Sunday, March 16, 2014

The B’s vs The A’s: A Wider Lens on the #BanBossy Campaign

First of all, let me say that this is not a post where I blast Sheryl Sandberg and all she is trying to do to help young women feel empowered. Change is hard and I applaud her efforts.

But…I do want to challenge the notion of talking about “bossy” in the context of girls vs boys because, while I get that it’s sexy, I don’t think it’s very helpful.  Talking about gender equality, while not addressing the fallacy of standards within both sexes doesn’t make much sense to me. 

Bossy vs Boss?

The second thing you should know is that I have 2 children, one girl and one boy and they are both VERY bossy.

I don’t tell them that, but I have been known to whisper a heads up to a parent at a play date, because both of my children have no problem laying down the law if you let them.

While I’m trying to preserve the awesome core of their behavior (confidence, self-directedness and a desire to lead), I am also trying to help them understand the difference between a path leader and a bulldozer.  My son is 6 and my daughter is 3, so I have a long way to go.

But despite my best efforts, it’s highly likely that, at some point, someone is going to call each of them bossy and the effect will not be positive, for very different reasons.  And that’s what struck me as missing from the #BanBossy PSA.  It’s not that I don’t understand that when girls insist we’re considered pushy and when boys insist they’re considered strong.  I’m female. I’m alive.  I know.

But I don’t think we need to "ban bossy" as much as we need to rewrite the entire script for both girls and boys on how we define and cultivate leadership in this country.  Because girls aren’t the only ones who get called bossy and boys aren’t always celebrated for it.

In adulthood, when women are thought of as bossy, we’re called bitches.  When men are thought of as bossy, they’re called assholes. 

Neither title seems covetous to me. 

And the sad truth of it is that men, even boys, are expected to be assholes.  In fact, they are demeaned if they aren’t.  Watch this chilling documentary preview that illustrates how this dynamics plays out among young boys, below. 

Girls, of course, are expected to play second fiddle.  So if we want to be heard, we’re too bossy.  If boys want to listen, they’re not bossy enough. 

We’re both trapped in a prison of our own making.  Brene Brown talks a lot about how that prison turns into shame for both men and women here.  She really get’s cooking around 15:20.
What I hope to nurture in both my children is the character of a leader – someone who listens and respects (even if they don’t agree), someone who inspires, someone who motivates people to do and be their best, someone with both compassion and conviction, someone who leads by example and has integrity in their words and their actions.  And above all, someone who seeks to contribute to making the world a better place. 

A person who can do these things is someone people will follow.  Not everyone, of course, but you don’t need everyone.  You just need the people willing to work towards a common goal and a better future. 

But these characteristics also describe someone who will be a target for criticism.  It is inevitable.  If you’re going to lead, you have to be ready for that.  For girls, the criticism may be harsher, but believe that it will be harsh for boys as well. To lead, your convictions, your confidence, your notion of self-worth must be strong enough to weather the criticism of others.  Maybe that’s why a strong woman is the strongest thing there is. 

So, to me, the answer is not in trying to get someone to stop calling girls bossy.  If we don’t address the programming that teaches boys (and girls) that strong girls are a threat to a boy’s manhood (see how crazy that sounds?), then when he grows up, he’ll just replace bossy with bitch while he struggles to maintain the upper-hand as an asshole. 

What we, as a society, need to focus on is developing the characteristics of a leader in all our children.  When we do this, boys and girls, men and women won’t be working against each other.  We will recognize each other’s right, our common duty as individuals to voice our opinions and contribute meaningfully to the world in whatever way we choose.

Until then, I fear we’re just playing with words.    

You can read more of my thoughts on Sheryl Sandberg's Lean In here

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