“I am not bossy. I am the boss”, the global superstar, Beyoncé, states at the end of this new advertising campaign aimed to ban the word bossy. The ban bossy campaign launched by Sheryl Sandberg, the COO of Facebook, and former US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, seeks to ban the word “bossy”. The reason for this, they argue, is because the label discourages girls from being ambitious and from wanting to adopt leadership traits. When boys take charge of something they are called leaders but girls are called bossy. The result? “By middle school girls are less interested in leadership than boys and that’s because they worry about being called bossy”.

The awareness campaign that includes other notable celebrities such as Jennifer Garner and Jane Lynch has gained a lot of momentum worldwide since it exploded all over the social media. It has been a trending topic on Facebook, the YouTube clip has gained over one million views and there is even a ban bossy hashtag for Twitter. While endless debates have ensued following the campaign- to what extent is banning the word bossy an effective method for empowering young girls? How practical is banning the word bossy?  Is there a difference between being a leader and being bossy? It is at least encouraging to see successful and admired figures challenging the double standards society applies to girls and boys as they grow up.

As the ban bossy campaign highlights, gender stereotypes and labels can have a hugely negative effect on children, especially young girls. This idea commonly sold to girls that image should be their prime concern has led to young girls feeling ever more anxious about the way they look. A report by the UK charity Girlguiding found in 2013, 47% of girls asked were unhappy with the way they looked, while 87% of girls believed women were judged more on their looks rather than on their abilities. These worrying statistics point to the need to empower young girls, the message must be made loud and clear that ability- not looks- determines merit. Moreover, the idea that girls and boys have designated roles must be squashed- such an idea only hinders gender equality.

Gender stereotyping in society takes place from a very early age as we attach different norms to what constitutes correct behaviour for girls and boys.  Boys are encouraged to be adventurous, boisterous and to take the lead, whilst girls are expected to be more passive and obedient. One look at the toys that are manufactured to appeal to girls and boys reflects the gender stereotypes that are still very much part of the make up of society. Boys have toys such as “Action man” that save the day, in contrast to girls, who are sold Barbies and princesses – toys that very much revolve around the idea of image. Now, it is not the case that girls shouldn’t play with Barbies or that we shouldn’t buy action figures for boys, rather, that attributing particular toys for a particular gender can be quite damaging and harmful in the long run. Such actions help shape the idea that there are particular suited roles that boys and girls should perform and by doing so, we constrain and limit children to these specific gender roles that often mirror the patriarchal nature of society.  

 Take the case of the world famous department store Harrods, which sparked outrage after displaying two very different children books next to each other, in a supposedly gender-neutral toy section. One was titled “How to be Gorgeous” with a picture of a girl on the front cover and the other titled “How to be Clever” with a picture of a boy. It was a clear example of how designating particular roles for boys and girls can lead to sexism. The message for boys was one encouraging aspiration and ambition; in contrast the message for girls was to drill home the idea that looks were of paramount importance. Indeed, the back cover of “How to be Gorgeous” boasted that the book offered tips on how to ““look stylish in five minutes flat”. Why bother being clever when you can be gorgeous, right girls?

Campaigns such as ban bossy may play a role in the encouragement of female empowerment yet much more needs to be done. The importance of education as a tool is crucial- it has a huge impact in shaping the attitudes of boys and girls. Therefore, the value of gender equality must be instilled through the national curriculum. Feminism for girls and boys shouldn’t be seen as a “dirty word”. Discussions on issues about how women are portrayed in the media and in society could take place in English lessons for instance. Moreover, examples of strong women who can act as positive role models for girls are lacking in school curricula. In subjects such as history for example, women are completely airbrushed out. This simply needs to change, inspirational, strong women must be recognised.

Ultimately, if we educate school children on such matters, we could help weed out sexist attitudes that pose a great obstacle to gender equality. Yes, the ban bossy campaign is a good start, but it’s only a start.

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References:

http://girlsattitudes.girlguiding.org.uk/pdf/2013_GirlsAttitudes_EqualityForGirls.pdf

http://banbossy.com

http://www.dailymail.co.uk/femail/article-2275678/Harrods-forced-apologise-remove-non-gender-neutral-books-Twitter-users-blast-luxury-department-store.html

http://www.theguardian.com/technology/2014/jan/14/plastic-surgery-app-apple-google-children-twitter