Ban Bossy

Dear Christopher,

So glad you brought the “Ban Bossy” campaign by Sheryl Sandberg of Facebook to my attention. I watched her TED talk and bought her book Lean In. Of course all this is not new to me. But after decades of silence it’s great to see a prominent woman articulate the problems women and girls face.

Sandberg rightly asserts that girls are called “bossy” if they speak up, but boys are rewarded for standing up for themselves. In my study of women’s history I learned that throughout the ages “bossy” women were punished, even by death in some cultures. Most women my age know well that girls were not encouraged to take risks. We can see even now that to be an ambitious woman is often harshly censured, some times by other women. During Hilary Clinton’s presidential campaign that was very clear. It seemed to me that often her harshest critics were other women. When she was in the White House I heard women say such unkind things about her, as if using your brain as a First Lady, rather than only hosting parties, was somehow wrong.

I want so much for my granddaughters, Isabella and Zoe, to have confidence in their abilities as women whether they want to lead an organization or to write a book or to take care of animals. Yet I see the marketing to young girls in clothing and in make up promotes appearance rather than intelligence and leadership.

Though this is not new, I am glad it is getting attention again. Back in 1992 Carol Gilligan published her study Meeting at the Crossroads that found the voices of adolescent girls became stifled around puberty. Their self-esteem and their confidence declined as they moved into adolescence. This intensive study found what many women know: when girls are at the crossroads of puberty they begin to loose their voices to preserve their relationships. Both boys and girls face this traumatic break in paying attention to their feelings and their voices as they try to fit in to a society that has defined inflexible standards in what is male and female.

These rigid roles that boys and girls face impact them harshly. I saw that with you as you were growing up. You were not interested in sports like your brother and your dad. I can understand how it left you feeling at odds with your family members. In my classrooms I saw boys being victimized if they did not fit the masculine model. I also saw girls who rarely spoke up, who seemed to become more and more silent.

I so want my girls, Zoe and Isabella, to be sure of themselves. Right now they seem to be confident in school and in extra-curricular activities. Zoe is in two different dance classes. I got to sit in on one of her classes. She had poise and a great sense of rhythm. She has performed with at least one of the groups, which I think is good for her. Isabella has made great strides with her gymnastics. When I went to her class on Tuesday I was so amazed at her strength and her ability. For me it was a great plus to see them in action. When Isabella was uneasy about doing her presentation for class I saw you and Patrick encourage her. Then when it was done, you told her how proud you were of her. This is what girls need. (Actually to grow we all need this, to move out of our comfort zone.) Mark and Barbara are encouraging Zoe to take up lacrosse. Again, a bit out of her comfort zone but she is trying to participate.

I hope that encouraging our kids to take on new tasks and to push themselves just a bit, they will grow in confidence. Then they can continue to be “bossy” and assertive in a very positive way.

Love, Mom

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