Perhaps I'm a little slow to pick up on this particular topic, but have you heard of this? Sheryl Sandberg, of Lean In fame, first a book, now a nationwide if not worldwide, philosophy for women, has started a new campaign.
Lean In, a "nonprofit organization founded...to empower all women to achieve their ambitions" now offers "support through online communities, free expert lectures, and Lean In circles" which are peer groups who meet regularly. Sandberg wants women to recognize that the corporate structure, traditionally male, has to be navigated differently by women. There is extra scrutiny of women, and there is sexism. While it's not surprising that much of this is levelled by men, a great deal is unfortunately from women, too, both at work and at home.
Women need to help one another, obviously, but her new campaign focuses on vocabulary. This campaign, called Ban Bossy, maintains that "bossy" is a term used almost exclusively for girls. When a little girl speaks up, takes charge, and leads, she is termed "bossy." When a little boy does that, he is called a leader. "Words like bossy send a message:" the website says, "don't raise your hand or speak up. By middle school, girls are less interested in leading than boys. A trend that continues into adulthood."
That's the pitch. It then asks if you will help girls become leaders by Banning Bossy.
Partnered mainly with Girl Scouts of America, as well as lots of other respected organizations/businesses, (and celebrities), Ban Bossy has a good pedigree. Lots of organizations and sites have taken up the cause. And why not? Who could possibly be against helping young girls find their voice and take on a leadership role?
Sigh. No one. But, as we all know, banning--or pretending to ban--a pejorative term isn't going to get it done. I get what Lean In is doing. It's the whole Raising Awareness/Heightening Sensitivity thing. And I don't fault them one bit. Take it from me, a girl who was called Bossy most of her life. Until it morphed into the more adult Bitchy.
Because that's all Bossy is. It's the Elementary School form of Bitchy. I spent my entire life wearing that term--both of them, really--because I was a leader and because I spoke out and because I did not sit in the back and shut my mouth. I don't think the answer lies in banning the word; I think it lies in teaching girls how to ignore the word. It lies in empowerment. If you ban a word, you have given the word the power, not the girl. What are you saying then?
When I taught Creative Writing II, students often complained about the poetry assignments that had specific meter, especially sonnets. There was so much crabbing and moaning about finding the right word. Finally, I stood at the front of the room with a dictionary and said, "Who is the master here, you or the words? Who is in charge? Your job, always, is to make words your bitch. They work for you. They do what you say, not the other way around. Now stop being such a pushover and whip them into shape."
I grew up knowing that I was smart, capable, and valuable. My voice counted, so I used it. If someone ignored me, I spoke again. If I was still ignored, I shoved my way toward the front and spoke again. If I still didn't get recognized, I spoke more loudly and more forcefully, using all the biggest words I knew. I don't need to get my way, but if it is important to me, I want to be heard.
In my thirty years of teaching, I made sure to tell my female students all of this. That they should never give up their power, ever. That a label like Bitch means nothing if they don't believe it themselves. That being a woman means fighting harder, but if you have integrity, other women will help you.
I think banning words is silly. I wonder if this campaign isn't misguided although I appreciate its message. I do know that women, in general, need to be more helpful to other women and less judgmental in general. And I, for one, will be more mindful when I use the term Bossy, if I haven't been already.