I logged onto my computer the other day, and there was Google’s little plug for the day: #BanBossy. This was part of the larger caption: Google supports #BanBossy from Lean In & the Girl Scouts. Encourage girls to lead.
I googled #BanBossy. And I know I’m supposed to totally love the message I was hearing: girls shouldn’t be labeled “bossy”; we should encourage girls to speak up and speak out; we should encourage assertiveness. And I do support all these notions: we shouldn’t label girls “bossy”, especially when we praise those same qualities in boys; we should foster and encourage speaking up and assertiveness. But I’m also afraid something could end up missing in this whole assertiveness (for girls) movement.
Let me explain.
First, let me tell you that I find being assertive challenging. My mother wanted me to be more assertive, and she thought she could help me by signing me up to referee soccer. I hated it. It didn’t work well, at least if the object was to help me be more assertive. I quickly found it difficult, and hated being yelled at and second guessed by the parents on the sidelines. I supposed this is where I was supposed to magically become “assertive”, but it didn’t happen. Instead, I demoted myself to just refereeing kindergarteners, where off-sides didn’t exist, I could be gentle about touching-the-ball infractions, and mostly just watch the clock and try to keep the kids from bunching up around the ball.
Second—and after my soccer story, this will seem entirely out of left field—I’ve been semi-obsessed with Susan Cain’s book Quiet since I read it last winter.
Susan Cain’s book is about introverts, and the value they have—or at least, should have—in a society that praises what she calls the “extrovert ideal.” For those who know absolutely nothing about personality types or psychology, one main component of personality types is the introversion/extroversion model. I’ll try to give a nutshell, condensed description of the two, mostly drawn from Cain’s book. Extroverts are stimulated from being around people; Introverts draw their stimulation from being in solitude. Another street way of viewing them is this way: extroverts are out-going, life of the party, popular folks; introverts are shy, quiet, and prefer smaller groups of people.
It’s with Cain’s writing in mind—and my own experiences (I identify with much of the introversion qualities, although not all, and not in their most extreme versions)—that I question this whole “BanBossy” bit. Sure, it means well…but is it possible that we are encouraging girls to be assertive in a certain way, specifically in an extroverted way, in a way that alienates certain girls, certain personality types (to include boys), and certain qualities and styles? Turning it back to me (and why not be selfish and do this, ha ha!), maybe part of my challenge with being “assertive” does stem from certain qualities being dubbed “bossy” or “bad”—and yes, we need to challenge this notion. But other challenges may stem from the fact that, well, I just don’t like things like confrontation, arguing, and yelling—things that certain people (extroverts? assertive folks? bossy folks?) might actually enjoy and thrive upon—whereas I probably will always find such things threatening. Can’t it be okay for me to calmly asked for a break from situations, to reflect, and then reconvene? Does the assertiveness model we are promoting for girls include this? Should it? Or do the “assertive” girls (and boys) get to win via their style?
Also, even more recently–like, I just google-searched recently–I see that somebody else has a problem with #banbossy, pointing out that being bossy is, simply put, different than being a leader, and not a good thing at all. Introvert or extrovert. So, to all the extroverts I may have equated with being bossy-not-in-a-good-way jerks, I apologize.
As always, your thoughts are welcome.
(As an aside: I think I tend towards introversion, but after nearly 10 years as a stay-at-home mom, I think I’ve gotten needier for people; a lot of my “shyness” peaked around high school. Still, I don’t like too many people butting into my work.)