Sheryl Sandberg was successful in introducing a new phrase to the world last spring – “Lean In.” Fast forward and she is now trying to eliminate a word – “bossy.” In fact, she has launched a campaign to #banbossy, stating too many young girls are labeled as such, and by middle school and high school, they shy away from leadership positions.
As stated on her website, when a boy asserts himself, he is called a leader. When a girl does it, she’s called bossy. Sandberg refers to the phrase as “the other B-word.”
When I look at my own little girl, just three years old, I can already see a strong personality emerging. I like to describe her as “part-princess, part-MMA fighter.” She knows what she wants, fights for it, and of course at this age, will let you know she is displeased if she doesn’t get her way. Like many young girls, she is drawn to Disney princesses, pink and draping her wrists in sparkly bracelets. Still, she’s quick to throw a punch at one of her older brothers, construct mini-Lego masterpieces and instruct other little ones at the playground on how to play a game. I love her spirit, even though her ways and will often wear me out.
In society, we like labels. Just think about all of those BuzzFeed quizzes you take. You want to know which city defines you, what Saved By The Bell character resembles your temperament and which era defines your personality. Even in the workplace, we freely toss them out – “she’s a team player, he’s a data geek, she’s ultra-organized.”
As a mom of three kids, I look at each of my children and describe them as unique individuals. But perhaps as a woman, I am most sensitive to the words I elect to use with my daughter.
I’ve read a lot in the parenting space, and in this era of renewed feminism, there’s definitely pressures placed on our young girls. Books advise me to steer clear of the “princess mania,” articles tell me not to focus on words associated with my daughter’s looks, posts caution me on how my own body image can shape my little girl’s relationship with food and exercise and clothing. And of course I’m supposed to steer her toward science and math and engineering. I need to tell her to “lean in” and lead. I must be mindful as to how I describe my own feelings about working outside the home.
Holy crap! I’m exhausted. Can I just let my daughter be?
If she wants to play princesses and demand 95 percent of her wardrobe to be pink with sparkles, I’ll oblige. If she wishes to play house, OK. And if she places her little hands on her hips and instructs the neighborhood kids on how to play some game she’s created, so be it.
Is she bossy? Is she a leader? Does this whole debate simply come down to semantics and style? I don’t know.
In our home, both my husband and I try to model values and morals we wish to instill in our kids – regardless of their sex. We often feel we are fighting a war with the cultural influences they see in the world, but we want them to be respectful of people and diversity. We want them to be kind, but strong. We want them to lead – when it makes sense – and to do so in a way that makes others want to follow.
I don’t think it is realistic to ban a word altogether, but we can certainly be more mindful of the words we choose to use – with our sons and daughters. The title of “leader” needs to be earned, and I’m confident my daughter and sons, depending on their choices, can lead. We simply need to show them great examples of leadership and help them foster a style that proves they are worthy of the label.
What is your opinion on the #banbossy campaign?