March 13, 2014

If only!

At this point, by choice or by chance, I trust you’ve noticed quite an uptick in use of the word "bossy." If not, I’m beyond jealous, but will quickly recap, since it seems I have no choice. Remember Sheryl Sandberg, Facebook COO and author of “Lean In”? Cool, because she’s back, on a mission geared at empowering girls to lead, and she’s not alone. Condoleezza Rice, Jane Lynch, Jennifer Garner and Beyoncè have joined Sandberg’s newly-launched public service campaign, pledging to stop saying the word “bossy” and insisting others follow suit. And they aren’t the only ones - reportedly thousands have signed up to do the same. And I was aggravated as hell about it.

Feeling that my annoyance must've been misplaced last night, I awoke this morning, fresh-faced, and determined to give the Ban Bossy campaign a second chance. And then I watched the video, which was okay, I guess. But - nope. I watched one more time to be sure I'd heard it all correctly. And both times, I did a double take after Diane Von Furstenberg casually throws out "Let's just ban the word bossy!" Oh! If only it was that easy. Hey, also! While we're at it, can we just ban the word "heart" as a verb, too? How about the word "adorkable"? And I can't even begin to describe the anguish I feel when someone drops "amazeballs" in casual conversation.

I don't understand the concept, I suppose. Attempting to empower girls by telling them what they can't do and who they can't be seems so contradictory. Which is kinda how I feel about the the campaign itself. The act of banning something - anything - is ... come on. It's lame. Banning the word bossy is silly. Not to mention bossy as hell.

Sandberg claims that being called bossy holds girls back. Which might be case sometimes. But it didn't hold her back, or Condoleezza Rice or Beyoncè or any of the other women who've teamed up against this newly declared bad b-word. I don’t know exactly how Sheryl Sandberg overcame being chided in 9th grade for being a bossy girl, but, um, she sure did.

The image of young women that Sandberg creates with "Ban Bossy": a timid, meek, voiceless girl in class afraid to even raise her hand lest she be mocked - is largely new to me.  I don’t pretend to believe that girls aren’t held back, that girls don’t face adversity and prejudice they probably don’t even realize, because I know that, of course they do, they’re girls. But I also know that girls are tough, they're resilient. They have to be because life isn’t always easy.

Of course, I can only draw on my own experiences. asserts that "girls are afraid to raise their hand in class for fear of being called bossy." Well. Ok. I do remember being scared of so many things as a kid, and maybe being called bossy was one of them. I paused and tried to get back into the mindset of 11-year old me. It wasn't easy. First of all, that haircut - yikes! After making a mental note to find out what my mother was thinking allowing anyone to give her oldest daughter what looks today like a bowl cut, I recalled some of my fears. As far as I can remember, I was afraid of being too round to ever get a first kiss, wearing a swimsuit to my friend Amy's neighborhood pool and cop killers. (I watched “20/20” a lot back then.) At times, I'm sure I was afraid to raise my hand in class - but only because I hadn't done my homework the night before (listen, I was going to fit into a pair of Limited Too! jean shorts if it killed me - and it almost did, but that's an entirely different story).

Sandberg's absolutely right - being called bossy isn't always nice and being called bossy might hurt our feelings. But that's the thing - kids are mean. Adults are mean, too.  Haters are going to hate - whether they use the word bossy or not. Sure, bossy isn't my favorite thing to be called, but its better than some of the nicknames I had in middle school. And its exponentially incomparably better than everything I've been called since then. Banning the word bossy creates a void that will have to be filled with something - maybe “bitch” or “cunt” or “fat” or “slutty” or - I could literally go on forever.  The last thing I think we need to do is give haters the time and space to develop their creative licenses.  To me, bossiness is a trait of the self-assured, the confident - a characteristic of people who know what and how they want their lives to look and aren’t afraid to go after it. Let’s embrace that definition of “bossy” and work on ignoring the rest - just like attitudes, words and language and their meanings are fluid, too.

So. Let's start by stopping. Let's ban trying to define what women are - who a woman is. Stop telling young women how they can and can’t act; what they should or should not feel; and who they should or should not be. How about we teach girls that they should be what they want to be? An 11-year old wants to be bossy? Go on, girl! An 11-year old isn’t bossy at all? That’s cool, too. You do you, little one, you do you. Empowering women to lead - I don't know. I always kind of felt the most important thing for them to lead is themselves - their lives, their dreams, their aspirations.  That path doesn't necessarily include them being the boss. For Beyoncè, it was. (And thank heavens!) But let's remind ourselves that all bosses are not leaders and all leaders are not bosses. And that’s okay. Let’s support girls and women and each other by showing them what they can be instead of what they should not.

Let’s just make bossy work for us. If only, right?