What have Beyonce, Jennifer Garner, Jane Lynch, Condoleeza Rice & others been doing with Facebook's CEO, Sheryl Sandberg?
They’ve been making a public service announcement about banning the word "bossy." Have you seen it?
Sandberg’s intention is a good one, and she definitely has a point. In a recent interview, she explained how little girls are called bossy on the playground and it has a negative impact. By the time those bossy girls get into middle school, they start to hang back and let boys take the lead. Any middle school teacher can tell you that she's correct.
Sandberg went on to say, “…if you ask girls why they don’t want to lead, whether it’s the school project [or] all the way on to running for office, they don’t want to be called bossy, and they don’t want to be disliked.” And that’s true. Statistics and anecdotal evidence affirms that being liked is more important to most girls than being leaders.
That trend continues into adulthood. “We call them too aggressive or other B-words in the workplace," says Sandberg. "They’re bossy as little girls, and then they’re aggressive, political, shrill, too ambitious as women.”
For women who have experienced the bossy backlash, it could seem like sentiment and the intention of the PSA should be applauded. However, if you take it a step further, banning the word bossy, or any other word, is just plain dumb. Here’s why:
Words have power, it’s true, but they only have the power you give the word. Banning any word only gives it more power. If you ban bossy, three things will happen:
1) Bossy will become an even meaner thing to say. It won't be just an everyday insult anymore. Using a "banned word" will become an even more potent arrow used by only the really mean girls.
2) If the intention is to hurt, and they can't say the "bossy' word, mean girls and boys will simply find another word to hurt.
3) Society will continue to make girls and women feel victimized, so they become even more sensitive to criticism as they grow up.
All of those are the wrong direction for women.
Forty years ago there was another word that was woman-sensitive: Feminist. It was negatively associated with women like Gloria Steinem and Helen Gurley Brown. Back then Steinem, Brown and their publications were met with sneers and jeers. The threat of rejection made some women retreat.
Though it took a few years, women got a real handle on what feminism was and what being a feminist meant. Respected and well-known women, like Marlo Thomas & Oprah Winfrey, put on the feminist robe. Then men like Alan Alda said they too were feminists. Over time, the word and the attitude that surrounded it became something good.
It was the same thing with another mean word, the “B” word. One woman, instead of being offended, decided the “B” word was an acronym for the phrase: Boys I’m Taking Charge Here. She gave that “B” word a whole new power. In doing so, she empowered not only herself but also the women with whom she shared the acronym.
When it comes to the "bossy" label, instead of banning it, women could be embracing it. Sandberg and her crew could be making a PSA that celebrates "bossy" as power-packed. Maybe that occurred to them at some point because, toward the end of the Sandberg PSA, Beyonce looks directly into the camera and pronounces, “I’m not bossy, I’m the boss.” And that’s the right direction.
Little girls – and some of us big girls too – can wrap our heads around being the boss – and we ARE the boss. We paid the price and earned the right to be the boss. If that means we're bossy, good for us!
What's important isn't banning a word. What's important is raising up women and leadership, and feminine power, so that it's something women and girls admire, aspire to and become. And, after all, being called "bossy" as a little girl didn't stop Sheryl Sandberg, did it?
Here’s the PSA: Ban Bossy
Here’s the Sandberg interview: Sandberg/ABC
Tune into the Friday's Happy Hour with Annmarie Kelly and her guest, Key Fittes of High-Heeled Success as they talk about how women can stop sabotaging themselves and embrace the feminine power.
Friday, March 21, 3pmEST
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