Sheryl Sandberg, I Don’t Want My Son To Be Bossy Either

In the latest Sheryl Sandberg campaign, alongside Condelezza Rice and Girls Scout CEO Anna Maria Chavez, she is calling out for girls to stop being referred to as bossy because it sends a message that they can’t be leaders. Exhale. 2014 seems to be turning into the year of the rant for me. Sometimes when I read these things I just think people will kill themselves trying to a one-size-fits-all solution to all the issues in the world.

When a little boy asserts himself, he’s called a “leader.” Yet when a little girl does the same, she risks being branded “bossy.” Words like bossy send a message: don’t raise your hand or speak up. By middle school, girls are less interested in leading than boys—a trend that continues into adulthood. Together we can encourage girls to lead. (from the Ban Bossy website)

I grew up in a society where women were strong but were not to be vocal particularly when expressing opposing views to men. That didn’t stop me. I invariably always concluded that weak men did not value my opinion and I wanted nothing to do with them. I recall an incident at University where a man called me lousy for challenging his behaviour. My retort was, ‘obviously you are used to talking to stupid women’. Hey, I was seventeen. I might be a lot more diplomatic today. Something in my upbringing, and I credit my mum, told me that woman could be leaders. It was never really up for debate, even in an overwhelmingly patriarchal society.

This is my issue though. Bossy does not mean assertive, it is not an endearing quality in men or woman, unless of course in American English bossy does mean assertive. There is no glory in a child being bossy i.e. domineering. I want my children to grow up into influential adults in the workplace; people who have social intelligence who are able to get people to do even the worst kind of jobs purely because of their ability to lead effectively. That’s what I want my son and daughter to be. And so I tell my son not to be bossy and my daughter as well.

The heart of the Ban Bossy campaign is in the right place. I doubt that they would go through the trouble of starting it if they didn’t feel it could achieve something. It is wonderful that successful women are using their resources and influence to encourage the future generation of women. However, I find the Ban Bossy angle, frankly, annoying. If it was chosen to generate a conversation about true girl power then it has achieved that – great piece of PR. The campaign simply should have been ‘Girls can be the Boss’ or something along those lines. To boost the campaign off banning bossy is misleading and detracting from the serious issues that the campaign seeks to highlights. I say misleading because the website reveals tools that parents, teachers and employees can use to encourage girls and women to be assertive. They are not in depth tools, they only scratch the surface of the deeper issues but it’s a start. I guess ‘Tools to Make Girls Assertive’ is not a catchy enough campaign. I just wonder, like lots of people, why it’s that ‘b’ word they chose to ban or why they didn’t add a whole host of other words along with it. I certainly have been called a lot worse than bossy.

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