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Schultz: This ‘Ban Bossy’ campaign is working

Published: Thursday, March 20, 2014 11:31 p.m. CDT • Updated: Friday, March 21, 2014 12:01 a.m. CDT

This is how crazy-smart Sheryl Sandberg is.

Last Monday, I landed at LaGuardia Airport and hailed a cab to Manhattan. Within minutes, the driver and I were talking about Facebook executive Sandberg’s new “Ban Bossy” campaign to empower girls.

At his initiation, not mine.

We were chatting about family when the driver, Mr. Guevara, told me he’d switched from a truck driving job to a cab so that he’d have more time with his 6-year-old girl.

That got me going. I launched into my usual spiel about the importance of a strong father figure in a girl’s life – I am as relentless as I am obnoxious about this, as my male friends with young daughters will tell you – when the driver looked at me in his rearview mirror and smiled.

“Let me ask you something,” he said. “I saw a video on the computer last night – something about banning the word ‘bossy.’ Have you seen it?”

Had I seen it? I’d just written about it for Parade magazine, I told him.

He laughed. “Well, I bookmarked it. I’m going to show it to my daughter and talk to her about it. I want her to grow up strong. You know? I don’t want anyone making her feel like she has to keep her opinions to herself.”

I remember Mr. Guevara’s exact words because I wrote them down on the back of my boarding pass.

In that instant, I decided that no matter how many people, however legitimately, criticize this campaign for being too rigid, defensive and, yes, “bossy,” I’m in.

A New York cab driver had just told me about his plans to raise a mighty warrior of a daughter based on a single video he saw at banbossy.com.

This campaign has legs.

“When a little boy asserts himself, he’s called a ‘leader,’ ” reads the website. “Yet when a little girl does the same, she risks being branded ‘bossy.’ ”

Too many girls hear the word bossy and grow up to be women who keep their ambitions in first gear. I wasn’t one of them, but I think that had a lot to do with birth order and blue-collar parents who worked so hard they had to depend on me.

As I wrote for Parade, I was raised to be in charge of my three younger siblings. In our family, “bossy” was a positive job review.

It became a habit. When I became a newspaper columnist, my father said, “Finally, you’re going to get paid for what you’ve been throwing around free for 45 years.”

However, it must be noted: It helped that I am white.

Sandberg recruited former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and Girl Scouts CEO Anna Maria Chavez to help promote the “Ban Bossy” campaign, but all three of these women are at the top of their game. As writer Keli Goff argues, hand-wringing over a little name-calling is a pastime for the privileged.

Goff, writing for The Daily Beast: “When I look at the laundry list of obstacles that women face, particularly those of us who do not come from privileged backgrounds, being called bossy doesn’t rank in the top 20.

“For the record, I’ve been called much, much worse. Any female blogger or television pundit has. But I actually credit the fact that I was called bossy, talkative and mouthy regularly as a child – and had parents who encouraged me to embrace such labels – to playing a key role in the fact that I’m rarely offended by the names I get called when I write a column that someone hates today.”

Goff and other female critics of the “Ban Bossy” campaign illustrate what we women have known all along: We’re not a monolithic group. This is obvious to anyone who has ever listened to three women in the same room.

Of course, we’re full of opinions about “Ban Bossy.”

Hallelujah, we feel free to express them.

I am reminded of my favorite T-shirt from the 1980s, marketed in response to that other B-word so often used against women to shame us into silence.

“That’s Ms. B– to you,” the T-shirt read.

I never felt prettier in pink. 

• Connie Schultz (con.schultz@yahoo.com) is a Pulitzer Prize-winning columnist and an essayist for Parade magazine. She is the author of two books, including “...and His Lovely Wife,” which chronicled the successful race of her husband, Sherrod Brown, for the U.S. Senate.

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