A few years ago, my mom had all three of us girls sift through our “safe keeps.” By now we’re all in our 30s-40s and it was time to cut down our childhood memorabilia. In my box I found a daily journal between my mom and my kindergarten teacher. Each day my teacher would fill out the chart stapled to the manila envelop by circling one of these faces:
Next to the circled face she’d write a few notes for my mom to look over. One of them had the dreaded frowny face with a note that said something like this:
Lindsay is a great student, but has shown bossy, pushy behavior towards her peers.”
My mom replied that she’d talk to me about it. I don’t remember this particular incident, but I do remember repeated talks from my mom about why being bossy wasn’t a cooperative, admirable trait. Fast forward three decades.
Now I’m reading headlines about Sheryl Sandberg teaming up with Beyonce to “Ban Bossy.”
As Beyonce said,
I’m not bossy. I’m the boss.”
Their ban bossy campaign is intended to be a response to the gender inequality women face in leadership positions. Women in power are considered bossy, while men are labeled leaders. As I describe in one of my most popular posts to date, Sheryl Sandberg asked a room of 8,000 women entrepreneurs if they were told they were bossy when they were young. Most of the women raised their hands.
I’m for banning bossy but for different reasons than Sandberg and Beyonce want to.
I want to ban bossy as a trait we aspire to, because as my mom told me when I was five years old, being bossy isn’t an admirable trait. It’s not a leadership quality, and to be honest, I think a lot of women are taught that being bossy is synonymous with leadership.
We teach women to be bossy, we don’t teach them to be leaders.
Bossy women, mothers and wives have used bossiness as a way to get ahead, to control and manipulate people. The same way men have used aggression, intimidation and control over women to rise to power. This is different of course, than women who embrace grit and aren’t afraid to speak their mind and stand their ground.
What we need is to redefine leadership. Bossiness can’t be our definition of leadership.
Sandberg’s campaign is outdated and most of her messages feel like they’re contrived by ad firms who excel at soundbites. As I mentioned before, I think she really is trying to help end workplace inequality, but she’s coming from a naive, outdated and out of touch place.
As Joshunda Sanders aptly points out in her piece in The Week, Sandberg not only misses the point with her “ban bossy” campaign, she fails to recognize that her entire message is seeped in white privilege.
Sanders eloquently says,
The fact is, white privilege is the invisible bossy bitch in the room. Sandberg wrote in Lean In that women should not be afraid to negotiate, or to take a seat at a table where men are. This is useful advice if you are already in the room, but less so if you can’t even get a foot in the door. This where privilege comes in: African American women and Latinas are overrepresented in service industry and low-wage position and underrepresented in managerial or professional positions, according to the Center for American Progress’ 2013 report on the State of Women of Color in the U.S. The main challenges that black women and other women of color face, to say nothing of working class white women, have to do with entering the proverbial room.”
So why are we so eager and excited for crappy thin feminist campaigns like this?
And at the end of the day, a solution to something as deeply entrenched as gender inequality is messy. And messy things require a lot of clean up. Having Sandberg’s “tweetable soundbites” is easy. It makes things less messy. It’s a way for us to say, “Yeah! That’s it… Ban Bossy!” with a little fist in the air.
It’s going to take more work than the latest Sandberg sound bite. The road to equality requires us to talk about, face and move through thorny conversations like: gender, race, how we treat transgender women in the workplace, what kind of leadership skills we all need to cultivate to truly lead.
It will be messy road, but it’s one I’m willing to travel.