads
12 Thread replies
Most reacted comment
Hottest comment thread
15 Comment authors
AbbyLena DeeMs ViaLydiaEmma Rollason Recent comment authors
newest oldest most voted
Notify of
Mary in Bath
Mary in Bath

Our four daughters and one son were born in the mid to late sixties, I think before I knew enough to actually call myself a feminist. But, they were encouraged to develop any and every interest, not just what was considered gender appropriate. When all their friends were getting Tiny Tears dolls for Christmas, our girls were getting good quality gender neutral toys from firms like Abbat toys and Galt. We were hard up, but it was doable. And they all followed their interests and had loads of fun. This sounds very commonplace and nothing special, but in its time… Read more »


It’s fine if a girl genuinely wants to play with stereotypically “girls” toys, we all like what we like after all but If they’re doing it for the sake of fitting in or not appearing to like “boys toys” then there’s clearly something wrong there. Great post Lisa xx

A Cup Of Wonderland

Happy Birthday to Flora! For me, I have to say I always hated the ‘bossy’ label which I got a lot as a child and it honestly made me resent myself a bit. Bossy has a lot of negative connotations and its important that now we fight these negative and derogatory labels which are given to girls (and boys) and just let them grow up and be whatever they like to be.


I found this really interesting! As a kid I was obsessed with typical girl stuff for about as long as I can remember and was never really interested in other ‘boy’ stuff at all. I love seeing girls who are successful in science though. Connotations aside, I also quite like the word feisty ?. I love that Flora is so happy to pursue her own interests so young! x



I hate being called bossy. I’ve had guys make really annoying comments and I made sure to always tell them that those were not appropriate things to say. I would be working and guys would always hit on me and ask me about my love life which I found extremely rude and it made me really uncomfortable. I’ve often tried to avoid any position of power but I I’ve realized I should not hold myself back to make men feel better.

Ashley Idle

Absolutely awesome! This is a huge pet peeve for me, the whole “Bossy” thing. I have had the fact that I’m not particularly feminine in my actions (read, opinionated) thrown at me by family, even. I stand by and stand tall as a strong woman and applaud anyone who pushes for that in others (like you are with your daughter). Keep it up, and I will be taking part in the “PressforProgress.”


Such a fantastic post Lisa. I hadn’t ever really thought about the fact boys aren’t often referred to as bossy but it’s so true. I really believe we need to leave behind the out dated gender ideas and let kids be who they want to be without being put in a box. My son enjoys dressing up as a princess and playing with dolls and I encourage him to do just that if that’s what makes him happy.
Thank you so much for sharing this post and a big happy birthday to Flora too❤️

Melanie |

Zoe Jackson
Zoe Jackson

I loved this, I think it is important on how we label women as a lot of our passionate energy can be twisted. As a little girl I was obsessed with space and dreamed of being an astronaut and I was told by an uncle ‘girls don’t do that’ so that dream pretty much died, but I’ve studied Astrology so I haven’t lost touch of my space dream. I encourage my two daughters to be who they want to be and what they want to do.

Emma Rollason

Such a brilliant and thought provoking post Lisa, you’re daughter sounds like such a wonderful little girl and already inspiring at such a young age, I hope her leadership keeps on shining through. Happy Birthday to Flora!! I hope she had a wonderful 8th birthday.

Emma x


I remember being called bossy as a child-but by the other girls in my class! The thing is: as long as you have confidence, and aren’t arrogant, then you’re set. But I dislike how the word is used to be mean; bossy isn’t necessarily a bad thing, as you’ve said ?

Ms Via

Great post Lisa. Wishing belated happy birthday to lovely Flora. There are people who just can’t accept confidence in a female and they call them bossy. I think we should ignore the term and be what we are and continue doing what we enjoy and are interested in. Girls should be encouraged to do what they want and feel like instead of diverting their interests in other direction when they are little. Lisa you are doing great with Flora all the best to her always.

Lena Dee

I love this! Lol at my age I still frustrate my mother everyday ahaha :’) I don’t think that will stop. I’ve been trying to settle to read this post for a bit now & I’m glad I got too, I agree with you. Why are women boxed in with labels like bossy and feisty? Some guy called me feisty the other day and got my eyes rolling, like because I’m not afraid to speak my mind I’m “feisty”? I think it’s 2018 and a lot of these things need to be looked past and we as women need to… Read more »


I am loving all of your posts! I’ve always been labeled bossy or fiesty. For the first part of my life, I definitely took it as an insult. Now-a-days, I try to take it as a compliment. What those labels really mean, is that I am determined, passionate, and a leader. But you are so right. Why don’t men get labeled this?! If it was equally dished out, it would be one thing. I feel some people label others this way because they are threatened by ones determination, passion, “bossiness” BUT it’s very one-sided and that is such a problem.… Read more »