Mythbusting #Digimeet - Girls/ Women are Bossy!


Thank you to @kiran‍ one of our #WomenEd WM Regional Leaders for organising today's #womened #digimeet 

Girls are bossy. Boys are ...
Girls are bitches. Boys are ...
Girls are dramatic. Boys are ...

Girls are queen bees. Boys are...

Girls are pretty. Boys are ...

Which adjective would you use to describe the same qualities in the boys as we would use for the girls?

As an English teacher I am interested in language choices and language effects.

As a Headteacher we are standardising the language and labels we use in our school, tweaking word choices to create more nuanced meaning e.g. we are not having tutors we are having coaches. Language matters as language lands - in our ears, in our hearts and in our minds. These words take root and and sow seeds that can grow and flourish into positive thoughts, emotions and behaviours, or they can thrive as weeds and strangle hold us.  

bossy: adjective
fond of giving people orders; domineering.
"don't be so bossy!"
synonyms:domineering, dominating, overbearing, imperious, masterful, autocratic, autarchic, officious, high-handed, high and mighty, authoritarian, dictatorial, strict, harsh, severe, iron-handed, controlling, despotic, tyrannical, draconian, oppressive, subjugating, undemocratic, anti-democratic;

The language we use about girls in our classrooms and women in our schools is gender biased. 

The labels we use in our society are gender biased. 

The expectations we set in the world are unequal and are gender biased.  

We need to be aware of the language we use.

We need to be conscious of how we describe ourselves, other women and girls.

As an Aries, I have had the bossy label instilled in me since a child. I was always the organiser, the natural team leader. I was headstrong, I was fearless.

When I was a child, everyone said I would be a great teacher. As I became a teen when I said I wanted to be a writer, people said  I would be the editor. As a teacher peers said I would be a good headteacher. Others have always recognised that quality in me. I have never shied away from it. Even when it opens you up to criticism.

We need to collectively challenge how girls think and speak about themselves.

We need to encourage girls to lead.

We need girls to be 10%braver and 100% their authentic selves.

 #WomenEd inspires/ empowers the adult females in our sector to push back. 

With challenge and change as 2 of our core values, how can we pass the baton on to the next generation?

I watched my niece turn 7/8 and begin to lose her confidence. I had been doing some work with Dove on their self-esteem project and I shared the resources with my sister - she queried why programmes like that were prevalent in London but not in Devon.

The confidence gap kicks in and widens, at an earlier age than most people think. 

We need to consider from day 1 the books that are read, the shows that are watched and the conversations that are had.

We need to consider not only the characters but also the status and the language of girls/ women in these texts. Each choice sends a subliminal message. 

@awilliams‍ has set up a brilliant girl leadership programme in her primary school - I was blown away by the confidence of her students who presented to our coaching circle and at out regional event.

@mshmfl@benniekara‍ and I  are planning a girls leadership programme for our students - we are a boy heavy mixed school, with a STEAM specialism in an area with a very high teenage pregnancy rate.  

We need to nurture our successors, tomorrow's leaders.

So next time you, a friend, a colleague, your daughter, your niece or a girl in your classroom is criticised for being bossy or shies away from being a leader her to practice the following mantras: 

"I am not bossy, I just have better ideas"."I am not bossy, I am a leader". 

More reading:


October 11th is International Day of the Girl - we are planning a #womened twitter chat, #digimeeet and a series of #leadmeet. Put on your school calendar now. 

What can you plan to do on that date to challenge the system?  

Author Profile

Hannah Wilson

Hannah Wilson

Executive Headteacher | DfE Coach | #WomenEd Co-Founder | SLE | NPQML/SL facilitator | NPQH | Governor | Leadership Matters Ambassador

238 stories


A Alexander A Alexander @andream656 3 months ago
Love this Hannah, my daughter gets called bossy and domineering all the time, mainly by boys but also by teachers and relatives. It is interesting and worrying that these adjectives are only attributed to girls and never boys. Luckily her defiance has meant she's ignored much of this and her leadership skills thrive.
Natalie Wilcox Natalie Wilcox @natw 3 months ago
The students at Aureus have incredible role models in you and your team. I'm speaking at an MFL Teachmeet on 11th October but I can see that my talk might end up being more about #womened and International Day of the Girl!
Kiran S Kiran S @kiran 3 months ago
Definitely @natw

Reconstructing language and young girls knowing it is ok to be assertive and young boys knowing it is ok to be nurturing. It isn't about gender, it is about the person you are and owing that x love this blog @misswilsey
Lena Carter Lena Carter @lenabellina 3 months ago
Super writing Hannah. At my school just now I am using every opportunity to challenge pupils and staff to think about the way they label and use language.
Rebecca F Rebecca F @bexfin 3 months ago
Thank you, Hannah, this article has really grounded me. As an educator, I would recognise the qualities you describe, but all too often, I check my own daughter for so-called 'bossy behaviour' with the, I now realise, misguided, view to smoothing her social path. I am in that tricky position of having my daughter at my school and have heard comments from her peers and their parents regarding her confidence 'because I'm her mum.' She actually gets the toughest deal of all but now I am thinking perhaps she has a strong female role model in the home and is developing leadership skills. I feel greatly reassured by your post and will endeavour to nurture and direct her skills. I think the key is to guide our girls with these strong, intelligent minds to use their strength 'for good' ( in fear of sounding like a superhero comic) and for them to encourage other girls to step forward too.
Naznin Choudhury Naznin Choudhury @naz08 3 months ago
Brilliant Hannah ! I totally agree with you.
Annemarie  Williams Annemarie Williams @awilliams 3 months ago
Thank you your kind words about our girls leadership programme. Words really do matter and that's the feedback from the girls that I work with every day. Labels like "bossy" "loudmouth" and "aggressive" really do stick and can rip the courage out of any young girl or woman and eat away at our self esteem. By the same token, we don't do our boys and young men any favours with language such as "man up" "cry baby" or "sissy" Words really do count. Our thoughts become words and words become actions. The more we challenge this kind of negative language and replace it with a positive approach, the better for all our self esteem. Loved this blog! Thank you
Nicole  Fowles Nicole Fowles @nicolefowles 3 months ago
This is a fantastic blog Hannah! I've lost count of the times I have been labelled as bossy by many different people including family and colleagues. As headteacher, I've seen older female colleagues struggle (especially office staff for some reason) with the notion they will be taking "orders" from a younger woman and the "who is she to tell me" syndrome. Toxic and unhelpful behaviour needs to be stamped out especially female to female because we need to lift each other up and champion one another. I wholeheartedly agree with your comments about the fact that language and words really matter - so very true. Thanks for sharing these thoughts today.
Kerry Jordan-Daus Kerry Jordan-Daus @kerry 3 months ago
@nicolefowles Really interesting points. I wonder if we have a dominant model of leadership as bossy, transactional, directive; rather than leadership as collegiate, distributive and relational. Tanya Fitzgerald talks about "managing like a man", or put another way, replicating masculine behaviours? F course double bind for women, got to play the leadership game but when they do, get criticised, by both men and women.
Sarah Hardy Sarah Hardy @sarahhardy 3 months ago
As soon as I read Lean In and bossy was mentioned - it resonated with me...I'm assertive and opinionated which had always been portrayed as angry, bossy and loud mouthed because of my gender...thank you writing this Hannah and myth busting...but also for all your fantastic work in boosting girls self esteem. Your school is going to grow and nurture some world changing students. Xx
Lisa Hannay Lisa Hannay @lisahan 3 months ago
I have used some of these words myself! to talk about myself! I usually have a smirk on my face as I say them, but I ought to use better language to describe my own leadership so that I can work better with others!
Nicole  Fowles Nicole Fowles @nicolefowles 3 months ago
@kerry yes and also links to self awareness as how one comes across may not be how we perceive ourselves. It's very easy to be labelled as bossy when you are really being assertive and clarifying the priorities. The challenge becomes when there is some sort of conflict and that's when listening closely and finding solutions together becomes so important.
Clare Erasmus Clare Erasmus @cerasmusteach 2 months ago
encore encore! May EVERY educator read this. There is so much we can do to tackle this in our schools. We are the instruments of leading this change
{{ modalTitle }} {{{ modalData }}} {{ modalTitle }} {{{ modalData }}} Join the conversation
Sign in or sign up to post comments, follow colleagues, recommend stories and build your own professional profile.
Staffrm is the professional network for educators passionate about their work.
Please Sign In {{ modalData }} Sign In