Friday, March 14, 2014

we can do better than ban bossy

Rally together a former Secretary of State, social media tycoon, and the most pro-girl organization on the planet: ask them to launch a public service campaign to empower women and what do they come up with? A catchy hashtag accompanied by silly semantics and myriad assumptions, also known as the #banbossy campaign.

If you have no idea what I’m talking about, first, really? and second, just take a quick google break to catch up.

You back?

K, great.

As I found myself reading about the initiative around self-esteem, confidence, and leadership, as well as the power-house women spearheading it all, I honestly felt a little embarrassed for the women of the world. Nobody should be bossy – boy or girl – and I think most congenial folks actually agree on that. Furthermore, mature adults aught to have high a enough emotional IQ to discern the difference between a strong leader and a bossy pants. Which leaves me wondering out loud, why is this even a thing?

Most of the bossy girls living along side us in this village are bossy to hide their insecurity. Many of them can’t read. Their chances of contracting HIV are startling high. They will be lucky to live past 45. They will spend their lives in abject poverty. Their role models are fictitious characters on tv. They have never heard the word “bossy” because it doesn’t exist in their language. 

But there is this one girl I know who is particularly bossy. She likes to tell her friends what to do in blunt, one-word sentences. SIT. SING. DANCE. READ. JUMP. GO. COME. She barks her commands with 90% confidence and 10% sass. Her friends put up with her because she is irresistibly cute. This girl is, in many ways, very different from her peers. Her chances of being literate are pretty much 100%. She may even get a PhD. Her parents will never dress her up and send her out to exchange sex for food. Her life expectancy is approximately twice that of her closest friends. I point out her bossiness to her without shame or fear of meddling because, after all, she’s my daughter.

Truthfully, we battle bossy in this house every. single. day. Because as much as my darling daughter needs to know confidence and self-assurance and leadership, those aren’t the only things she needs to know...

She needs to know that not everyone is as privileged as her and that sometimes, like it or not, she needs to give an extra turn to the one who has no toys as all.

She needs to know that “ki mutwe” and other kiddish insults are usually a reflection of a hurting heart, and instead of repaying evil for evil, she can, in all confidence, extend healing grace.

She needs to know that some platitudes are true, like “patience is a virtue,” “it is more blessed to give than to receive,” and “there’s always room for one more at the table, even when it means giving up the last bit of cake.

She needs to know that her meekness is not weakness so much as strength controlled.

She needs to know that she is not the most important person in the universe, and that the One who really is the most important has already secured her worth. No amount of bossy can jeopardize that.

She needs to know that successful assertion of her will is not the best way to ensure a fulfilled life.

If I had been enticed by that oh-so-colorful website into following the #banbossy lead, I would fear not only for my daughter’s character development, but also for her true happiness.

And as for all of my baby’s friends? They too need more than a conversion from bossy to leader. They need math tutors and health care, safe home environments and micro-finance. As I sit in our living room, taking in the juxtaposition of privilege and poverty, filth and fisher price, I scroll on my phone, reading headlines and tweets and I wonder how it is that the leaders of the free world aren't seeing past the end of their own noses.

The hashtag #banbossy is catchy. But so is #ignitethelight, #girlsglow, #kidscare, #sheshares…

It’s just alliteration, savvy internet surfer. Let us not be so easily wooed.


Come now, Sheryl, Condi, Beyonce and friends; why not:


Because what I see walking the bush paths in front of my house, carrying a baby on her back and a load of cassava on her head, waiting embarrassed in an line for birth control, asking someone else to write her name because she can’t – this is reality. And I want my girl, and any who come after her, male or female, to live with eyes seeing outward, learning to put the needs of others before their own, perfecting the art of empathy and forgiveness, not just brushing up on how to be large and in charge.
There are girls all over the world who need so much more than for us to lean in to a flashy media campaign. Can you see them?



  1. I would love Condi Rice to have a copy of your blog entry, Bethany. I'm pretty sure she would agree with it. This would do well in a Huffington Post article too, have you considered submitting your writing? Probably would go into the "religious section. Love you.

    1. Thanks Mary! Its a dream of mine to be published somewhere like Huff post. And if I had access to Condi's e-mail, I'd pass it along to her too. =) Thanks for your affirmation! Love you too!