Big, glossy and expensive media campaigns that seem to spring out of nowhere make me slightly defensive and wary. They make me wonder if they are real or something dreamed up in a plush office somewhere by individuals or a group of individuals who want to up their profile, change the public perception of them or are just publicity hungry for one reason or another. I am naturally suspicious of campaigns that seem to emanate from the wealthy elite who seem to be happy to give the rest of us the benefit of their gold plated wisdom.
The latest such campaign is the ‘Ban Bossy’ one. Apparently girls who are natural leaders and organisers are often called bossy... yep, I thought, I’ve been there and done that. But apparently that is not a good thing. Girls who are told they’re bossy can feel unlike and unpopular and as a result calling girls bossy can result in them not putting themselves forward to take these leadership roles.
My first reaction was – what a load of old nonsense. I have been called bossy since I could talk and I have always taken pride in that fact. I took bossy to be a bit of a back handed compliment. Have I been wrong all these years?
I am also the mother of three daughters, none of whom are backwards about coming forward in varying degrees. I have always encouraged them to be the leader not the follower. “If something needs to be organised and no-one else is doing it – well do it yourself” I tell them. I am sure they are called bossy occasionally but it has never been something that has upset them at all. And I value the fact that they usually, (not always - I’m not that great a parent) are happy to lead and don’t (generally) follow unquestioningly. (As a mother of teenagers I have fingers and toes crossed at having written than.)
When I was thinking about all this before putting pen to paper, one fact leapt out at me. Like me, they have all gone to all girl schools. Is the problem here that it is boys that are uncomfortable with girls being leaders? Is it the boys who seem to have this power to make bossy a bad word and make the girls feel ‘unlikeable’? This would chime with my experience. My bossiness (or assertiveness as I generally call it now that I am grown up) has occasionally caused problems with male bosses! Oh – and are we going to change the name Boss while we are at it? Or can men be bosses but girls not be bossy? Sorry I am totally lost with the logic of that.
I am very unconvinced by this campaign. I think it risks being misinterpreted by our girls; teaching them not to be bossy but to be leaders. Instead of trying to ‘Ban Bossy’ why not ‘Own Bossy’? Be bossy and be proud, because when our ‘bossy’ girls get out into the big world of work will be called all kinds of other not flattering names. Let me see – ‘over-bearing’, ‘shrill’, ‘bloody feminist’, ‘trouble-maker’ – oh the list is endless. I’ve been called them all. I have also been told that I wouldn’t succeed unless I toned myself down. While I admit that my success is questionable I have no intention of toning down. Hell no.
Once again are we accepting men’s view of things? Who say’s bossy is bad. Beyonce, one of the campaign’s figureheads, says “I am not bossy, I am the Boss.” That sounds more like the attitude I want our girls to have.
So I will continue to tell me girls – be bossy and own it. Bossy means that you are willing to give leadership. Oh and I also tell them that if they are going to live their lives trying to be liked by all and sundry they are on a hiding to nothing. Be kind, treat people like you would like to be treated... but all groups need a bossy boots. So grab them boots... wear ‘em, own ‘em. And feck the begrudgers.