Bossy Bully B*tches
Last week, a campaign to "Ban Bossy" was launched by the ever inspiring Sheryl Sandberg (author of Lean In - the latest in feminist manifestos, and books telling women what to do) and the always amazing Girl Scouts (one of the greatest organizations promoting female leadership, and yes- cookies). The idea behind the campaign is to empower young girls to be bold, assertive, and leaders. This is to be done by banning the behaviors that lead girls to become shrinking flowers- namely calling young girls bossy. Other partners in the campaign include Condoleeza Rice, Jennifer Garner, Beyonce, and a great deal of people that will not be recognizable to youth at this given time. The pictures also use actual little kids, because there is nothing like a testimonial to get buy-in for a movement.
The idea behind the campaign is noble. Anyone who attacks the idea of girls being encouraged to do and achieve more is a horrible person. The stats the campaign uses explain it all: girls' self esteem deteriorates during adolescence at a faster rate than that of boys; teachers call on girls less; and our tried and true stories have more male heroes than female heroines. That's enough to form the basis for a corporate and political leadership gender gap in adulthood. In addition, there's the longstanding pay gap that goes with it.
Unfortunately, the campaign's noble idea is locked up in the word bossy, which many people just cannot get behind banning. The most ironic- and actually laughable- problem with the campaign as many have pointed out, is banning a word is a bossy behavior in and of itself. The other issue lies with the problems of semantics and the real issues that words play in our day to day life.
For one, bossy- as negative as the dictionary definition Sandberg found to justify her campaign- is a word of many meanings and connotations. People tend not to like bossy people, because they think of a bossy person as someone without power assuming authority- kind of like a bully. And so yes, if you want to make a stretch you should ban bossy if in fact you will ban bullies. But that's not the only way the word is used. Bossypants by Tina Fey is just one example of another way to think of the word bossy. The book's promo material says, "You're no one, until someone calls you bossy."And come on, if you could choose to be like someone, who doesn't want to be more like Tina Fey?
And then, there's me, sitting with my beautiful and full curly fro, replaying Kelis's Bossy in my head as I muddle through the issues of the Ban Bossy campaign. Kelis is one of my flawed heroines, ever since she screamed on the track: "I hate you so much right now." She proclaimed and extolled her bossiness, and is not the only hip hop heroine to do so. Being bossy is once again desirable. If you called me bossy after hearing this song, I would tell you that I am Bossy, remind you that I'm a Boss, and then let you know all the reasons why.
Well it's rare nowadays to have hip hop agree on anything. And here-in arises the element of Beyonce's feminism and her participation in this campagin. Growing up, I had the Spice Girls, who were just as problematic as feminism's current pop queen. Beyonce stands at the end of the clip and in graphics proclaiming, "I'm not bossy, I'm the boss." For those that were on the ultimate trip of comparing the "bohemian" Kelis/Nas pairing to the sophisticated slick relationship of Beyonce and Jay Z/Beyonce there's a lot to be commented on here. Kelis proclaims her bossiness and has no problem with other choice words. In her former marriage she even tried to assist her husband's endeavors by wearing a coat that reads "Nigger". Beyonce has no time for such concerns. She uses the N-word too, but bossy is off limits in her quest over the last few years to further the cause of modern day feminism and empower girls. Lest anyone forget, she makes more money in the family and doesn't have to wear the pants because she doesn't have to. Beyonce's feminism bans bossy, but regularly calls on her inferiors/haters/people who don't grind like her to "bow down bitches."
Wouldn't it be better to call a young girl bossy and let her imagine her success than to tell her to bow down after hearing an amazing part of Chimamanda's Ted talk? Or maybe the bitches Beyonce speaks of are males? But then, isn't that just gendered bullying still? Or do we not understand that in addressing how we treat girls, we need to address how we treat boys as well?
Beyonce's not at fault for her participation here. Like the campaign, her work is noble. And for a movement that has been noted for issues with including women of color, Beyonce's inclusion (like that of Girl Scout CEO, Anna Maria Chavez, and Condoleeza Rice) does so much good in promoting inclusion and rights for all. It's the overall marketing that prompts questions.
I'm all for banning behaviors which keep any group of people down, harms their self-esteem, promotes years of defeatist behavior and prevents their advancement. Indeed, bossy, may just be part of some stereotype threat that affects girls at a young age- but unlike words with larger and significantly more loaded histories, there just isn't the public sentiment that it causes enough harm to be banned. But the slogan is catchy: kind of like "I'm Bossy!" or "bow down b*tches."
Eh, pick your poison.