At Duchess’s daycare they call them potty words. That is cute. It really is. But as a lover of words, I am hesitant to label a word as good or bad. I am even more hesitant to put them in the potty. Especially since I have spent the last year explaining to Duchess that only poop, pee, and toilet paper go in the potty – not car keys, not toys, and no, not most words.
I understand what the daycare is doing. When Michael interrupts a lesson on the difference between the capital A and the lower case a to interject that he thinks applesauce is stupid, the teacher explains that “stupid” is a potty word and moves on. I don’t expect Miss Lindsay to stop class and explain that words are tools, and what you build with them is what matters. Poor Miss Lindsay would spend the rest of the day tumbling down the “why” hole.
But it is true. In most cases words are just that, tools. They can be used for good, and they can be used for bad. Take for instance, the word bossy. Sheryl Sandberg, COO of Facebook and author of the best-selling book Lean In, wants to ban the adjective bossy. Why? She feels the word is disproportionately used to discourage females from participation in leadership roles starting at a young age. I understand discouraging a word... but banning it? I think that may be giving the word bossy more credit than it is due.
|They even made t-shirts!|
But OK. Fine. Let’s ban using the word bossy as a negative term to imply that any young girl who wants to lead is somehow aggressive, annoying, rude, or micromanaging. While we’re at it, we should probably ban the words aggressive, annoying, rude, and micromanage. See the problem? There are always more words.
Again, words are tools. They are the ultimate Lego set. With them you can not only build entire worlds, but you can build the intangible. With the right words, I can craft happiness. Assembled in the right order and with the proper cadence, words can become tears, or anger, or inspiration. They have power, and yes, they can hurt. Banning them is impossible. If the word f-word (the one that rhymes with bag) suddenly disappeared from existence, would discrimination towards LGBT people disappear too? What if we actually banned it, legally, and started arresting anyone that used it? Would that have the desired effect? I don’t imagine it would.
Instead, we discourage the use of some words in most contexts through social pressure. We publicly censure (not censor) those who use them – and in my opinion, rightly so. As a lover of words, I acknowledge that they have consequences. Some word carry some pretty heavy historical baggage, like racial slurs, negative references to gender and sexuality, slang for physical and mental disabilities. As a society we aren't happy when people say them, but we don’t take away their right to be stupid and say them anyway. Sorry, stupid is a potty word.
So yes. Some words should be discouraged. When used in some contexts, some words hurt. They cause damage by themselves. I have my doubts about the word bossy. I don’t see it carrying the same historical and contextual weight as f-words and n-words and s-words and r-words. Maybe I’m wrong. The participants of history are often blind to their faults. Maybe Ms. Sandberg is way ahead of the game. I’ll readily admit she’s much smarter than I am. Maybe bossy warrants the same social discouragement that those other words do. Maybe we should shame its use in most contexts.
But Sheryl Sandberg isn’t saying we should discourage the use of the word bossy within certain contexts. Well, ok, I think that is exactly what she is trying to suggest, but she is using another word that has a lot of power, ban.
From ABC News:
Sandberg said she hopes the campaign will open a dialogue with parents and teachers, to eliminate the use of the word "bossy," though she concedes this is not really as simple as banning one word.
"This is a word that is symbolic of systemic discouragement of girls to lead. We are not just talking about getting rid of a word, even though we want to get rid of a word," she said. "We're talking about getting rid of the negative messages that hold our daughters back."So she does get it. I’m not saying she doesn’t. Sheryl Sandberg is a smart and important person. But the campaign is called #banbossy. It is plastered all over all of their materials. Granted, #discouragethewordbossywithinthecontextofdisouragingyoungwomenfromleadershiproles is really long and cumbersome. It practically takes up an entire tweet. I know we live in a world of sound bites and retweets, but while #leanin worked as a catchy slogan that started a much larger, and needed, conversation about women, I fear that #banbossy is just going to lead to more posts and discussions like this one. People are going to shut down, and no one is going to read the really good, sound, and useful advice that is on the website. In that way, the campaign is a victim of the problem it is trying to point out. Words are there to communicate intent. Girls, intentionally or unintentionally are being discouraged from developing leadership skills that will give them strong footing in a world that needs more leaders. On its face, the campaign “Ban Bossy” is failing to communicate that. It is too focused on the word.
It is probably too late to rebrand. All the printed materials are made, the campaign is launched, media buys are bought. It would be too expensive. Still, as the campaign moves forward, I hope that Ms. Sandberg chooses to focus less on the negative power of one word, and more on the positive power of my daughter and every other girl in the world. Instead of trying to get teachers to not call my daughter bossy, I would like to focus on getting teachers to call on my daughter, period.
All of that said, I still encourage you to take a few minutes and visit banbossy.com. My qualms with the campaign’s name aside, there is a lot of good advice for raising/teaching women and closing the confidence gap. It would be a shame if you missed out on it because of my rant about the words.
Love, Dad (John)
As always, I’m sure I’m missing something. I have no monopoly on the truth. Please feel free to tell me why I am right, kind of wrong, very wrong, or any combination of the three. Your opinions are welcome and appreciated – just no potty words. THEY ARE BANNED!! #imahypocrite
You can come offer your feedback on Facebook too.