Stanescu-Bellu: The Case for Being “Bossy”

Women’s fear of assertiveness is falsely grounded and should be abandoned.

by Sofia Stanescu-Bellu | 1/12/17 12:19am

I found myself at it again. I had written an email to check on the status of an application but as my mouse hovered over the “send” button, I froze. What if they thought I was being too pushy? What if this action meant my application would be automatically rejected? It took some mental prodding and persuasion before I could bring myself to click the grey paper airplane button.

This wasn’t the first time that I was crippled by this gripping, visceral fear at the prospect of asserting myself or demanding something that was my right to demand. It undoubtedly won’t be the last. Unfortunately, this reaction is all too common in women as social standards are strict on our behavior. Any act that is deemed “inappropriate” — such as interrupting a male co-worker at work or speaking loudly — is labeled as unrightfully dominant, or “bossy.” If men assert their dominance, they are praised as leaders. If women assert their dominance, it is seen as a threat.

I recently watched the 2016 film “Equity” about female investment bankers on Wall Street. As someone interested in the field, I hadn’t considered the implications of pursuing such a heavily male-dominated career. Yes, of course there would be differences in the treatment of men and women in the workplace — given that there is a 20 percent disparity in the wages of men and women, it’s almost guaranteed that there will be some sexism.

Watching “Equity,” however, I was reminded that reality is often very different from what we envision with our rose-tinted glasses. Investment banking is a ruthless world as-is, but for women, it’s even more ruthless. Seeing the struggles the female main characters faced — having to reciprocate a client’s advances, being more harshly criticized for their failures, fearing being fired due to a pregnancy — made me more acutely aware of the environment I am so actively pursuing.

“Money doesn’t have to be a dirty word,” quips Naomi, played by Anna Gunn, at the beginning of “Equity.” “We can like that too.” While society may say otherwise, it’s okay for women to want money, to strive for that promotion and their careers. It’s not opportunistic but rather the natural desire to be successful and have material comfort. As a woman, promotions are harder to come by — 15 percent fewer women get promoted than men in the American workforce — and careers, even harder. Some might argue that this is due to a lack of education or ability, but that argument isn’t valid because the playing field isn’t even. While I may think that those are not the reasons women do not succeed at the level men do, they are still not valid arguments. The inherent sexism of the workplace will automatically tip the scales in the male’s favor, regardless of education and perhaps even ability.

The fairness of this situation is a moot point. It’s not fair and it never will be, but the discussion of its fairness gets us nowhere. So what are the solutions? Forbes suggests being meeker, more willing to follow the man’s lead. The Wall Street Journal says to use “non-verbal cues” when communicating to subtly convey dominance without being overbearing. Psychology Today argues for diplomatic assertiveness. Those are all good temporary solutions, but the real cure is much simpler: teach your daughters that it’s okay to stand up for themselves, to voice their opinions, to be “bossy” and not to let society constrict their freedom.

I am incredibly lucky to have parents that support me in all of my ventures and encourage me to chase my dreams. My mom is my biggest cheerleader and my dad is my source of courage. When the fear and doubt creep in about my assertiveness, I know that they will be there to help me overcome it. It’s getting better and as time goes on — hopefully this hesitation to be strong will be gone for good. Some girls don’t have this support system, but they should. Women and girls should be encouraged to be true to themselves, and gradually, this deeply-rooted divide between men and women will disappear.

You may be wondering now if all of this has made me reconsider my career choice. Will I go for something tamer, a field more dominated by women? The answer is no. No, I will not give up my dreams just because there’s a hurdle in my path. I will face that hurdle head on and jump over it.

Life is hard, investment banking is hard. But that’s okay. The divide doesn’t scare me. I am a woman, I am assertive and I am proud.