What is missing from the Ban Bossy campaign?

When my daughter acts in ways that are commonly described as bossy, I cringe but bite my tongue.

I don’t want to crush her assertiveness but I’m well aware from bitter experience that this behaviour in girls and women comes at a price. I’m constantly battling between what I know to be right and my maternal instinct to protect my daughter from social disapproval.

But now a new campaign supported by Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg, former US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and Beyonce is urging parents to do more than remain silent when our girls overstep the bounds of compliant good-girl behaviour.

The Ban Bossy campaign is urging parents to actively encourage our girls to be assertive and bold. The campaign wants to banish adjectives like ‘bossy’, ‘pushy’, ‘stubborn’ and ‘know-it-all’ from our vocabulary. Such words are used to discipline girls’ behaviour — behaviour, which, if exhibited by boys, would be encouraged as a sign of leadership.

As the campaign site explains ‘When a little boy asserts himself, he’s called a “leader.” Yet when a little girl does the same, she risks being branded “bossy.” Words like bossy send a message: don’t raise your hand or speak up.’

The Ban Bossy campaign is close to home for me. When I was a management consultant I was repeatedly told in performance reviews that I ‘come across as too intimidating’, as one account director put it.


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