Beyoncé wants you to know she isn’t “bossy” — she’s the boss.
This is part of the new campaign from Lean In, a group headed by Facebook Chief Operating Officer Sheryl Sandberg dedicated to the advancement of women. Not too different from some of the work we do here at Women’s Post, actually. One big difference is that they have made the bizarre move to draft celebrities in a war against the word bossy.
According to the campaign’s press materials: “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.”
For a campaign that is directed at the developed world it manages to ignore study after study after study showing that girls are currently outperforming boys in classrooms. The failing fortunes of boys is such a pressing issue in Canada that the Globe and Mail ran a large series on the issue a few years back. I was shocked to see this campaign claim that the term bossy is reserved for girls. According to Micheline Maynard at Forbes the term is gender neutral. “There are plenty of bossy men out there, too. Bossy is bossy — dictatorial, unyielding, telling people what to do and expecting them to do it without any input.” When I was growing up the bossiest kid I knew was a boy named Kyle.
All of that is secondary to the fundamental flaw this campaign is based on. #BanBossy equates bossiness with leadership and then portrays bossy kids as the downtrodden. The kids who can’t put their hand up for fear of retribution, the kids who would be such bright leaders if their bossiness was allowed to shine through.
The reality is that being bossy is an attitude that exists wholly separate from leadership and it is a bad thing. A kid isn’t bossy when he or she raises their hand to answer a question in class — a kid is bossy when he or she knocks over another kids blocks because they’ve decided they want their turn and they want it now. A kid isn’t bossy when they work together leading others to accomplish goals — a kid is bossy when they dictate the actions of other kids, refuse to compromise, and don’t consider the desires or feelings of others.
The Lifetime clip also features Jane Lynch, Condoleezza Rice, Jennifer Garner, and others.
Bossy behaviour in kids isn’t a charming attribute by any stretch, it more often will result in frustrating situations for parents and teachers who are constantly being undermined or disobeyed and problems for other children who aren’t allowed their own expression at the hands of another child who refuses to relinquish control. What baffles me is why there is a campaign to protect children from being chided for behaviour that many psychologists consider proto-bullying.
Parents and teachers know that the phrase “stop being so bossy” isn’t intended to take away any fair chance from a child who aspires to lead. Instead it is said in sympathy with the other child who is being led against their will. What response would Beyoncé suggest for the parent whose simple trip to the grocery store has been turned into a painful and embarrassing battle of wills with a child throwing food out of the cart in favour of Dunkaroos between sprints to different aisles? How will Beyoncé feel about the term bossy when Blue Ivy is old enough to scream NO, MINE! and MY TURN! at the top of her lungs until she gets her way at the expense of another child’s feelings? Or, heaven forbid, how would she react if Blue Ivy is the child being bossed around?
The most curious thing about the campaign might be the presence of Queen Bey herself in the clip. As a child star being carted around from audition to audition it is hard to imagine the young superstar doing anything but following the orders of her parents-slash-managers on her road to success, as evidenced by her countless thank-yous to her parents for their tireless direction and dedication to her young career.
But beyond Beyoncé and back to the school yard: the term bossy should be offensive. For prepubescent kids the term is a scolding and a wake up call that their behaviour towards their parents and others is unacceptable and needs to be dialed down.
If parents and teachers are ready to throw in the towel and give bossy kids free reign at home and at school we can give up on parenting, caregiving, or teaching as a whole. If your child isn’t blessed with a bossy attitude don’t hope for much out of them in those early years or after they have had their determination, self worth, and aptitude stomped out of them by the loudest kids in the class — ironically enough the same fear this campaign has for bossy children who are simply being expected to follow rules and play nice.
At its heart this is a flawed campaign. Of the many issues that face young girls around the world like access to education or childhood marriages this is, unfortunately, a waste of star power on an problem that is neither gender specific or a problem at all. Kids can be little jerks sometimes, the beauty of childhood is the chance to teach our children how to grow into good people. When a child exhibits the qualities of leadership it is great to teach them how to respectfully involve themselves with others, but when things go too far don’t be fooled into thinking the term bossy is anything other than a label for bad behaviour.