The Good and the Bad of #BanBossy

The #BanBossy campgaign video starts by saying:

“By middle school, girls are less interested in leadership than boys. And that’s because they worry about being called ‘bossy.'”

The problem here is twofold: that girls are called bossy and that they worry about being called bossy.

I’m in favor of campaigning to change the negative view of girls who are leaders, but I believe the #BanBossy campaign is missing something important. There is not enough focus on teaching girls that being called bossy, or anything else derogatory, for expressing their opinions or displaying leadership qualities is a not bad thing, or that the boys – and yes, other girls – who do use these words should be ignored. In other words, the campaign is targeting the wind when it is much easier to help girls adjust their sails.

Assertiveness training is so, so important for girls and women, especially in business. I took a class at NYU as part of my marketing certificate on communication skills for women in marketing and PR (it was called “Be a Powerful Presence” and taught by Raleigh Mayer. I highly recommend it.) and we learned a lot about the differences between the way women and men communicate in the workplace, such as phrasing statements as questions, high intonation at the end of a declarative sentence, and saying “sorry” profusely when it isn’t necessary. Taking a course like this at a younger age would have been hugely helpful for me in my education and career. I’m aware of the Girls Leadership Institute after watching Rachel Simmons’ TED talk and it looks like they do great work. It’s as important to teach girls to lead as it is to teach them not to let the fear of being criticized keep them from raising their hands.

I remember when girls were called bossy in school or during a playdate it was because they were being controlling and unfair towards their more passive classmates or friends. There is a difference between bossing your peers around at recess and being a good leader. Leaders have the interpersonal skills to bring out the best in others. That means giving others their turn to shine.

So, I agree. Let’s spread the message that girls expressing their own voices and being leaders isn’t a bad thing. But let’s also help girls develop the skills to brush off silly comments and grow a thicker skin. It’s difficult to move up the career ladder without one.

Update: I especially like Alexandra Petri’s Washington Post article on #BanBossy, in which she writes: “This is like dealing with the Sleeping Beauty curse by removing all the spindles from the land. The trick is not to remove all the spindles. The trick is to teach you how to handle a spindle safely so that it won’t sting you.”

You don’t have to love me
You don’t even have to like me
But you will respect me
You know why?
Cuz I’m a boss!

-Kelis, “Bossy”

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