Recently I had a conversation with two coworkers of mine. The topic turned to #banbossy and #ShineStrong. In case you don’t know, #banbossy was started by Facebook COO and Lean In author Sheryl Sandberg.
The key message is, “Words like 'bossy' send a message: don't raise your hand or speak up”, so we should avoid using this word with young girls.
#ShineStrong is the key message of a Pantene advertisement encouraging woman not to over-apologize. Both campaigns are focused on empowering women, but centered around removing the use of certain words.
Banning negative words.
I think there is a good idea buried in these campaigns, but when you really take a look at them, they have a few serious issues. First and foremost they are focusing on language policing. Banning words is never a good idea; it in no way progresses a conversation or thought. I think we should go ahead and share how we feel about a word and the power it may have, but trying to remove a word or its use because you don’t like it doesn’t solve any problems.
When it comes to #banbossy, the actual word bossy is only mentioned in one of the several cited studies and it’s not even the most prevalent in affecting girls. So the facts behind the banning of this word are shaky at best. In terms of the Pantene commercial, over-apologizing may be an issue, but it doesn’t seem like a genuine attempt to solve a societal problem and empower women by selling them shampoo.
Does the word 'bossy' hold women back?
I would say that from a societal point of view it does seem that men are brought up to be more comfortable as leaders and women seem to be taught to be more reserved, but the studies associated with #banbossy really don’t confirm that. Even though I have noticed that this is a social norm, I have never in my life seen a woman chase her dream and stop in her tracks due to someone calling her bossy, and I hope it never happens.
I think every child should feel comfortable and confident speaking up and sharing their ideas if they’d like. They should also know that the world isn’t always going to be kind about the ideas you share. It’s just a fact that if someone puts themselves out there, tries to be a leader and causes a stir, people are going to talk, some will disagree and some may even hurl insults. Girls and boys need to know that and be strong enough to ignore it.
A great saying I heard recently was, “it’s not what you’re called, it’s what you answer to” and I think that’s what needs to be taught. There are so many lessons to leadership and so many ways to encourage those skills other than focusing on removing a word from our vocabulary. I think we should look back to a time far gone to a 90’s group my generation fondly remembers, The Spice Girls. They had it right, the movement should’ve just been #GirlPower. Why not focus on that? Why not shape the conversation around telling parents, teachers, mothers, fathers, brothers etc. to make sure they praise girls for their leadership skills instead of language policing?
I think society and economic needs have slowly opened the door to amazing women becoming leaders in business, politics, entertainment and more, and I hope it continues and grows. There are good intentions in these campaigns, but I think there is more power and potential in looking forward, and focusing on the positive rather than the negative.
We should make sure to encourage daughters, sisters, friends, spouses etc. to chase their dreams, be great leaders, and ignore unfounded criticism. On a side note, if we want to look at a powerful, subversive, and ban-worthy force that does affect women in our culture and lives we should be talking about images of beauty. Women are constantly fed unrealistic images of beauty and it has a tremendous effect on perception and self-esteem, although that is a whole other conversation.
All in all, I completely agree that girls should be made to feel comfortable and encouraged to lead. I don’t think language policing or brand marketing is the way to do that, but I do see the underlying message both campaigns are getting at and it’s a good message to share. It is a message that could be delivered with a bit more positivity.