This is the latest brainchild from controversial author Sheryl Sandberg who sent shockwaves and outrage through the working world with Lean In describing how women disengage from their careers thus never making it to the top; her book challenging women to reengage, to fully engage and go for those long coveted, male dominated leadership positions. Concepts largely ignoring real barriers to women reaching the heights to which Sandberg herself had risen becoming CEO’s, COO’s like she currently is at Facebook; ignoring workplace discrimination, balancing the practical realities of work and family, keeping a current job based on who has the better employee health plan, being able to have kids and actually raise them when the time comes, never mind what women, all workers, want. The idea maybe they don’t want the top because they are making a difference where they are, like the level of one on one, in person interaction, feel they have found where they fit best, where they are supposed to be. Unlike Lean In her latest project is being met with much more positivity, support and optimism as to what it can do for young girls, what it can do to foster future women leaders, but appears no less tone deaf, no matter how many celebrities you get to sign on. Sandberg’s next big campaign, ban the word bossy for describing strong, assertive young girls obviously showing leadership qualities based on survey data one third of middle school girls shy away from leadership, don’t want to be leaders because they fear being labeled bossy, fear not being liked. Coupled with hurtful stories reiterated by now successful women, having reached the pinnacle of their fields about teachers who told other students to stay away from them because they were bossy, how being called bossy made them feel has many questioning if it is time for America to change it’s vocabulary. But is it really; will it constitute the change we truly hope to see?
Worse than the contradiction in terms on one hand stating women can do anything men can do, our children have equal opportunities to be anything they want to be regardless of sex, the only difference is social conditioning, arguing they can be strong, assertive, self-assured, confident, yet we need to ban the word bossy to help them on their way to getting there. Worse than paralleling bans on profanity, bans on books reminiscent of homophobes, xenophobes, Epistemophobes (those who fear knowledge) cutting off the reading of Captain Underpants, Harry Potter and Slaughter House V, among others, to appropriate audiences, shunning fact in favor of skewed poll numbers, political data a-la what had Karl Rove and Fox News convinced Mitt Romney was to win on election night, usually supporting a narrow ideology, usually based on some degree of religious fanaticism making us all look silly, is it doesn’t represent the paradigm shift necessary to achieve the ultimate goal, encouragement and equality for women and girls. Nor does it speak to all of the reasons young girls, women recoil from leadership in their formative years lasting well into, encompassing their whole lives; more than a dislike for being identified by the label bossy, more than being called that singular word is the other half of the equation, a fear of not being liked. A fear of not bring liked, it might be added, assessed at a critical time in any child’s social development, middle school, when their peer group is the most important group in their world, when the awkwardness of puberty is also upon them throwing any adolescent, regardless of gender, into some degree of turmoil; adolescence that has the greatest chance to imprint, impact who a child could become in later life. Social connection, social interaction, exceedingly more important for girls than for boys especially moving ahead; possessing that now all important network being an inherent part of how women maneuver through the world, ascend any career ladder, accomplish any life goal or simple task. How you go about fixing this is infinitely more complicated than eliminating a word from the English language, isn’t about banning the use of a negative word to refer to strong, confident, born to be lead young girls who grow up to be women; going to the core, it means answering the question what is wrong with those, easily argued, positive qualities in future women? The answer should be nothing; unfortunately in a society still dominated by patriarchy, making a resurgence due to the popularity of the tea party and their down home, best of America “values,” that strength is either seen as a threat or something that is not supposed to happen with girls. The idea girls are supposed to be nurturing and sweet, demure, caregivers, people pleasers, homemakers, not in charge, feisty take no crap persons. False but convincing realities perpetuated when women congressmen, governors and their supporters, people like Michele Bachmann, Sara Palin, Mike Huckabee and Todd Akin present the picture, to be an acceptable, stellar representation of good, solid American values, the best thing you can be is married, barefoot and pregnant, subservient to your husband in a “godly” way. When they want to disband the department of education, calling it unconstitutional, so they can exert unprecedented local control of school systems serving up influential women like Abigail Adams as female role models leaving off any other career fields breeched by women at the time, still placing women and girls into little boxes based on outdated social trends. Here are the mindsets in need of challenging and doing away with, not a single word.
True no teacher should be telling a student to stay away from another student solely because they are bossy, no kindergartener should be reprimanded for asking too many questions; these parts of pedagogy should have been discarded with the dunce cap, the civil rights and women’s movements both collectively and respectively. Tendencies toward manipulation and coercion to get their way should be neutralized by channeling it into healthy opportunities to be leaders in their classroom, their school, balanced with giving everyone a chance to have a turn, especially in lower elementary school grades. Incidents and instances over and over described by now powerful women depicting their days matriculating through educational riggers underscore schools as conformity dens not learning facilities, institutions; until we broaden that, stop stifling creativity, stop worrying so much about how children learn math, vocabulary, history, via pencil and paper, fun computer game, lecture or hands on activity, perceptions on the word bossy, changing our national vocabulary is the least of our problems. But Sandberg’s push isn’t targeting educators, mentors involved in shaping school children, having specific contact with girls throughout critical stages of their lives, focusing on expanding their horizons so they can better help leading women of tomorrow, including changing their feelings on the word bossy; she isn’t running, organizing a mentor, educator, girls sports-coach boot camp to given them enhanced tools to shape forthcoming female leaders, she isn’t going around the country collecting more successful women in all career fields to serve as mentors in charities, not for profits, community center initiatives designed for young girls needing this type of guidance, recruiting them to join existing programs, developing an after school, community based class, series of classes in at risk areas or anywhere else. Her newest formula, outline to change the employment landscape years ahead, eventually put more women at the top, at the head of companies nationwide, is part PSA part book tour, without the book, hoping we collectively go along with something other strong, no nonsense, doubtlessly achieving women don’t agree with. Having gone so far as to term it cute but stupid; the latter were exact words from judge Lynn Tolar, of the popular daytime TV show Divorce Court, commenting on an issue similar opinion makers have justly dubbed a first world problem. Christiane Amanpour sharing her own experience about being thrown for a loop by repeatedly being called bossy talked to HLN highlighting not just her own experience that seems like a throwback to another era, adding caveats about the girls who don’t have enough support at home, who are vulnerable, have low on self-esteem. Except once more, this campaign is not geared toward at risk girls, women empowering them, leaving them with the skills, exposure and understanding of possibility they would have garnered from a more economically stable neighborhood, better educated parents or more involved educators; Absolute indisputable facts that play into accusations Sandberg her campaign is a sound bite possessing about as much substance saying: ban bossy fix 90% of women’s issues, wholly and utterly not true. is likewise tone deaf to a virtual laundry list of subsequent issues effecting young girls period, never mind whether or not they choose to be leaders; eating disorders, depression, domestic violence, considering the economy over the previous few years, parental joblessness, homelessness, hunger, how they will pay for college when they get there. Perhaps the reason girls truthfully stand back from leadership is because, before they even come of age, they are conditioned to roles of over responsibility, babysitting younger siblings, a bulk of household chores, worries about money while their parents are working 12 hour shifts somewhere to make ends barely meet, hardships our campaign spearhead apparently knows nothing about.
In fact there are 100 reasons why Sheryl Sandberg is exactly the last person you would want heading such an initiative if it were ever needed, because she really isn’t the best example of strong, confident, self-assured or assertive, isn’t really an example of it at all. Her story isn’t one of beating the odds, only a few minor statistics, isn’t one of blazing a new trail, perhaps widening an old one; she didn’t get where she is by charting new territory for women, by breaking the mold, by turning away from what people said about her, calling her bossy, voting her most likely to succeed while looking down on her for her direct manner and her wish to do what men do. Rather embracing the hapless victim women, the mousy, scared, insecure, uncomfortable heap that embodies every repulsive stereotype believed about women in any given decade, by men, by those teachers women spoke of; faking the positive traits she outlines then writing a wildly popular, supposedly thought provoking, book on a fraud. She didn’t pioneer demonstrating how a women’s perspective differs from a man’s in a position of authority, what good outcomes that translates to either economically or in company morale, more entities willing to do business with you because of the change; she isn’t a showcase of the unique way women can get to and stay at the top, can offer something fresh, invigorating and worthwhile to a company. Instead she is an old, tired, bland example of what we’ve seen too much of already, people who use affluence, wealth, birth lottery and patriarchy to their utmost advantage; she parlayed her born into connections to smooze the right people. Then embraced patriarchy by latching onto the men who were involved in the places she wanted to go using a combination of demureness and wit to get them to take her along for the ride, marrying into yet more connections, affluence and influence. Next she wrote a book telling women do it like a man, not standing out with something catchy, timely, needed in the teens years of the 21st century, do it like only a women can, for example; is still, despite all her acclaimed success, unable to take her own advice accepting due credit for her accomplishments, is shy, uncomfortable within her own skin, her own power and influence. Perhaps because it is truly unearned, had to be told to negotiate her Facebook contract not just blindly accept whatever was initially offered because she wanted the job, went so far as to have her husband do it for her as opposed to doing it herself and is now glaringly displaying her profound insecurity, out to draw copious amounts of attention, validation to herself once again saying: make it better by banning bossy. Key because changing the dynamic begins by telling young girls how to handle negativity, the “bad” of being called bossy; teaching them to shrug it off, show their peers the positives of being bossy, demonstrate how to substitute it for other words assertive, leader, in charge, boss, asking them to challenge their friends with questions like: do you like me, well then who cares what Ms. so and so teacher, after school activity instructor, whoever’s mom said. Letting them know people who use the word bossy in that context are probably jealous they aren’t brave enough to be the same, teaching them the different connotations to that word being for someone who only tries to manipulate, dominate, coerce, tell people what to do, always get their way vs. someone who wants to lead because they have a good idea, have a natural talent for organization, can see skills in their classmates and therefore would like to be allowed to assign tasks for the group project accordingly.
And banning bossy only addresses one aspect of what truly hampers women from getting to the top, only confronts just one of the negative things perceived about women vying for leadership roles at every level, even by other women. Most either identified or were horrified by the hair care ad gone viral contrasting attitudes toward men and women as they dress, act and compete in the same workplace for what are meant to be equal positions; one receiving positive feedback, positive results in landing a job, receiving a promotion, being congratulated on their marketing idea, business presentation, the other called every name that wasn’t profane, results duplicated by a collegiate university study producing mirroring outcomes. Men were characterized as persuasive, women pushy, men were dedicated, women selfish, a man was neat, a women vain, men confident, self-assured, women aggressive and over selling. Much of this predicated on what we still believe to be men and women’s dominate roles in society; a women is construed as selfish opposite a man’s dedication because it is readily assumed she is neglecting her family working late, whether she has one or not. Even if she is young, the belief remains she should be looking for a mate, a husband, preparing to have children, not burning the midnight oil, gasp, running a company; she is seen as selfish because she is abandoning her “other” responsibilities, while a man’s sole responsibility is breadwinner for his household. A woman is vain to a man’s neat because women are inherently viewed as less dirty, less sloppy than men by nature; therefore the “extra” time spent in front of the mirror, primping, applying makeup is a sign of vanity, a sign of shallowness, superficiality women who travel in certain circles, look a certain way are stereotyped for being. Persuasive equals pushy through too many eyes owning to women aren’t supposed to persuade people, at least not that way, not by giving a wow presentation, having a solid argument, pointing out the exhaustive pros and minimal cons of their proposal; when women engage in the art of persuasion first off, if they aren’t using their anatomy, using their sex appeal, they won’t be as effective, secondly they are meant to do it behind the scenes, coyly, covertly, shyly, making the man, the boss, the person higher on the company food chain feel like it was their idea all along. Bringing us to something else about the Sandberg strategy, current women CEO strategy doomed to insidious failure, only using men as your example, modeling yourself only after men, less trying to do the same thing they are and instead trying to do it the exact same way, ignoring your own unique ways of getting things done. The thinly veiled fact, harsh reality women CEO’s today, women at the height of corporate power are there, not simply because it is well earned and long past time; they are there because they are tokens of progress, tokens to ward off calls of discrimination, to avoid larger conversations about why an increased number of women aren’t directing traffic in the boardroom, to avoid exposing bias clearly at work in the working world today in 2014. Clearly attempting to tackle the issue in nearly the wrong place, yes without fostering leadership in schools, giving children chances to gain, exercise and grow those skills throughout their education, there will be no steady group of leaders to take on necessary tasks and positions; at the same time, it does nothing to change things on an educational level for it to make little to no difference in the employment world. Maybe even cost a women a good job being too “bossy,” cost them a shot at their dream career because they thought they had to behave like a man to get there, were more focused on demanding what they were worth, joining the crusade to ban bossy as a term for them rather than being employed, advancing in the workplace.
Further you aren’t going to correct 77 cents made by every woman to every dollar made by a man banning bossy; you correct 77 cents to a dollar by making sound public policy choices, making equal pay for equal work a component of sweeping federal law alongside earnings transparency. You correct 77cents to every dollar by stopping employers from punishing women by removing benefit package components such as maternity leave from overall employee health plans, legally threaten their business when they blame changes in retirement plan payouts on the hogwash of distressed babies belonging to huge conglomerate companies like AOL’s, employees. 77 cents to every dollar stops when we stop punishments of either parent, predominately women, for taking time off to raise their children in the toddler years of their life, when we let go of the misconception women in general contribute less to their working environment, their employer; anecdotal “fact” that multiplies exponentially if said employee has kids, stemming from the belief work productivity is lost in days spent with sick children, problems at school, babysitter headaches. Pay inequality ends when we shed antiquated notions about who it is traditionally providing for families and therefore, by rights, should be making more money; 77 cents for every woman to a dollar made by a man doing the same job goes away when businesses make enhancements like flex time, working from home, telecommuting standard so that the former don’t have to walk away from their careers to answer devotion to family, doting dads who want to be caregivers, want to stay at home, bond with their children can. You reverse 77 cents to every dollar, equal that out by ending the practice of affordable childcare being a contradiction in terms; you level the playing field by instituting sane hours for upper management positions. There is no earthly reason why, if employees can do their work in 40 hours, a CEO can’t do the same other than it looking better than it actually is to work so late, providing a convenient excuse to A, not hire the number of people needed leaving the CEO to pick up slack, B avoid marital problems, troubled kids by burying yourself in “work.” More than just allowing women to take those jobs and still be home by 5:00 to make dinner and help with homework, saner hours means fathers too can be present in their children’s lives, are actually home when they come home, opposed to aloof, harried, busy stressing over tomorrows presentation, expense account reports due, the client they hope to land. You correct 77 cents to every dollar by honing women’s negotiation skills, so whether they want to buy a used, new car, apply for a business, home, car lone or work out a salary on their latest job, they can, negotiate a raise, they can. Recognizing too a fatal practicality even here, even doing that, you may want the job more than you care about pay inequality, pay inequality may be masked, pawned off as another person, male, having been with the company longer, having come onboard with more experience; it also has the chance of being true. Subsequently you may need the job, the automatic pay increase commiserate with the position, the benefits package attached more than you need to practice your negotiation skills, worry about what your counterpart coworker is being paid and why, worry about solidarity to your fellow women, worry about what is fair, because survival trumps all of those things. And no matter how much Sheryl Sandberg, her supporters want to extrapolate the concepts of Lean In, her latest PSA to ban bossy, to all parts of life, to getting your child a better teacher, a better doctor, getting a better deal on insurance, a vacation package or coupons at the grocery store, applying them to whatever job you currently have; make no mistake, these are tips, tricks, blueprints to the corporate world alone.
Left completely un-discussed, undisclosed are the possible unintended consequences of actually succeeding at banning bossy in the context organizers wish to; the unfathomed truth that doing so creates more problems for women not less, chiefly taking away power where it was intended to give it. Why, what happens when the derogatory connotation surrounding bossy is migrated to other healthy words like assertive, strong, confident, capable, brave, fearless, feisty, spirited; all the positive words for go getter, leader women are relegated to are something bad, denotation of a character flaw you had better get rid of if you want to be accepted by peers, loved by a man, given opportunities for a job. Leaving women laid open, completely vulnerable to more than just ever present self-esteem and confidence issues, but increased domestic violence, spousal abuse, harassment, in the street every day, but especially in the workplace, more dependent on men because rights slowly disappear along with the resurgence in arcane attitudes. A whole generation conditioned to believe they have less worth than attributed to them now; because, all words indicating strength when applied to women vanish in favor of a 1950’s view sprinkled with tea party conservatism and the Sheryl Sandberg way of doing things find a man, latch on and ride his coattails. This is the world we want for our daughters, our sisters, our wives, our friends; people should surely hope not. Excuse me Ms. Sandberg, the 1850’s called; one they would like their ideas back and two, are now suing you for copyright infringement.