I think the Ban Bossy campaign is great.
This is their mission statement: “When a little boy asserts himself, he’s called a “leader.” Yet when a little girl does the same, she risks being branded “bossy.” Words like bossy send a message: don’t raise your hand or speak up. By middle school, girls are less interested in leading than boys—a trend that continues into adulthood. Together we can encourage girls to lead.”
I will admit I didn’t really spend a lot of time thinking about it, because it seems like a rather innocuous, uncontroversial campaign to encourage young girls to be leaders. It’s not attacking anyone. It’s not blaming anyone in particular. It’s just drawing attention to the fact that girls are exposed to this kind of harmful language at an early age, and if we make a point to stop using it now, it’s an easy way to influence positive change.
But then I started to hear criticism. From women. Grown women. I agree that ideas should be discussed, especially campaigns targeted at young women in the name of feminism, but the arguments against this are pissing me off, and for me, have brought up the more serious issue of the kind of hateful language women and girls alike are trained to tolerate.
Margaret Talbot argues in her blog post on the NewYorker.com that “Banning is really only for words that solely degrade or demean, and even then you want to proceed with caution because you’re depleting the expressive richness of the language.” Now, frankly I feel like the argument is just taking the campaign a bit too literally. I don’t think anyone actually expects to erase the word from the English language. Also, I think she’s kind of boarding on problematic with the whole “depleting the expressive richness of language” argument. There are plenty of words we don’t use anymore due to the fact that they served no other purpose than to express hate towards certain groups or individuals. BUT I DIGRESS. This argument is weak, Margaret. Weak.
Robyn Urback brings up multiple issues she has with the campaign in her article for the National Post. However, her arguments, to me, actually just emphasize a bigger issue. First, she starts off by quoting Karen McCrindle, who is the director of French and Linguistics at the University of Toronto Scarborough.
Apparently, when McCrindle was a young tot and kids on the playground called her bossy “she was fine with that” because “That meant I was confident. I didn’t internalize the negative connotation at all.” WELL ISN’T THAT NICE FOR YOU, KAREN! ISN’T THAT NICE FOR US ALL! I didn’t realize that McCrindle spoke for all women and girls. Beyoncé really should have asked Karen before starting all this drama in the first place. Classic Beyoncé, forgetting to consult Karen. Micheline Maynard made a similar comment during a debate on Ban Bossy on the CBC Radio show Day 6. To paraphrase, because I am too lazy to listen to the podcast and transcribe a direct quote, she said that when she gets called bossy, she takes it as a compliment, because she knows she’s doing a good job.
Again, good for you, Micheline. I’m glad that you, as a grown woman, are able to recognize that a co-worker calling you bossy is actually an indicator that you’re doing your job right. Know what other word that’s really a demeaning insult adult women are now able to recognize as meaning they know how to get shit done? Bitch.
Being called “bossy” isn’t a compliment. They aren’t calling you “the Boss.” They are calling you “boss-like,” and it is implied that you don’t really have the right to be acting like a boss. They don’t want you telling them what to do. It means they don’t respect you. “Bitch” is the PG13 version of “bossy.” It means the same thing, but at least whoever called you it knows enough to be somewhat intimidated by you.
This really gets to the real reason why I think banning “bossy” in elementary school is so important; because bossy hits puberty and turns into a bitch. “Bossy” is a word used against girls. “Bitch” is a word used against women.
If we teach young girls and boys that girls taking leadership roles is A-Okay, then maybe they’ll grow up and stop having a problem with women taking leadership roles as adults.
We shouldn’t be teaching girls to tolerate hateful and belittling language, and then translate it internally as an indicator that they’re on the right track. We should be teaching boys and girls NOT TO USE THAT LANGUAGE AT ALL. Why can’t we try to create a world where we just tell them they’re on the right track? And when Maynard says things like “I take it as a compliment,” this is a horrible indicator of the language we as grown women have learned to tolerate, to accept as indicators of a job well done. We simply can’t expect to be praised for showing the same work ethic and drive as our male colleagues. Isn’t that sad? Isn’t it tragic that Maynard has just accepted this? Karen McCrindle goes on to say that “I now have a young daughter who is almost seven. If people tell her she’s bossy, I’ll tell her that means she has leadership skills.” Isn’t that SAD? She’s not teaching her daughter to stand up for herself and tell those bullies to go to hell, she’s teaching her daughter to just accept verbal abuse as a compliment, because it would be unrealistic to expect an actual compliment.
Robyn Urback continues on in her piece to argue that the Ban Bossy campaign actually teaches young girls at an early age that women need protection. I would argue that it teaches girls to empower themselves. We’re socialized to think we’re less than men from such an early age, it hardly even registers. Not only are girls bossy, but “girl” is one of the biggest playground insults you can hurl at someone. “Don’t be a girl,” “you play like a girl,” “what are you, A GIRL?” Ban Bossy gives girls a voice. It empowers them to stand up for themselves. It’s telling them that “girl” is not an insult, and that they have just as much right as any boy to be in charge. Honestly, I wish this was around when I was in school.
Ban Bossy isn’t about protecting girls, it’s about teaching them that they don’t have to sit back and take sexist bullshit.
If you want to take the pledge and support the campaign, head over to http://banbossy.com/