Emma Waverman writes about the chaos of modern family life. She is the co-author of the family cookbook Whining and Dining: Mealtime Survival for Picky Eaters and Families Who Love Them and is hoping to one day finish her certification as a parenting coach. She lives with her three kids, ranging from tween to grade schooler, and husband in Toronto. Emma has written for a variety of national parenting and lifestyle magazines and newspapers. When she's is not making typos, telling you what she thinks, and thinking about dinner, you can find her on Twitter at @emmawaverman. You can contact Emma at embracingchaos@hotmail.ca.

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Entries in lean in (1)

Tuesday
Mar112014

My Daughter Is Bossy. But Don't Tell Her That

"So, who here has been called bossy?" Sheryl Sandberg asked the primarily female crowd at BlogHer13. Almost every woman raised their hand (except me, I'm opinionated but not bossy). 

"And who has called their daughter bossy?" again, many hands stayed up, mine went up.

"Who has called their son bossy?" But then most hands dropped. 

Sandberg, author of Lean In, and feminist du jour, gave a convincing argument that bossy is applied to girls who show leadership skills, but not to boys. The word bossy is a rebuke, a signal that being passive is better than assertive, that girls should be seen and not heard.

I thought about that term bossy after that. And I tried not to call my daughter bossy, even when she was being bossy -- which is quite often. I don't always succeed.

Sandberg is now going a step further than the Chicago Convention Centre with her message. The #banbossy movement has hit the airwaves with some big names -- Coach Sue, Beyonce, Jennifer Garner, Condi Rice all appear in a video and posters for the #banbossy movement. The Lean In organization has teamed up with the Girl Scouts (in the U.S.) to encourage girls leadership skills and #banbossy is their war cry.

I am all for the idea of building girls' leadership. If girls were encouraged from a young age to be leaders, I think there would be less destructive Queen Bee shenanigans on the schoolyard and would lead to more women embracing their assertive side. We are building the next generation of economic and political leaders and I sure hope that my daughter experiences a culture where there are more women surrounding her. 

But in the meantime, the #banbossy message is getting pulverized out there. Even I have mixed feelings about it. I agree that girls are called bossy when boys are not. When girls show leadership skills, in fact when women show leadership skills they are often called bossy, bitchy, shrill -- you know the drill.

The term bossy, does have a double-edge to it. Bossy is unkind, ungenerous, self-centred. When I call my daughter bossy, it is not because she is leading a crusade, it is because she isn't let her friend get a word in edgewise. And so what is right about this intiative -- teaching girls (and maybe boys too) to own their leadership skills and exercise them in a positive manner is being lost in people defending their own bossiness and arguments over semantics about the word itself.

I have no doubt Sandberg is sitting in her palace banging her head against the wall to the reaction. No, that would be passive, aggressive. She is articulately defending herself and charismatically explaining that it is the double standard she is trying to erase, not the word itself. Because words do matter, they describe our world and how our children function it. Both boys and girls can be leaders, and both men and women can be bossy, but only one gender gets called it. When was the last time a man was called bossy? How about a woman?

My first thought is that this campaign isn't going to change the world. It is a highly digestible, celebrity-driven Internet-friendly meme that will disappear in a few days. But then I ended up in a day-long Twitter conversation about the word, the semantics and why it does matter. All day long we kept returning to the idea of what  the word bossy means to us, and to girls. (I created a Storify of it here.) So, I guess I have to hand it to Sandberg, the conversation is happening. The word bossy is on my radar once again, and I am reading over the banbossy.com resources so I can nurture and inspire my daughter to use her alpha skills for good and not evil. 

Because my daughter is going to change the world. Isn't yours?

At banbossy.com there are some excellent resources for parents and kids who want to nurture leadership and high-level executive function skills. There are cute videos, inspiring quotes and there is Beyonce. Because she is the boss.

What do you think of Ban Bossy? Is it overkill or a great way to get people thinking about girls and leadership?