28 May

There are quite a few things capturing my imagination lately which include a hashtag. #100happydays is one of them.  #banbossy, or the Ban Bossy campaign, is another one.

Launched two months ago by Sheryl Sandberg and backed by Beyonce and Victoria Beckham, the inspiration behind it is that when girls stand up for themselves or know what they want, they’re called bossy.  This discourages them from speaking up and over their lifetime, they’re held back by worrying that they’re being too bossy.  Ban Bossy is fighting this by encouraging girls to ignore bossy gibes and instead think of themselves as leaders.

The campaign has had a lot of stick with a lot of people, including strong women, picking holes in it.  The word bossy is not the problem. Banning a word gives it more power. If you ban bossy, people will just come up with another word.

I can see their point.  It’s not a perfect campaign, but here’s why it made me sit up.

I used to be called bossy when I was younger and I still remember how much I hated it.  I don’t mean affectionately being called bossy now by my younger cousins (at least I think it’s affectionate).  I mean the scolding, accusatory “stop being so bossy” which would stop me in my tracks.

The campaign seems to be catching on.  Google the word “bossy” and Ban Bossy is first on the list.

There’s a new wave of feminism coming and it’s not about the traditional stereotype of women with hairy armpits, angrily shouting about how they hate men. It’s about all the little, everyday occurrences which chip away at women’s confidence but are really hard to put your finger on.

And of course, we don’t want to make a fuss or be too pushy about these things, right?


Women are deciding it’s time to do something about it and Ban Bossy is just one part of it.

Another brilliant example is http://everydaysexism.com, a website where women are encouraged to send in any experiences of sexism, however insignificant they might seem. I guarantee every single woman will find an experience they can relate to. It’s a powerful way to give a voice to all those little niggles that bother women, but which we brush off every day because we don’t know how to make a stand against them.

That’s what Ban Bossy is trying to do. It’s questioning and highlighting one of those little things which keep a girl in check over her lifetime by calling her bossy and later as a grown woman, pushy or aggressive.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying being bossy is ok. When you start ordering people around without any thought to their feelings, that’s bossy and it’s not a pleasant trait whatever age you are. But let me ask you something. How often do you hear boys being called bossy? My younger brother and male cousins never got told they were being bossy, it was only the girls. It’s Little Miss Bossy not Little Mister Bossy. Boys are boisterous, energetic or just being boys. Girls need to be sweet and well-behaved.

We’ve come a long way from the overt sexism in the Mad Men era of the sixties and the casual groping of women in the seventies, eighties and even the nineties. But that doesn’t mean we’ve got equality in 2014.

The pay gap between men and women in the public sector is 13.6% and in the private sector is even higher at 19.9% (TUC, 2013).  55% of graduates are women and we make up 42% of the workforce. It sounds good until you also hear that only 22% of MPs are women and we only hold 6.1% of executive positions in the FTSE 100. In spite of the advances we’ve made, something is holding us back.

Ban Bossy might not be a perfect campaign but those who are criticising it are ignoring the spirit of it. It’s not about a literal banning of the word bossy. It’s thinking about how you are treated as a woman and how you treat other women.

I think about these things a lot more since I had a baby girl. My daughter is 9 months old and right now, her version of walking is wiggling her bum in the air, but there will come a time when she’ll be standing on her own two feet and making her way in the world. It’s down to me and my husband to help her be a happy, self-assured and confident person.

That doesn’t mean she gets to behave however she wants. I don’t want to raise a thoroughly spoilt brat, as my aunt would say. It means I’ll encourage her to assert herself and stand her ground. It means she won’t be told she can’t do something because it’s not what girls should do.  I’ll let you know how we’ve done in 18 years or so.


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