#BanBossy, started by Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg, has taken Facebook and Twitter by storm. It seeks to stop the use of “bossy” to describe young girls who display leadership skills. Even Girl Scouts of America has taken to this campaign. This is just another way to create issues where there were previously none.
Recently, former engineer Debbie Sterling quickly built a multi-million dollar empire out of GoldieBlox, which are engineering toys that are similar to toys like K’nex, with names like “GoldieBlox and the Spinning Machine” that sell for upwards of $30, before adding in expansion packs. In Sterling’s biography, she states that she had never heard of engineering until a high school professor encouraged her to pursue it in college, and even goes as far as to say, “She couldn’t figure out why her math teacher thought she should be a train conductor!”
While trying to encourage women who want to learn about engineering but don’t know anything about it, she comes off as ignorant and uneducated, perpetuating yet another negative stereotype. STEM programs are implemented in most schools across the country, and generations of women who have graduated from college with STEM degrees have played with LEGO and K’nex. Overpriced toys and hashtags that alienate boys from girls while claiming equality seems to be more of a separate-but-equal type of equality that hasn’t worked for previous generations, and will not be a part of my own philosophy.
The Associated Press even got in on the #BanBossy action with a story where they went to experts in child research and psychology to find an answer, written by Leanne Italie. Italie cites Harold Koplewicz, from the nonprofit Child Mind Institute, who asked first-graders and sixth-graders at Hunter College Elementary School for Gifted Children how they feel about it.
“Save for a couple of ‘outliers,’ he found that most didn’t love the term bossy, ‘but they didn’t love the word leader, either.’ The kids also told him that acting bossy carries a high risk of not being liked. ‘They thought that being liked was better than being a leader,’ Koplewicz said.”
Growing up, I went to school with a close male cousin. Both of us have always been considered leaders, and were always successful in school and in our social lives. I was called “bossy” growing up — but then so was my male cousin. Two of my young cousins are called bossy, but one is male and one is female.
Jacoba Urist, a health and lifestyle journalist who can be found regularly writing for NBCNews and Today, wrote about the gender divide that #BanBossy creates. Urist cites Julie Masterson, Ph.D.,a speech-language pathologist at Missouri State University, who co-authored a book on language development in children.
“Research backs up the perception that girls develop certain verbal skills faster than boys, says Masterson, but she cautions that the similarities between boys and girls far outweigh the language development differences. As for bossy, in the early years, girls can be more likely to use ‘collaborative language’ and engage in ‘thematic play,’ which often involves ‘giving direction.’ Though, she reminds educators, caregivers, and parents of both girls and boys that language is ‘an efficient and desirable vehicle for children to learn to assert themselves.'”
As many times in my life as I’ve been called bossy, I’ve never taken it as offensively as other words used against me. Never have my young cousins come home from school sad because someone called them bossy. #BanBossy seems part of a bigger theme of making girls feel bad about yet another thing –from their bodies to their personalities –just so that media can reassure them that bossy is a bad word that they should be ashamed to be called because they should be called leaders instead. If I were to have daughters, I wouldn’t be putting GoldieBlox and #BanBossy in their heads.