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?
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?
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?