“Lean In” author and Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg’s campaign to cheer young girls to participate launched this month. Sandberg claims little boys get called leaders and for the same behavior little girls are branded as bossy.
“Together we can encourage girls to lead. Pledge to Ban Bossy,” reads Sandberg’s site.
It’s only a word that’s keeping women from leadership?
What happens the first time these imagined little girls get called something truly awful? “You know, some people think of you as an inspiring female attorney and mother. Other people think of you as the overbearing yuppie wife from hell. How would you describe yourself?” That’s what a reporter asked Hillary Clinton — when she wasn’t actually running for office — on the campaign trail in 1992. Bossy is one of the nicer things Hillary gets called.
So a billionaire has decreed from the bubble of privilege that little girls are negatively affected by the term bossy? You know what impacted my self-assurance and kept me from leaning in as a little girl? The fact that I was known as the kid who wore the same (my only) pair of jeans every day. Confidence is a thing people trapped in the hamster wheel of poverty never worry about.
#BanBossy is a perfect example of the Pink Ribboning of evils. Instead of a candid assessment as to why there are fewer female leaders than male, followed by real world solutions to the inequities in education, lack of opportunities and economic stresses that contribute, what’s proposed is something gimmicky with celebrity endorsements. The Pink Ribbon answer is, in the most literal way, the very least we could do: remember; get a sticker; pledge to ban a word.
It’s less about encouraging girls to raise their hands and more about encouraging armchair activists to log on. “Please retweet.” Change your Facebook avatar and change the world. Put a pink ribbon on breast cancer — buy a couple of pink hair dryers — and be satisfied you’re doing your part. The problem with Pink Ribboning is it alleviates alarm by giving people something easy yet empty to do. It softens the concerned, warding off a real response. Done. Next issue.
“Awareness” is a consolation for actual, quantifiable change.
Meanwhile, women still make a fraction of what men earn. Texas Attorney General and gubernatorial candidate Greg Abbott said he’s for equal pay, but also stated that if elected governor he’d veto the state-level Lilly Ledbetter Act because it wasn’t necessary. Then data out last week shows women in Abbott’s own office make less money on average than their male counterparts doing the identical job.
At the same time our country lags behind in women leadership. According to ElectWomen.com “The U.S. ranks 89th in the world for female political involvement.” There are two states in the union that have never had a female governor or one represent them in Congress. One of them is the state which holds the first electoral event of the nominating process for president, Iowa (the other is Mississippi).
This is all just a little more deeply ingrained than a not-really-derogatory expression. We’re still fighting over whether the pill will make women into unbridled nymphomaniacs. The jury is still out whether women should legally be public incubators for a “life” or capable of making their own decisions about their reproduction. Women are the majority of food stamp recipients. One in three American women (42 million) are living in poverty or on the brink. There are 28 million children who depend on them. Half of those children are little girls.
The concern transcends any one word — or even an entire lexicon. We still care about what Hillary wears and what work Nancy Pelosi has had done (Vladimir Putin and John Kerry BOTH get Botox, and in the dust up over Crimea that fact has somehow not been a sidebar story on Huffpo).
There are tons of hurdles female leaders must leap, all while being thin, pleasing to the eyes of men (but not so much that you intimidate women), perfect mothers, fashion conscious, hyper competent, ageless and never angry. And yes, they also have to endure criticism, prejudice and unpleasant things said about them.
But Pink Ribboning tells us all we need to do is very little.
Just buy a pink toaster.
Tina Dupuy is a nationally syndicated op-ed columnist, investigative journalist, award-winning writer, stand-up comic, on-air commentator and wedge issue fan.