I am a firm believer in language and the power that words have in our lives. Whether it is the words that we speak to ourselves, the ones we use to address others or the ones we read or hear, words surround us all the time. And as such, we need to use them well. It seems that today, the word of the day is "BOSSY", thanks in part to a new campaign from the Sherly Sandberg "Lean-in" crowd and the folks from Girl Scouts of America. Their new #BanBossy campaign is aimed at, well... just that, banning the word "bossy" from conversations, especially those about and around assertive, confident girls and women. In an article for the Wall Street Journal, Ms. Sandberg and Anna Maria Chavez, CEO of Girl Scouts of USA discuss the new campaign:
"Behind the negative connotations lie deep-rooted stereotypes about gender. Boys are expected to be assertive, confident and opinionated, while girls should be kind, nurturing and compassionate. When a little boy takes charge in class or on the playground, nobody is surprised or offended. We expect him to lead. But when a little girl does the same, she is often criticized and disliked.
I completely understand the intent of this campaign and the message that it hopes to spread, I am just not sure of the wording of it all. Now, maybe this has something to do with my general dislike of the whole 'lean-in' phenomenon (I don't believe leaning in to a man's world makes things more equal on any level) or perhaps it is the very privileged heights that this type of preaching is coming from, but there is something about this #banbossy campaign that is not sitting well with me.
Maybe it is because I am a bossy woman. I was a bossy kid (I am the oldest of four-hello, birth order traits!), and I guess that bossiness just kind of stuck. I like to think that I am a do-er, I see things that need doing and when no one else is stepping up, I do and then, I just kind of naturally take charge. True story - the first time I met my then boyfriend/now husband's friends from undergrad was at an outdoor wedding in a beautiful park in downtown Vancouver. It had rained the night before and the area for the ceremony was right beside a pond and the natural habitat of about 50 Canada geese. It was literally covered in wet stinky goose poop. While everyone was lamenting about how awful the situation was, I recruited the groomsmen, the ushers and a few others and in half an hour we had cleared a path and the area for the ceremony of all traces of the stinky little poop landmines and marked it out with white balloons tied to trees. I suppose to some that may have seemed bossy, but to the bride and groom and their guests, I like to think not having goose poop all over their wedding finery was more important that day than whether or not their buddy's new girlfriend was a bossy boots.
Danielle Henderson over at The Stranger wrote a response to the #banbossy campaign and I tend to agree with her on this one.
We should be telling girls to own the living shit out of bossiness. Instead of casting it as a pejorative, we should be reifying the idea that being bossy directly relates to confidence, and teaching girls how to harness that confidence in productive and powerful ways. This isn't a problem of language—the problem is our backwards system that rewards women for silence and compliance, and encouraging them to be less fierce is a supremely fucked up way to counter that. What is this wilting flower, let's-not-say-bad-words approach to empowerment?
And Micheline Maynard at Forbes had this to say:
Women in public life are regularly subject to far more vile and graphic abuse, on message boards, in social media, and in emails. They’re called things that never used to be said in polite society, and still aren’t, by those with manners.
Beyond that, women at all levels of society face discrimination. They face the threat of abuse. Their economic power still sadly trails that of men, despite the efforts by Sandberg and others to increase women’s authority. Those are far greater issues than a word that may or may not be hurtful.
I am still and will likely always be a bossy boots. I speak up when I have something to say, I use my voice to speak (and write) for others when they can not and I tend to just DO what needs to be done. That is the kind of example I want my daughter to see, I want her to know that speaking up is the right thing to do, and that she has every right to be the boss if that is what she wants. And I know that she does see it. When I observe her playing with her friends, she is a leader already, a quiet one at first, feeling her way into the crowd and assessing her situation and then directing play and using her imagination and helping others. It's quite fascinating really and I find myself beaming with "that's my girl" mama-pride when I see this "bossy" side of her showing itself.
The thing is, I doubt Sheryl Sandberg or Anna Maria Chavez got to where they are today without being a little bit bossy. Clear in their ambition and goals, assertive in achieving them and never really listening to the nay-sayers telling them that "no one likes a bossy girl". Again, I find myself taken aback and somewhat insulted by this message that women have to alter our selves and now our language in order to be taken seriously, or to "get a seat at the table", so to speak. When I think of the women whom I respect, I think of bold women, fierce women, women whose spirits are strong and proud. Some are loud, some are quietly powerful and some are downright bossy. Whatever the case, they all get shit DONE!
In the end, I truly believe that this one little word is never going to hold back the power of OUR daughters and I sincerely hope that this new campaign doesn't end up giving it more power and not less.