A new awareness campaign to banish the word “bossy” went viral last week, as superstars such as Beyonce and Jennifer Garner declared that the word should be off limits because of its toxic effects on young girls.
The theory is that girls described as bossy could develop low self-esteem and shrink from pressure to raise their hands and speak up, decreasing their chances of becoming leaders. I don’t argue that there are negative connotations to such a gender-loaded word, but why do we so eagerly submit to the notion that being bossy is bad?
The largely social-media effort is spearheaded by Sheryl Sandberg, Facebook’s chief operating officer and the author of Lean In, a working woman’s guidebook. To help sell her “Ban Bossy” crusade, Ms. Sandberg has recruited fashion designer Diane Von Fürstenberg, former U.S. secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, and actress Jane Lynch.
Instead of using the term bossy, Ms. Sandberg and her crew say we should praise a young girl for her leadership skills. “When a little boy asserts himself, he’s called a ‘leader’,” the campaign’s Web site states. “Yet when a little girl does the same, she risks being branded ‘bossy’.”
Ms. Sandberg asserts that bossy is just the other b-word in disguise. In interviews, she said she was described as bossy as a child, and she seemed ashamed of that fact.
I have certainly been called bossy in my lifetime. Yet I do not apologize for my ambition and confidence.
I pondered all of this last week while I attended the annual Milestones Award Luncheon at the SeaGate Convention Centre. The event is sponsored by the YWCA of Greater Toledo, and it honors local women who have made significant contributions in the areas of politics, the arts, business, education, the sciences, social services, and volunteerism.
As the seven women who were honored — Vallie Bowman-English, Leslie Adams, Marianne Ballas, Susan Martyn, Dr. Sonia Najjar, Kim Sidwell, and Barbara Eikost — took the stage, their leadership qualities were palpable. I would wager that each of them has been described as bossy. They clearly possess the ability, drive, and energy to achieve marked success in their fields.
And each offered a strikingly similar message of mentorship, support, and sisterhood. They spoke about the importance of their personal commitment to reach back for other women who may need a boost.
They were referring to their peers, but also to women who often rely on the services of the YWCA — those who are fleeing from mental or physical abuse, those who are homeless or need help with child care, those who cannot afford preventive mammograms, or those battling the demons of rape.
“As women ... we need to continue to add chairs to the decision-making table until all of our voices are heard,” said Ms. Bowman-English, an attorney and clerk of Toledo Municipal Court.
The Milestones luncheon is the YWCA’s largest annual fund-raiser; the women who were honored strongly encouraged attendees to open their wallets and their hearts. They were being bossy — on stage demanding money, demanding time, and demanding that the people in the room commit to helping others.
Ms. Eikost, who works with young people in central-city schools and was the first paid volunteer director at Hospice of Northwest Ohio, was honored for volunteerism. She posed a question to the luncheon crowd: “What stops you?”
The cavernous room grew quiet. I could almost read the thought bubbles, filled with guilt, among women who want to do more with their time, but are trying to balance careers, children, activities, and friends.
What stops you from helping others? Ms. Eikost pressed. There are no perfection requirements. You don’t have to make a certain salary. There is no uniform or dress code.
Often it comes down to what interests us, or where the need is greatest, Ms. Eikost said. And then we have to be willing to take that first step.
Was Ms. Eikost’s message bossy? Absolutely — as was that of Ms. Ballas, president of Ballas Buick GMC, who won the business award. She told the mostly female audience to avoid trying to be like men in their chosen professions.
“The world will benefit from the balance of genders,” she said.
I left the luncheon feeling empowered, as if I had been pushed and challenged to become a better woman, professional, and community member. I was proud of these women, who boldly wear their compassion, strength, and dedication on their sleeves.
Ban bossy? I think not.
Suzette Hackney is an editorial writer and columnist for The Blade.
Contact her at: firstname.lastname@example.org or 419-724-6018, or follow her on Twitter @suzyscribe.
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