Allow me to have the podium for a minute.
I write this following a YouTube that popped up in my feed of a recent campaign raised by Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg. In case you haven’t heard, her campaign is to highlight her “Lean In” project promoting leadership in girls…and the banning of the word “bossy”.(Watch the video here.)
I couldn’t believe my own eyes (or ears!). I had to check to make sure this wasn’t an SNL skit. Nope – it’s for real! And she has even recruited well-known public figures, Beyonce, Jennifer Gardner and Condoleezza Rice to take up the fight…all this effort to ban the word “bossy”.
Essentially, she feels that calling girls “bossy” somehow disempowers them into wallflowers. As a result, young girls will never want to lead, never want to speak for themselves, never be assertive. The message is that we need to protect girls from the word. There needs to be more girl leaders, so they’ll want to be president and CEO when they grow up. The campaign’s solution is to squelch the word “bossy” because it somehow inhibits girls from following their dreams.
What’s so wrong with “bossy”? THAT word isn’t so bad…There are other more offensive B words I can think of that should be banned ahead of bossy, but I don’t see a campaign for those…
Why not go one letter further down the Alphabet and ban that terrible C word women get called? Seriously, to me being called bossy is low on the name-calling totem.
But, for heck of it, let’s analyze this “bossy” word as it pertains to leadership for a second.
When I was a kid in the schoolyard and some other kid was called bossy, it was usually because they were forcing other kids to do what they wanted, usually using brute force. More usual than not, it involved bullying others to do their bidding. If caught, these bossy kids got honoured with a trip to the principal’s office and a call to their parents. Bossy behaviour was discouraged. Why? You could say in childhood there is a fine line between being bossy and being a bully. By that definition, perhaps we shouldn’t be encouraging girls to be “bosses.” If there is a line to be drawn between bossy and bully, shouldn’t we instead be encouraging kids to be less of a boss and more of a leader? This is part of the Lean In campaign, sure, but I think they need to push further what it means to be a leader as opposed to what it means to be a boss.
Maybe we should be looking at another B word – behaviour. The real world is a harsh place and some kids can’t take it. Why, instead of dropping “bossy” we discourage the behaviour it denotes and give kids the tools to cope with criticism? Mechanisms to deal with bullying and teasing? Give kids an atmosphere where different opinions are welcome without judgment? Teach children compassion and encouragement among their peers. Emphasize the importance of being bold and brave. And I say “kids”, instead of only girls, because I believe boys and girls can both benefit. I think until we get those things under control, this “Ban Bossy” campaign will go nowhere. Bubble wrapping children against a word does them no favours.
I saw a meme over the weekend that contrasted “boss” with “leader” and it resounded with me. It depicted the type of “boss” that the world needs more of. Banning “bossy” is not the problem. Protecting kids from a word to spare feelings is not going to help them develop decent coping mechanisms in life. We can’t possibly protect them from everything construed as offensive or distasteful or even hurt feelings. Teaching them compassion, empathy, and most importantly strength of character and team-building is a good start. And in the future, if they want to lead a fortune 500 company, they’ll have a groundwork to get there.
Goodness knows the world has plenty of bosses…