Thursday, March 13, 2014

"Ban Bossy" Campaign: Anti-Feminist but Worthwhile for Another Reason?

The "Ban Bossy" campaign and video, sponsored by Lifetime and Sheryl Sandberg's "Lean In" organization, tries to encourage young women toward leadership with the bizarre assumption that girls nix their aspirations because their friends call them "bossy."

After forty years of feminist culture, this is absurd. Kids call each other plenty of cruel names, and bossy is a mild one.  And girls surpass boys in school, creating a widening "college gap" causing concern that men will be left behind.

Even weirder than thinking "bossy" stops girls is that highly-admired women like former Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice, Girl Scouts CEO Maria Chavez and Arianna Huffington (none of whom succumbed to the "b-word") consider it a threat. Another "Ban Bossy" endorser is Beyoncé, known to use distinctly non-feminist sex appeal to enhance her singing talents. "John Smith" from Los Angeles commented in the Daily Mail, "All she does is shake her rear in her underwear yet she is the mouthpiece for telling girls how to be?" Montana governor Steve Bullock is also a spokeshuman, with the quote, "Today's bossy girls are tomorrow's leaders,." suggesting bossiness as a prerequisite to high position. Still, if a campaign promotes considerate speech, then Brava.

After all, "bossy" is an objectionable epithet whether applied to a female or a male. Bossy people impose their wills on others. Bossy people don't consider or respect others' points of view. Bossy people take the position that they're, well, the boss, making you the subordinate. Maybe individuals should ban bossy not because it might cause some girl to quit grad school someday--but because name-calling is rude.

Part of the contention is that "boys don't get called bossy," because when they exert themselves over others, it's called "leadership." No, it's called "bullying," and there's even a government website to fight it. A 2010 summit was called by the Department of Education, and the Obamas hosted a 2011 White House Conference on Bullying Prevention.

This silly "Ban Bossy" campaign is actually anti-feminist, because it implies that women's own decisions and desires aren't good enough.

Feminism honors women's freely-made choices. And for the most part, mothers place their families over their careers. Brain research showing that women's hard-wiring inclines them differently from men has been compiled by accomplished women like Melissa Hines and Louann Brizendine. But the only acceptable definition of achievement for Lean In ladies is high rank in the male-dominated, public sphere, not serving in more private spheres caring for others. In other words, "leading" many is good. "Helping" a few is...disappointing.

"Ban Bossy"-ites work on the anti-woman assumption that monetarily remunerative, visible positions of authority are superior to raising and educating one's own children, or traditionally female careers like teaching, nursing and childcare. That's why they're so desperate to push girls their way.

There's nothing lesser about women "leaning out" of the competitive workplace or positions of leadership. And after earning more diplomas than men, there's no reason why they'd suddenly stop dead in their career tracks due to name-calling that never stopped them before. It's ridiculous to suggest that women comprise 5% of CEOs and 17% of Congress (as Sandberg complains in an ABC network interview) because the rest of them were thwarted by childhood insults.

Instead, many highly-educated women are doing exactly what they want to do--working awhile, and then leaving competitive careers to nurture and enjoy their children's development. Or, they may pick jobs compatible with their interests, which could even be those brain studies predict. At the same time, more colleges and companies actively seek out women for fields where they're under-represented.

It's been a long time since Betty Fredan, but some people can't accept that sexism's passé and the Mad Men milieu is history. I've spent far too much time writing this, because ultimately the "Ban Bossy" campaign is merely a feel-good party for its supporters, and of little consequence to anyone else.

Sandberg's pressure just makes girls who aspire to traditionally female occupations or raising a family feel badly; they're wasting their potentials. The program could even backfire, causing young women inclined traditionally to scotch desired careers because they're afraid of being called "weak," "brainwashed," or "victim." Too bad girls aren't taught pride in who they are, instead of relentless indoctrination in the same old male standards underlying "Ban Bossy" beliefs.

It took me a couple of days to finish this post, and in the interim everyone and her sister has jumped on the "Ban 'Ban Bossy'" bandwagon. Nearly every blogger and columnist can find something to dislike about it, from its snooty position of privilege to its arrogant aim to change girls' careers. Writers think Beyoncé is a poor role model and that the campaign gives name-callers power. The whole thing seems like a vanity project for powerful women feeling guilty and unworthy that they made it. The effort reflects, to use my husband's term, the "Do-something Disease" run amok.  "Ban Bossy" is co-sponsored by the Girl Scouts (I'm a former member and leader), a group now floundering for something to sell beyond surgary snacks.

So I'm going to soften my stance, and reiterate that any effort to eliminate rudeness and infuse interchange with respect deserves support. Yes, ban "bossy" --and "idiot" and "stupid" and the panoply of crass epithets kids call each other.  Adults shouldn't get stuck on  whether girls ultimately choose leadership or jobs more in the background, but rather on the politeness and caring with which they encounter others every day.

No comments:

Post a Comment