When I was eight years old, my parents took me to one of those living-history towns. You know, the kind of place where you watch costumed tour guides churn butter, and when you ask where the bathroom is they say something like “Well here in colonial Something-town, public toilets haven’t yet been invented—we use chamber pots!” It’s great and all until you really have to go to the bathroom.
Anyway, the big activity for eight-year-olds was collecting authentic historical eggs from an authentic historical chicken coop to make an authentic historical breakfast for an authentic historical $20 extra charge on your hotel bill. Well, when we entered the coop, instead of walking around slowly and petting the chickens like the other kids (those wimps), I ran around the room and grabbed every single egg for my basket.
My parents were horrified. They apologized to the other kids and the parents and the costumed tour guides. (I imagine that they responded, “Well here in colonial Something-town, apologies haven’t yet been invented—we use chamber pots!”)
I always felt bad about this, but since I read about Sheryl Sandberg’s “Ban Bossy” campaign, I’ve realized that I was just exhibiting the kind of domineering, pushy behavior that’s called “leadership” for boys and “bossy” or “taking all those poor kids’ eggs” for girls. Sandberg’s campaign centers around studies showing that boys encouraged exhibiting “assertive” behavior adopt leadership positions later in life, while girls taunted for the same exhibit lower self-esteem by middle school.
Therefore, I have decided to follow Sheryl Sandberg’s “Leadership Tips for Girls,” and stop apologizing for my “assertive behavior.” Instead I will “lean in,” stand tall, and generally orient my body in whatever direction it takes to become the first female president with an Olympic-level center of balance.
I can start by following Sandberg’s advice to raise my hand in class “even when you’re not sure about the answer… try not to worry about being wrong.” This will come in handy when I haven’t done the reading. I imagine section will play out something like this:
TF: So, what did everyone think of this week’s text?
Me: I think that Nietzsche’s argument about… post-modernism… symbolized…. the cultural ramifications of… The Civil War!
TF: Maia, this is organic chemistry.
Me: But would you say that if I was a MAN?
In all seriousness, I fully support any effort to increase girls’ confidence and leadership skills. Girls certainly should feel that they have the right to speak without making qualifying statements like “I’m not sure if this is right, but…” and “Does that make sense?” It’s outrageous, as Sandberg’s site points out, that women make up only 19% of Congress and 5% of Fortune 1,000 CEOs.
But assertive behavior is kind of like egg-collecting. If you run into the coop, pushing the other kids aside, yes, you’ll grab all the eggs. Your basket will be the fullest. But you’ll also be the biggest eight-year-old jerk in colonial Something-town.
So maybe the solution isn’t to ban bossy, but to ban bossiness, for both boys and girls. Redefine leadership so that it emphasizes collaboration, and not domination, and encourage children of both genders to be confident and ambitious but not pushy and bullying. There has to be a happy medium between being afraid to raise your hand in class and not caring whose face you hit when you shove your fist in the air.
Does that make sense?