There’s No Need to “Ban” Bossy. We Should Close the Confidence Gap Instead.

Are you a #banbossy or a #proudtobebossy gal?

I was sitting on this post–thinking I’d just let it ride–until I read this article by Ann Handley. (Big props to Redhead Writing for sharing Handley’s post.)

Yesterday I read an article about Sheryl Sandberg and her “Ban Bossy” campaign.

As a former “bossy girl” myself (oh, yeah, I own it–even now), I’m crestfallen over the name given to what amounts to a really good idea: encouraging girls to lead with confidence.

For starters, kids (yes, usually girls) are identified as “bossy” for different reasons. Some lack leadership skills and think that barking orders is the way to “get things done.” They may have some of the social and intellectual skills they need to flourish but have yet to learn the power of teamwork and cooperation. Still others are straight-up relationally aggressive bullies who boss people around to maintain control. (Think “mean girls.”)

Banning one word–even as part of a campaign to raise esteem in girls–does little to define those nuances and everything to justify the behavior of the very worst relationally aggressive offenders. “You can’t tell me what to do. You can’t tell me that I’m bossy. That’s not ALLOWED.”

Sandberg herself even makes a point to emphasize that she doesn’t want to do that.

During an interview at Facebook headquarters, she. . . [is] quick to point out that they are not encouraging rude, mean-girl behavior or bullying.

“Leadership is not bullying and leadership is not aggression,” Sandberg said. “Leadership is the expectation that you can use your voice for good. That you can make the world a better place.”

And banning a word is non-antagonistic how, exactly?

It seems possible that “Ban Bossy” it may bring shame (paging Brene Brown!) to the girls who saw their “bossy” trait as a net positive, too. Frankly, I’m not certain that there’s universal agreement among adults that “bossy” is always a negative word. Some people wear it as a badge of honor. My lovely late mother-in-law described her late sister as “. .  .bossy, bossy, bossy” on a video camera once at a party, and it was 100% a term of endearment. Her sister laughed and agreed that it was spot-on. I mean if you wanted a full-tilt, ginormous holiday party with all the family present, then it was my late aunt-in-law whom you wanted to be in charge of it. She got things done.

Look, we absolutely need to have an earnest, grassroots conversation about how women’s leadership traits are identified and nurtured in this country. And we need to find a way to better articulate the very real problem in how we elevate some boys as leaders and hold back many girls.

But, no, we do not need to build a campaign around a premise that it’s okay to ban a word.

No way.

That’s just officious behavior when what we need is a solicitious approach.

As it happens, I think the answer lies on the Ban Bossy website.

See this graphic?

Close the confidence gap

Doesn’t “Close the Confidence Gap” say exactly what needs to be said without restricting people’s vocabularies?  Isn’t the confidence piece the real problem–not the word “bossy” per se? That’s a pretty steep drop and matters a whole heckuva lot more than who calls whom what and when.

Oh, sure. “Close the Confidence Gap” is less cute, more cumbersome, and doesn’t fit as neatly into a hashtag.

But then the self-esteem drop in girls–as outlined by writers and researchers for decades–is a complicated problem that predates social media and Sheryl Sandberg.

Which is why we need to get the words we use right this time and not self-sabotage by tripping over a word like “ban.” TIME has a nice round up of how well previous efforts to ban words have gone. Through the lens of history, things don’t bode well.

Besides if you think about it, “ban bossy” sounds a little too . . . well. . . bossy.

I’m researching my second book, in the impact of bullying upon gifted/2e kids for GHF Press. You can read more here.

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