Banning Bossy




“Hello Carissa, This is our younger self.”

This is the beginning of a letter my daughter Carissa received as she was beginning the 12th grade.  Her 3rd grade self had an assignment to write her 12th grade self.  The letter arrived during the fall of her senior year, right in the middle of the stress of college applications.

It continues: “Right now we are in 3rd grade. Something a lot of people say about us is that we are very stubborn, Sometimes they say it like it is bad, but really I think it is special. I hope that even when we are twelth (sic) graders we don’t lose that.”

I hope that even when we are twelfth graders we don’t lose that.

Pretty insightful for an 8 year-old kid. 

According to, “when a little boy asserts himself, he’s called a “leader.” Yet when a little girl does the same, she risks being branded “bossy.” Words like bossy send a message: don’t raise your hand or speak up.”  Furthermore, between elementary school and high school girls’ self-esteem drops 3.5 times more than boys, and girls are twice as likely as boys to worry that leadership roles will make them seem bossy.

The good news is as 8 year-old Carissa hoped, 17 year-old Carissa has not lost that.  The words “stubborn,” “aggressive,” “obstinate,” headstrong” and, yes, “bossy” are littered throughout her report card narratives and were the topics of several meetings throughout the years with teachers and her school.  And, while I fully understood how high-energy and opinionated my feisty little girl was and still is (trust me, I live with her), I always asked this question:

If Carissa were a boy, would you be describing her behavior this way?

Or would stubborn be described as tenacious? 

Aggressive as assertive?

Obstinate as determined? 

Headstrong as gritty? 

And bossy as a leader?

True to her 8 year-old’s aspiration, Carissa worked hard to keep her assertive, determined, gritty leader alive.  Carissa is her authentic self.  And, as a result, Carissa has done some pretty incredible things for a teenager: traveling to Ghana and Cambodia to work with orphans to help build schools, winning a national title in gymnastics, starting a club at her school to raise money to build water wells in Africa so girls are able to attend school instead of spending their day fetching water, volunteering with autistic kids and learning sign language on her own so she could communicate with a group of deaf girls she had the opportunity to work with. Next fall she will head off to college to begin her studies to become a pediatric neurosurgeon, just as she had dreamed of being when she was in the third grade.

But being a bossy girl comes with a price.  Teachers lack patience and are irritated by her energy and passion which can take the form of calling out in class and constantly questioning everything.  Carissa has struggled in cooperative learning environments.  She has to work to manage her frustration with herself and others.  Her bluntness can be seen as rude and her unwillingness to accept rules without reasons as disrespectful.  Patience and tone are not her strong suits, and she is working on it. 

Carissa is exhausting and exhilarating at the same time. And, I constantly remind myself that while her childhood may not be a breeze (if both she and I survive it), she is going to be an incredible adult. 

My “bossy” girl proudly dons a “Question Authority” sticker on her laptop and constantly reminds me the “Well-behaved women rarely make history.”   My little girl most certainly is leaning in.

We need more Carissas.  We need more girls to have the courage and support to lead.  We need to #banbossy.

Join Sheryl Sanberg,, the Girl Scouts, me and thousands of others who are #banbossy, a campaign to help girls and women feel more confident and comfortable as leaders. 

Please consider sharing this blog post on Facebook or Twitter and encourage others to do the same and #banbossy.  Together we can encourage girls to lead.

P.S.  For those interested, here is the entire text of Carissa’s letter. 

*intentionally left spelling errors*

“Hello Carissa,

This is our younger self. Right now we are in 3rd grade. Something a lot of people say about us is that we are very stubborn, Sometimes they say it like it is bad, but really I think it is special. I hope that even when we are twelth graders we don’t lose that. Also, we love gymnastics! Last night we got kicked out of the gym by Jim because he was angry. Jim gets upset with us alot. I wonder if we get along better with him now. Something else we like is math. Right now you (and me) want to be a pediatric neurosurgon. That is a brain surgon for kids in case you forgot. So, I want to go to recess now, but I hope we are having a good life. Maybe we are going to UCLA next year? That would be awsome



P.s. Ms. Steinkamp won’t let me go to recess because she said I have not completed this project. She said I must answer ALL her question she wrote. The next one is something you like about yourself. I said that was that I am stubborn but she said that answers what people say about me so I said it answers both but she said I had to do another. I told her its not fair because I was creative to use one sentence to cover both but she didn’t buy it. So you also like about us that we don’t always listen because sometimes I am just write and adults hate when I am smarter. Dad especially hates it. Sometimes you get in trouble for that.


p.p.s. We forgot one question. You have two best friends Courtney and Rachel. We have a sleepover with Courtney every Saturday. Also from gym there is Sammy and Izzy. They are like your sisters though. I hope we still talk to them though

FYI These were the questions-

1. What do people say about you? 2. What do you like about yourself? 3. What do you want to be when you grow up? 4. What is your favorite subject? 6. What do you do for fun? 7. Who is you best friend?