It’s hardly a secret that leadership is encouraged and celebrated in young boys, while young girls with leadership characteristics don’t receive that same benefit. Where we call boys “strong leaders,” we call girls with the same traits “bossy,” or worse, “bitches.” Your favorite celebrity ladies Beyoncé and Jennifer Garner teamed up with the likes of Sheryl Sandberg for a new campaign called Ban Bossy, which aims to empower girls instead of putting a negative spin on leadership. It’s awesome and I want every girl in the world to see it, including one Julia Sonenshein, aged seven.
There is an obvious double standard when it comes to women assuming positions of power that starts young–think of the language we use. It’s certainly not limited to “bossy.” Where male leaders are assertive, female leaders are aggressive. If a woman has the loudest voice in the room, she’s shrill. I even remember being labeled “talkative” because I dared to speak up in math class, even though I was a painfully shy kid who talked very little.
As Garner says in the PSA, “being labeled something matters.” She’s completely right. These labels stick and follow men and women throughout their lives. Consider the debate around female CEOs like Sandberg and Marissa Mayer–most of the conversation centers around their personalities (including speculation that Mayer’s decisiveness comes from having Asperger’s and not simply being a decisive person) and the very fact that they’re female CEOs and not CEOs. It’s simply a continuation of telling girls to sit down and shut up that starts in childhood.
Sandberg put it perfectly:
“We need to recognize the many ways we systematically discourage leadership in girls from a young age – and instead, we need to encourage them. So the next time you have the urge to call your little girl bossy? Take a deep breath and praise her leadership skills instead.”
It’s silly to say that nobody is ever “bossy” in the negative context–certainly the world is full of brash people of all genders who steamroll and are needlessly aggressive in their interactions. But the actual issue is when we misconstrue assertiveness, confidence, and leadership as negative qualities, and shut them down. I love the idea behind this PSA, and hope that one day being called “bossy” isn’t the insult towards women that it is today.