Monday, March 10, 2014

Ban bossy? But I was BORN this way...

In the annals of political correct too-precious trivia we have today's report that Facebook's chief operating officer is encouraging people to ban the word "bossy," a word that is apparently used to stifle girls' innate leadership characteristics:
Can banning one school-yard word really change the world? Sheryl Sandberg says yes. 

Sandberg -- the chief operating officer of Facebook and author of the best-selling book "Lean In" -- is spearheading the launch of a campaign today to ban the word "bossy," arguing the negative put-down stops girls from pursuing leadership roles. 

"We know that by middle school, more boys than girls want to lead," Sandberg said, "and if you ask girls why they don't want to lead, whether it's the school project all the way on to running for office, they don't want to be called bossy, and they don't want to be disliked." 

Sandberg said these attitudes begin early and continue into adulthood. 

"We call girls bossy on the playground," Sandberg said. "We call them too aggressive or other B-words in the workplace. They're bossy as little girls, and then they're aggressive, political, shrill, too ambitious as women." 

Sandberg's organization Lean In is joining forces with former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and Girl Scouts USA CEO Anna Maria Chávez to launch a public service campaign called "Ban Bossy." The website gives tips for parents, kids, teachers and others about how to encourage young female leaders.
Pardon me whilst I wring out my lace handkerchief.

I'm sorry, but any girl who can be kept from a leadership role because she fears being called "bossy" might--just might--not be the sort of girl who will grow up to be the sort of woman who can handle leadership.  The old trope that what is condemned as "bossy" in a girl is admired as leadership in a man might have been true in 1955 or so, but those of us who are bossy ourselves know that being bossy isn't about leadership: it's about ordering people around and telling them what to do and pretending that that is leadership.  Which it isn't.  Not by a long shot.

In other words, "bossy" is about attitude, not about aptitude.  A bossy person knows that she can make her little brothers do more than their fair share of the chores (by the way, younger brothers of mine--sorry about that!) or pressure them into taking all the blame for things she's at least partly responsible for.  If her bossiness extends to the classroom (mine didn't, because I didn't have that kind of social clout in school) she's the girl who tells everyone else on the class project what to do and hounds them to do it while simultaneously choosing a relatively easy task for herself and both magnifying its importance and minimizing its ease.  Even when the bossy person isn't getting away with that sort of thing, chances are that she's a natural micro-manager, the kind of person who wants everyone to do everything exactly the way she insists that it has to be done and who never listens to negative criticism or input from others as to whether there might not, after all, be perfectly reasonable alternatives to doing things her way.

If--and it's a big if--the bossy person can learn to cool it with the attitude, take others' advice, step back and let other people contribute, quit micromanaging, and learn to delegate and to trust that those to whom she has delegated will, indeed, be able to complete their tasks, she might make a fine leader someday (or maybe she'll just be a relaxed and sane stay-at-home homeschooling mom instead of a too-tightly wound one).

Those of us who were born bossy have the same choice about that bossiness that everyone has about those kinds of characteristics: we can argue that the word itself is somehow harmful and demeaning to women (though there can be bossy men, too!) or we can agree that "bossy" isn't leadership, and that leadership isn't being "bossy," either--that a true leader is far less likely to exhibit the characteristics of a bossy person and that a bossy person may be in a leadership role, but that doesn't make his or her bossiness any easier to deal with.  The second thing seems to me to be a good place to get a conversation about leadership going, a conversation that might unpack some of the true qualities of leadership which in addition to delegating and listening and permitting open contribution also includes such things as good, strong decision-making and the willingness to take full responsibility for those decisions even when--especially when--things don't go well.  The first idea--the idea that says, "Okay, everybody, the word 'bossy' is now banned from use because we've decided it's harmful to girls!" seems just a little...a little...oh, what's the word?


Barbara C. said...

I have five daughters. The oldest one is often accused of being bossy and butting in and ruining their games. She manages to reign it in some at school, but I had to explain to the teacher that the reason she prefers to work on her own is not because she was homeschooled but because she is a control-freak.

Daughter #2 is less extroverted than her older sister, but she is the undisputed leader of the rest of the girls. They will do almost anything she tells them to do; sometimes they'll listen to her instead of me. (She's only 8, so I'm trying to teach her to use her powers for good instead of evil.) The difference is that she lets them make some decisions when they are playing and offers her ideas as suggestions instead of demands.

Being bossy is not the same thing as being a leader, whether you are male or female. It's the like the difference between being a dictator and being a general.

Where do these people find the time to come up with this idiotic stuff?

Unknown said...

What if we make the word bossy a positive stereotype rather than a bad one, I love being bossy, I don't mind it at all.

eulogos said...

I don't think being bossy is a good thing in a girl, nor do I think it makes good leaders.

And really, I think everyone knows that if bossiness is actually encouraged, these bossy women, if they marry at all, will make their husbands miserable and will most likely be divorced.

Women need enough assertiveness not to be doormats, to stand up for themselves when necessary, and to run a family when their husbands are not around or if they should be widowed. However, they have to know how to curb the tendency to be bossy in order to let their husbands lead in their marriages. If their husbands are not natural leaders, even more do they have to curb their tendency to be bossy.

It seems to me that this campaign is encouraging something which will make women unhappy.

Susan Peterson

Svar said...

"It's the like the difference between being a dictator and being a general."

Dictators can be generals and generals can be dictators. Augusto Pinochet, anyone(better a military dictator than a communist one though IMO)?

I'll tell you what I think from the perspective of a young 20 year old man. It is generally very difficult for a man to accept female authority. I readily accept the advice and counsel of women that I trust and love but these women have never acted like they are in a position of authority over me when they dispense their advice.

It takes a very special type of woman to cause men to rally around her and kneel in deference. St. Joan of Arc-types. To be honest, I am quite fond of her and impressed with her tenacity and passion.

Part of this is probably because effective leadership takes both strength and charisma. While women can do the strength thing it seems that it's mutually exclusive with the female form of charismatic behavior or feminine charm. Most women whom I have found to be charming or charismatic tend to not be forceful and ones who are forceful are not charismatic or charming, the latter come off bossy.

Unknown said...

The best examples of female leadership, I think, for women and men, come from the english respect and deference to the queen (mum). Mothers are natural leaders, the word bossy has nothing to do with it, it's all in the word "mother" (mum). Don't hold your breath waiting for hardened feminists to promote that word-

(The definition of a hardened feminist is a woman who hates men, doesn't like being a woman, and wants to become that which she hates. No wonder they aren't happy.)