By now you’ve likely seen the Lean In organization’s newest campaign, Ban Bossy with videos featuring Beyonce and Jennifer Garner, and the Instagram photos of supporters holding handwritten signs with this latest girl power mantra.
Critics – and there have been many – acknowledge the roadblocks young girls face, but argue that a ban on the word bossy isn’t the answer. The New Yorker’s Margaret Talbot calls the campaign itself bossy and writes that “banning is really only for words that solely degrade or demean… You could, instead, reappropriate the word, mining it for its positive associations with assertiveness. Or you could try to apply it more evenhandedly – to boys as well as to girls.” She concludes, “You don’t have to ban ‘bossy’ to remind girls that they can be leaders.”
Sure, some girls will lead no matter what. Many young girls will lead in spite of the “bossy” label, and Sheryl Sandberg herself is certainly proof of that. But why not work to replace the label with leadership tools, support and positive reinforcement?
It’s important to remember that this campaign, in partnership with the Girl Scouts, is targeted toward young girls. While bossy may very well be the lesser of all evils for your average 20-, 30-, 40-something working to shatter glass ceilings and earn seats at board room tables, it can be a crushing force to a six or seven year old girl.
Do we let it slide because we’ve been called a lot worse, because we have bigger battles to fight, or are these early influences critically important, and therefore not to be taken lightly? By middle school, girls are far less interested in leading than boys. Girls are twice as likely as boys to worry that leadership roles will make them seem bossy.
Beyond the hashtag and headline catching phrase, this campaign is about letting girls know that leadership is indeed a good thing. That being a leader is called being a leader. It’s about empowering them to empower each other, much like the women’s movement of not too many decades ago.
I’m the mother of a strong-willed young girl. She’s not easily influenced by others, and marches to her own beat. I’m not sure the bossy label would worry her much, but why not offer a kid-friendly platform upon which she and her friends can work together – can lead together?
We’re raising a new generation of girls. Thanks to a combination of efforts in schools and at home, girls are increasingly interested in science and engineering. Girls are no longer limited to the traditional roles in work and at home that shaped their grandmothers generation. But despite all of the progress we’ve made, we still have much to do. I applaud Lean In’s latest effort. When it comes to efforts centered on empowering young girls and nurturing tomorrow’s leaders I say, the more the merrier.