Lucy’s Lowdown: female leaders and the other b-word

The first installment in opinion editor Lucy Polyak’s recurring series of columns.

Lucy Polyak, Columns Editor

Welcome! I’m Lucy Polyak, WSS opinion editor, and this column kicks off my recurring series where I tackle a topic that I’m particularly passionate about and give you “Lucy’s Lowdown.” This week: being a leader. Or more specifically, being a “female leader.”

Ever since I was a little kid, I have always been a talker. I was gifted with two incredibly smart and creative parents that encouraged me to be my best self, and for me that meant sharing my ideas with others. They have always been some of my biggest advocates, especially once I entered the school system. However, my earliest years of school were where I had my first experiences with the “bossy” problem.

I have a very distinct memory of working on a group project with two guy friends in an elementary social studies class. After I shared my ideas with them, they told me to stop being so bossy and to hang back a little to let them get the work done. For a long time after that, I hung back from trying to lead in fear of being called bossy again. Being a leader was a good thing, but being bossy was a very, very bad thing.

It took until I was halfway through high school to understand the true meaning of bossy. This word is used pretty much only to put down women in power. When a woman is trying to lead, throwing that nasty b-word at her is a surefire way to pull the rug out from under her. After this idea was introduced to me, I felt as if I’d been struck by lightning as I realized I’d never seen a man called bossy.

I felt as if I’d been struck by lightning as I realized I’d never seen a man called bossy.

I now finally understood why I was so scared to stand up and lead when I was in a group of mostly guys, like when I’ve run fundraisers or even just participated in P.E. class. I was terrified that these boys would think I was being too bossy, or worse, would look at me with pity while thinking that it was cute that I was trying so hard to be a leader.

As I continued to look at the world through my newly-opened eyes I saw this phenomenon was a worldwide problem. Our society had been separating people into two categories: “leaders” and “female leaders.” Leaders are, well frankly, men that lead and a select few women that were able to break through the glass ceiling, while female leaders are leading women that face patronizing as they climb with the hopes of tapping that aforementioned ceiling.

A classic example of this is women in politics. During the 2016 presidential election, a plethora of wildly sexist things happened (to specific female leaders and also just to women in general).  From tearing apart women’s’ physical appearances to certain political figures explaining why they don’t think a woman is fit for office, this election showed that our world at large is far from accepting of strong women.

On a more local scale, Iowa’s first female governor, Kim Reynolds, was mistaken for the wife of a senator when she first decided to run. Because of happenings like this, it feels to me as if there’s nearly nothing a woman in power can do that will make her society be completely content with her. So what’s the lesson in all this? What is my point with this column?

It’s time for our society to catch up to our world. Women shouldn’t have to work twice as hard as their male counterparts to be seen as true leaders. At the same time, hard-working women shouldn’t be unconsciously labeled as domineering or controlling. We’re already raising strong women, now we just need to teach society to trust them.