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  • Writer's pictureDr. Lisa Gonzales

Is the Term "Bully" Appropriate?

I've often wondered....are our expectations of female leaders fair? Be it in politics, school leadership or even in athletics? I mean....are we really holding women to the same expectations as men?

I've said it before - I wasn't a Sarah Palin fan. But I didn't trash talk about her. Yet the media did. Time and time again. They commented on her suits, her hair, her shoes, her glasses, and her abilities as a mother. I didn't hear those comments made about her opponent or other men running for office.

And then there's Hillary Clinton. Like her or not, were the comments and criticisms based on her leadership skills or did you hear them steeped in gender? Was she judged accurately, considering the double bind that confronts women in leadership roles?

Let me take it a step further.

A male in a leadership role who holds staff accountable is considered strong. When he draws the line in the stand, he is seen as assertive. When he speaks out, he is viewed as effective. Flip genders and the terms that often come out are "bully," "bossy," and "not knowing her place" or even "doing it to disrespect others."

A female in a leadership role who takes a stance or holds others accountable is often not held to the same standards, especially when she gets push back from those lower in the ranks. Really think about this and I'm sure you'll note at least one (or dozens) of examples in the workplace or in society where you are cognizant of this "female effect."

I don't like it.

Not one bit.

When in positions of authority, men are told to be good leaders, be good role models, lift others. The same is expected of women to a certain degree, but they are also expected to be gentle, more caring, self-depricating and heaven help us if they get emotional! If you follow my musings, you'll have heard of the time when a male superintendent directed me to go cry in a staff meeting because "it works for me all the time."


There is a clear double bind and even Hillary Clinton running for office hasn't changed the paradigm. If a women isn't seen as gentle/overly caring/fill-in-the-blank, she is viewed as too aggressive and subject to as many negative judgments that can be launched...but they are overwhelmingly launched on women.

When's the last time you heard a women characterized as "ambitious" and if you did.....what else was in that descriptor? Let's look at a quick election recap from 2016:

Donald Trump: ambitious real estate developments, ambitious deportation plan

Bernie Sanders: ambitious plans

Hillary Clinton: pathologically ambitious, unbridled ambition, naked ambition, ruthless ambition

Yes, you can't make this stuff up. And what a lot of research articles on this topic have reminded me - when women don't talk and act as we think they should, we create impressions that they are ineffective leaders. But when it comes to women, their behavior parallels that of male counterparts. Its just that their gender is different.

And we have double standards. I've had this same discussion with my parents who are often reminded that they raised a strong woman (who is raising other strong young women) and sometimes the gloves come off. Like Hillary Clinton, don't call me "shrill" when I'm trying to talk over a crowd. Don't call me a "bully" when I tell you your performance is sub-par because you don't like the message. Don't tell me I have to play down my power in order to be accepted.

I'm very aware of my presence and leadership as a woman. After all, I've been in this body now for almost 51 years. I realize that I have to be nicer and more thoughtful. I have to hold my tongue longer than a man in a conversation. There are some times where I know to get a certain responsive action, I need a man to introduce the idea because its different when it comes from a man than a woman.

I've played the game and will continue to do so. But come off it, don't use the terms "bully," "bossy," "demanding" or any others that cheapen what women bring to a setting and they tackle the same issues that men do.

Same standards. Same expectations. Same rules.

Now start playing with them.

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