Backlash over BanBossy

Wow, women in the blogosphere are sure heated about the recently launched BanBossy campaign. The campaign, started by LeanIn founder Sheryl Sandberg, has high-profile supporters including Beyoncé, Michelle Obama, Jennifer Garner, Jane Lynch, Condoleezza Rice and the Girls Scouts. These women claim that we should encourage girls to lead, speak up and be confident instead of belittling them with negative labels like “bossy.”


Here’s one of the videos supporting the campaign:

Can’t see this video? Click on this link: BanBossy


BossyandproudOn the other side of the debate, we have author, feminist, and social activist Dr. bell hooks leading a counter-revolution called #BossyandProud aimed at re-claiming the word “bossy.” These women supporters see being called “bossy” as a compliment. Looking at it as a form of praise for women and girls that are seen as assertive.

The Bossy 3-year Old

This debate hit a cord with me because just before the campaign hit, I was playing in the pool with my 3-year old niece and she was rather loudly and very directly telling me what to do—as in “Catch me now” and “Throw the ball” and “Get the kick board.” After about a half hour of this I muttered to myself “Wow, she’s kinda of bossy” and I didn’t mean it in a very flattering sense.

So when the BanBossy campaign hit, I immediately recognized that I had just chastised this little girl for being enthusiastic and direct and asking for what she wants. I also recalled that this isn’t a word that I had used with any of her three brothers and that I needed to re-frame my assessment of her personality in a more positive light and support her self-confidence.

And so with this personal experience fresh in my mind and as an ardent feminist, I’ve been following the BanBossy controversy with interest. Now I’m weighing in.

I think “bossy” falls in the bucket of unnecessarily harmful labels, not only because it’s negative, but also because it’s gender-specific. For instance, you rarely hear a man called “bossy;’ just like you don’t often refer to men as “bitchy” or “whiny” and if you do, it’s seen as a derogatory remark because those words are so closely identified as female characteristics.

I don’t want to saddle my young niece with one more ounce of social disapproval for her independent actions. I support the idea of encouraging young girls to speak up and demand what they want. Instead of referring to this trait as “bossy,” I’m going to use “assertive” and “driven” and “focused”—all positive and gender-neutral words.

Confident Girls & Assertive Women

So instead of fighting the battle to re-claim the word, I think it’s a whole lot easier and more productive to just do away with “bossy” and it’s implied negativity and instead focus on more positive superlatives we can lavish on the next generation of women.

I also think that as feminists, we have much more important battles to fight. Like the constant attention and approval given to my wee niece at the pool because of her beauty.

While she was busy splashing me and playing in the water, other adults were repeatedly telling her how pretty she was. I took this as my cue to immediately compliment one of her other – non-physical – traits such as her strength and swimming ability and quickness. To me, the constant association of measuring women by their physical attributes is far more damaging to little girls’ perception of themselves and how they claim a place for themselves in this world.

So I’m putting aside the BanBossy / #BossyandProud skirmish and saving myself for the bigger fight: to work towards a world where women and girls are judged not by their looks, but by their skills and actions and attitudes. To me, this is the fight I’ll roll-up my sleeves for.

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This entry was posted on Thursday, March 20th, 2014 and is filed under Social Issues.

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