Have you heard about the #BanBossy campaign? BanBossy.com states that “When a little boy asserts himself, he's called a 'leader.' Yet when a little girl does the same, she risks being branded 'bossy.' Words like bossy send a message: don't raise your hand or speak up. By middle school, girls are less interested in leading than boys—a trend that continues into adulthood.” They go on to cite statistics: Girls' self esteem drops 3.5 times more than boys between elementary school and high school (justifying my belief that middle school is truly the armpit of existence); the fact that girls are twice as worried about boys that taking on leadership positions will make them seem “bossy”; and the startling statistic that girls are called on less and interrupted more in class.
This seems like common sense to me. Really, the only thing that has surprised me about any of this is how much ambivalence or downright hostility I've seen toward this campaign. Yes, I know, some girls (and boys) truly are bossy, and need to learn better people skills. “Leader” shouldn't be synonymous with “domineering control freak,” whatever the gender. As the mother of four boys, I am well aware that young men are struggling in our society, and that girls are beginning to outstrip them in many areas. But achievement isn't a zero-sum game, and the solution is to help both genders work and learn better. Still, I have a hard time understanding how anyone who has seen the way so many girls try to shrink themselves, literally and figuratively, during their tween and teen years don't understand the need for this sort of campaign. The self-deprecation (“I'm so fat”) and affected speech (using a high-pitched baby voice and ending on a perpetual upswing, like every thought, comment, and suggestion is a question) are cultural norms girls tend to learn and adopt as they near puberty, and I'm sure I'm not the only girl whose inexplicable shame and embarrassment over her changing body (and middle school boys' comments about it) has made her want to disappear. Girls need to speak up, and adults need to be committed to drawing them out, not shutting them up.
This problem isn't limited to girls, either. My husband has repeatedly taken me to task for focusing my gaze on him when I am in a roomful of men, like I can't hold my own and need him to mediate my words for me. When I sense that I am with people who are uncertain about the idea of women in church leadership, I tend to become very quiet, sweet and accommodating, and (true confession) I've dressed in more girly clothes and swept pink makeup over my usually bare face. I'm not scary or intimidating, see? And oh, the voice! The first time I preached, I could barely get my voice above a whisper. I didn't WANT to get my voice above a whisper, because maybe, if I spoke very softly, in a submissive tone, the people who didn't think a woman should be behind the pulpit would be less upset with me. I didn't want anyone to think I was being–gulp–bossy, or claiming an authority they didn't think I should have. No, just me here, quiet, gentle Jenny, with my whispery voice and peony pink lip gloss. Please don't be mad at me. Please don't think I'm bossy.
All, I STILL have to remind myself not to whisper when I speak. I still have to remind myself to stand up to my full five feet ten inches (I was SO uncomfortable with my height when I was younger–girls are supposed to be small and delicate, right?) and use the full voice God gave me to communicate the insights I have gained from walking with Jesus, studying God's word, and investing thousands of hours and dollars into a theological education. Do you know what I am really trying to do when I preach in a soft tone, when I dress in girly pastels, when I have a hard time meeting people's gaze after preaching? I am trying to–brace yourself–apologize for being female.
Okay, that was way more honest than I planned on being in this post. But there it is.
I'm confident in what I have to say. I'm confident in my calling. I'm confident in both my right and responsibility to speak to God's people, confident that I have important truths to teach and to preach. But I'm petrified of people thinking I'm “bossy,” that I think too highly of myself and am overstepping my bounds. I don't want the relational fallout, and so my temptation is to make myself quiet and small, to shrink, to speak in giggly, self-deprecating tones or else remain silent. Even when I know that the people I am speaking too will be better served by my standing up straight and preaching God's Word with power.
I'm afraid, because I'm female. And women who step into their authority and speak with sobriety and confidence are often called much worse than “bossy.”
And we wonder where the girls learn it from.
So, friends, I am all about “banning bossy,” not only from my speech but from my psyche. Are you with me?