Robyn Yousef: 'B' word nothing for our girls to shy away from

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Singer Beyonce  is among some big names to have added their weight to the campaign. Photo / AP
Singer Beyonce is among some big names to have added their weight to the campaign. Photo / AP

Ban Bossy is an American initiative creating worldwide interest and lots of flak. Influential women including Condoleezza Rice, Jennifer Garner and Beyonce are backing this campaign banning calling girls "bossy" because they believe it is a negative put down stopping girls from pursuing leadership roles.

Facebook's "Big Cheese", Sheryl Sandberg, (who also wrote the best-seller Lean In) is leading the US campaign. She believes that by middle school years more boys than girls want to lead. From leading a school project all the way through to running for office, girls stand back as they don't want to be called bossy or to be disliked. Actress Garner is supporting the campaign along with singer Beyonce, Jane Lynch from Glee and fashion designers Diane von Furstenberg and Victoria Beckham.

Arguably, all of the above would have been labelled as bossy at some stage to succeed as they have.

They obviously stepped forward and took leadership roles which required being assertive - or plain bossy in a kid's vernacular.

But, it's your input that particularly bothers me, Condoleezza. How could a former US Secretary of State who has parlayed with so many of the world's leading luminaries and is such a fabulous example for females everywhere put her weight behind such a campaign? I bet you were a bossy and flinty little girl in the playground and I bet the "b" word never stymied your steely resolve to succeed - even for a second.

Ban Bossy (see BanBossy.com) is a public service campaign to promote leadership and achievement in girls backed by the American Girl Scouts (with about three million members) and Leanin.Org. With educational materials, a website, public service announcements and the backing of many well-known celebs and leaders it's aiming to draw attention to the ways girls and women are discouraged from leading. And they believe it goes right back from being labelled as bossy boots in the sandpit.

Yes, it's fantastic that this campaign is encouraging leadership and achievement for girls. We all know that women are still under-represented among those leading the world in politics, business (only 5 per cent of the Fortune 500 CEOs) and as board directors. Anything to promote the influence of the women of the world is positive and the website provides leadership tips with practical advice on how to encourage girls and women to lead at home, school and work.

But surely with all that money, energy and powerful personalities setting this up, instead of focusing on banning one word, it should have been called something positive, uplifting and inspiring. Something like Go Girls, or Girls Lead or even Empowering Girls.

The little girls who mature to be successful individuals are generally encouraged from an early age by their parents to be confident, assertive, to embrace leadership and see the boys in their class as equals. Being labelled as bossy would certainly not be regarded as a setback or put down.

I sincerely apologise to any women out there who have been psychologically damaged or had their career aspirations stymied by being called bossy when they were still at kindy or school. But, somehow I think you are probably in a tiny minority and it was the bossy broads amongst us who have gone on to make their mark in society.

I don't have daughters, but if I'd been fortunate enough to add girls to our family, I would have liked them to be bossy like me and the woman who would have been their extremely bossy grandmother. Go Girls.

Robyn Yousef is an Auckland writer.

- NZ Herald

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