I don’t know about anyone else, but I have an exceptionally bossy daughter. At least, that’s what I thought until I read this piece by Marlo Thomas: Women’s History Month: Closing the Ambition Gap.
What I realized after reading the article is that my daughter is not bossy. She is assertive and ambitious. She is a strong leader. Bossy is a connotation-laden term used most often when we dislike those qualities in a woman. And one of the places we like it least is in the Church.
My daughter, when she is grown, could be a corporate CEO or own her own business. She could direct a play or write the next great American novel. She could join the military in service for her country. She could be a brain surgeon or a zookeeper or a high school principal or even President of the United States. There are thousands of ways in which she can put her gifts to work in her community, this country, and the world.
But only if she is encouraged to do so.
There is a culture within the church that does not foster the kind of no-holds-barred ambition required for women to rise to the top. Women with those kinds of personality traits are often told not to make waves; they’re encouraged to downplay those gifts; and they’re frowned upon because they refuse to just put up and shut up. They aren’t behaving the way we think nice young women should.
I don’t want my daughter to be a nice young woman.
I don’t want her to grow up thinking that her place in the church is organizing the bake sale or arranging the flowers on the altar or photocopying the bulletin for the Sunday service, and that being “the chairwoman of the decorating team” counts as using her spiritual gifts for leadership. That seems as silly as telling her that, with her love for animals, she would be better off buying a puppy than spending the years required to become a zookeeper (her stated dream job).
If my daughter can be anything she wants outside the church, why should her hands be tied inside the church? She will be the same person whether she is giving speeches at a Congressional hearing or from the pulpit on Sunday morning. The same God who calls her to lead in the community is just as likely to call her to lead in the church. God isn’t limited that way, and doesn’t limit us, either.
When we deny women the chance to take on real leadership within the church, we create an environment rife with passive-aggression. We teach girls to believe that the same qualities that would make them Commander-in-Chief are unwelcome among believers. We imply that those qualities are unnatural and should be squashed, denied, or in some way eliminated. In turn, this perpetuates the stereotype of strong women being bossy hags who want nothing more than to usurp men’s rightful place. If we want our daughters to believe they are just as good, just as powerful, as men, then it has to start in our communities of faith. We need to watch our daughters for leadership skills just as we watch our sons, then find ways for them to put those gifts to work—whether that’s in their future professional lives or in volunteer service to others.
We women don’t want to be men. We don’t want to be like men. What we want is the chance to love God, serve others, and use our talents the way we sense God calling us. We want to hear, from our youngest years, that we are strong and that we can do it. We want to reclaim our own place within the community of faith as leaders and prophets, just as we did in the Bible. We want our skills recognized both inside and outside our churches.
Marlo Thomas, thank you for reminding us to teach our daughters to be bossy. Now let’s get out there and celebrate Women’s History Month by encouraging our girls to reach for the sky.