March 4, 2014
Last week, the internet blew up over the word “bossy” as Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg launched an effort to ban the word, creating awareness around its negative connotation toward women (especially young women and girls) as they strive and aspire to be leaders in the global community.
Cue conversations about gender gaps in business leadership, innumerable think pieces about the word and portrayal of women in media, and resurfacing discussion around the underlying (perhaps even audience-imposed) messages behind “Sex and the City” and “Scandal.”
So here’s my take:
I’m a young woman who aspires to change the world, create something bigger than myself, continuously learn and challenge my perceptions of the world. And I’ve been called bossy. Pushy. In fact, I’m sure bitchy has been thrown into the mix a couple times. And there have even been times when my “Type A” personality, typically a personal and professional strength, has been used with a negative, controlling connotation. And you know what? Those words don’t describe me or the person I’m continuously learning about and striving to become, but they certainly could have described my behavior in the moment – or the behavior of anyone, man or woman, in the moment.
Which is why I believe it’s time to stop labeling behaviors as gender specific. Women and men, boys and girls, can be bossy. They also can be assertive or aggressive, or even domineering. Does it stop that behavior by shaming those who attribute it to women, or do we need to encourage everyone to let go of those behaviors?
Some may claim that we live in a society where a gender gap doesn’t exist, but the fact that we need a “Ban Bossy” campaign to encourage the same support for young women as young men says otherwise. Take, for example, the many “Women in Business” awards. Professional women are just as driven and accomplished as their male counterparts, but you’d be hard pressed to find a comparable “Men in Business” award. By separating women in the workplace and distinguishing their professional accomplishments as different from their male counterparts, it seems that we’re actually minimizing their accomplishment and acknowledging a gender gap.
I look forward to the day when we can encourage women and men to stop being bossy; when we celebrate professional accomplishments, regardless of gender, on the same stage; and when work/life balance encompasses personal creativity and growth, and doesn’t always come back to time on the job versus time at home.
We don’t need to ban bossy. We need to ban words describing behavior – really, moments in our lives and careers – that force women and men to identify who they are, and what they bring to the table, in conjunction with a behavior. Girls aren’t the only ones who can be bossy, or assertive, or exude leadership qualities and they won’t be the only ones to grow as professionals and overcome double standards and stereotypes.
So let’s think about what we’re really trying to overcome. It may start with banning bossy, but I doubt it ends there.