Sheryl Sandberg, COO of Facebook and the godmother of “leaning in,” has launched a female empowerment initiative that includes calling for the banning of the word “bossy,” and encouraging the world to refer to girls as “feminist” or displaying “executive leadership skills.” She has garnered the support of organizations including the Girl Scouts of America and powerhouse entertainer Beyonce.
Though I respect Sandberg’s intentions as well as her exemplary leadership and strides in advocating for career, equality and leadership advances for women, I think this particular campaign is a bit presumptuous, taking focus off a larger, more pressing issue, especially for young minority females.
As a black woman, I’ve been called bossy—and many more hurtful words—plenty of times in my life. On that experience, I can relate with Sandberg.
But when I think about the word “bossy,” I am more apt to do what my fabulous mother, Granny, aunts, and female cousins taught me to do in the face of someone trying to negatively—and falsely—define who I am: Hold my head high and embrace leadership traits that would in the future help push me into success.
Being a boss is not a bad thing, and to be honest, being “bossy,” is not either.
Let me explain.
If knowing my worth, what I stand for and how I like things to be done is being “bossy,” I’ll take the label.
If it means being strategic, speaking up and offering constructive criticism motivated by love and the desire to see people reach their greatest potential, I’ll be “bossy.” (Hey, I’m a bit bossy on my Twitter stream daily, giving tips and other quips of empowerment, that, I am told, inspires and empowers.)
If I won’t let a man disrespect me, coax me into things I don’t want to do, or change me for the worse—not the better— call me “bossy.”
I think we should teach our girls that it’s not about banning a word. (They’ll hear many throughout their lives that are more than disrespectful.) It’s truly about giving them to tools and confidence to be courageous, graceful, intelligent and bold enough to stand up against any negativity that comes their way. It’s about having emotional intelligence, even in the face of insults and knowing how not to let negative words define self-perceptions or self-worth.
It’s also about balancing one’s leadership style and finding a middle ground between authoritative and battle axe.
For youth, words are powerful and can be dangerous for potential and growth when used with malicious intent. (Even for adults, they can cut like knives.) But we have to empower our girls, especially minority females who face disrespectful street catcalls, high unemployment, Corporate glass ceilings and double discrimination, to be able to not only shrug off ignorance, but fight against larger issues that far surpass the word “bossy.”
We also must include our men in this, helping to change perceptions and actions in relation to women in leadership and the socialization of girls in society. One word alone—a word that is maybe at the lower end of the scale of disrespect when you consider the grand scheme of female discrimination and abuse—does not a holistic campaign make.
I’d encourage female millennials and youth—especially those of color— to embrace their “bossy”—at least the healthy, results-driven, compassionate leadership parts of it—and demand respect beyond the use of a word that could mean a million different things to a million different people. As Kelis infamously said in her song, “You don’t have to love me. You don’t even have to like me. But you will respect me.”
What’s your take on banning the word ‘bossy’? #Soundoff and follow me on Twitter @JPHazelwood.