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Enough About the B-Word

Mar 13 2014
Sorry Beyonce and Sheryl Sandberg, we’ve got bigger problems than “bossy.”

It's the latest campaign spearheaded by Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg, but this one doesn't have anything to do with which direction you're leaning. Instead, she—along with Beyonce, Jennifer Garner, and others—want us to ban bossy:

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. Together we can encourage girls to lead.

While it's important to recognize the different ways we interact with young boys and girls and to avoid a gendered double standard, we need to go further than banning words to get at the root of this problem.

In a world in desperate need of the good things feminism has to offer, spending millions on cute, celebrity-driven commercials isn't nearly enough. "Bossy" is one in a long list of words that can be used to insult girls and women with leadership skills. But any word is only like the head of the Hydra from Greek mythology: Cut it out, and two more will crop up to replace it.

Fear of being called "bossy," or any other name for that matter, doesn't hold women back from boardrooms, classrooms, and staterooms. The systemic barriers to women's progress can't be summarized in a single word. With so many entrenched structural issues preventing equality in the workplace—the subject of Sandberg's bestseller Lean In, which celebrates its one-year anniversary this week—Sandberg and the Lean In organization could do so much more.

Sandberg has already come under fire for being less than inclusive in the premise of Lean In. Her strain of feminism is for women with privilege, critics say. They're not wrong—although I think there's a place for that, and I've liked what I've read of her book. But if we as Christians are really committed to the dignity of all people, we need to take on the more difficult work of examining ourselves and the systems we're a part of in our efforts to root out injustice.

The journey toward justice includes our words, absolutely. But when women and children go hungry more often than any other demographic, our words will not feed them. When one in every four women in America experiences domestic violence, our words will not protect them. When women hold only 18 percent of seats in Congress, our words will not empower them nearly as much as our actions. What we need isn't another well-meaning but ultimately ineffective focus on what one word we shouldn't say. We need real, systemic change—not our ultimate hope, but a great hope for the world about which God cares so deeply.

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