Listen, anything that Beyonce does I just want to rave about. Especially if she is using her considerable voice to point her legions of fans towards feminist issues. But I have what I can only describe as very mixed feelings about her collabo with Sherly Sandberg and their latest PSA to #BanBossy:
I mean, when she says “I’m not bossy, I’m the boss”, I get chills and pump my fist. But…
But. I’m not sure this is quite the best way to address this issue. After reading a whole bunch of intelligent pieces on this campaign, I think I’ve got my own thoughts in order on why this isn’t a slam dunk.
One camp of folks thinks we should encourage girls to be bossy, instead of banning the term. The actual definition of bossy is ‘fond of giving people orders, domineering.’ Not exactly an endearing trait. I don’t think we should encourage anyone to be bossy. Then we will have a whole generation of corporate CEO type assholes, and I don’t see that as a positive step. (This echoes one reason some people weren’t enthused about Lean In, because it encourages women to conform to the patriarchal corporate system instead of making a new system that works better for more people. Valid.)
Now, assertive is maybe a better choice of word. We should encourage young women to be assertive. I have no issue with that idea at all. But banning the word bossy doesn’t really help us encourage girls to do anything. Restricting words doesn’t empower girls or teach them anything about self confidence or being true to themselves. Overall, I think it would be more prudent to encourage everyone to think a little harder before using the word (would I be using this word if she were a boy? why is this word appropriate in this situation?) rather than just banning it. Because if a small person is being bossy, we should for sure call them out. But only if it’s a warranted observation and not a gender based insult.
So I don’t think restricting language is the answer, but I’m also not advocating reclamation. What I really would like to see is a campaign that says ‘Be yourself, you are enough.’ Because the truth is, not all women are ‘bosses.’ And you know what, not all boys and men are bosses. Some people are leaders, and some are not, and that’s completely fine. We need to work towards a feminism that will advocate for everyone. I think Lean In is very smart and articulate, but it’s only aimed at a small contingent of women. What about women who want more of a work life balance, and men who want paternity leave? Why not campaign for a federal family leave minimum and a greater variety of work hours/telecommuting options?
Or if you really wanna stick to this whole leadership track (which totally is a valid track because there is a very real female leadership deficit!) why not campaign for school programs that teach leadership skills for girls, or for schools to teach feminist theory in their curriculum? Why not talk about which books we can give girls with relatable heroines, and how we can get teenagers focused away from Twilight/boys and towards realizing they are worth more than their physical beauty?
Why not feature this dope chick in your PSA, and let girls be inspired by this realness:
The women featured in the #BanBossy video are just so great. They are successful. They are confident. And they are lending their voice towards an issue that I’m sure affected them as girls and in their early careers. But why can’t they use their considerable reach and resources to create a campaign with a more concrete goal? I’m a writer, so I understand that words absolutely matter. But banning or reclaiming a hurtful word isn’t going to solve the over arching issue. I can use the terms ‘bitch’ or ‘cunt’ playfully and say I’ve reclaimed them, but that doesn’t take away their power in the wrong hands and it sure as shit doesn’t solve the overall problem of our sexist, misogynist culture. I wish they had a plan that was less hashtag-able and catchy, and more results oriented.
That being said, the campaign has started a conversation, and gotten people talking about this issue. And any feminist agenda item getting lots of air and page time is a win. So is the fact that recognizable faces are showing support of this idea, and to that end I must return to Beyonce. There is no such thing as a perfect feminist, and the debates around her feminism are lively and important. But I really do think that this kind of mega star, a black woman/wife/mother/mogul, being outspoken about her personal feminism, is absolutely epic and a major step forward (away from other’s who deny the label.)
So while I think #BanBoss is catchy and well intended but ultimately kinda weak, I’m still happy to see this campaign and happy to see these ladies working together and happy to see feminism getting a positive shout out. The more we shine a light on the variety of issues our younger sisters face, the more we can help them grow into the strong, capable, unique women they will become.
Here’s to the next generation of leaders, artists, mothers, teachers, students, performers, writers, readers, thinkers, athletes, creators, dreamers, movers and shakers. I hope we continue to support them and push the world to be a safer place for them (and all of us) to thrive.