Remember the movie Roxanne? Where Steve Martin has that huge nose and he’s in love with Darryl Hannah and there’s a hot firefighter and I’m not really sure what else… something about Cyrano de Bergerac. I’m not Ebert, ok? RIP, by the way. Anyway, there’s a scene that I do remember, and that’s where Hot Firefighter is trying to apologize for something stupid he said to Madison the Mermaid, and Steve Martin is feeding him the right thing to say, but he mishears him and proclaims that he’s “AFRAID OF WORMS, ROXANNE! I’M AFRAID OF WORMS!” Laughter ensues and I’m sure many, many Oscars were won because that is a stellar freaking line right there.
Here it is, in case you somehow managed to forget this moment of cinematic glory:
Anyway, I’ve been thinking about this clip after reading about this new #BanBossy campaign started by Beyonce and Sheryl Sandberg and the Girl Scouts. In case you missed it, the premise is that girls that are viewed as assertive or born leaders at an early age are often called bossy, which can lead to them stifling those traits as a grown woman. So we ban the word, therefore allowing them to flourish and become CEOs all over the place, I guess. And as a feminist and a strong woman, I suppose I’m should be all over this, signing petitions and hashtagging it and all that.
Instead, I’m kind of meh.
I don’t get it. I mean, I GET it, I’m not a moron like that hot firefighter in the movie, but I don’t GET the point. Why ban a word? It’s not a slur. It’s not a compliment, no, but it doesn’t carry the weight of oppression or anything. It’s just a word that to me holds about as much weight as a worm does.
I’m sure over the course of my childhood I was called bossy about a million times. I’m an only child, a Capricorn and the offspring of loud-mouthed career politicians. Bossy should literally BE my middle name.
I can recall trying to line my kindergarten friends up in order so that we could play school (I was the teacher!) and being called bossy. I remember talent show practice with friends that involved me sighing in frustration and stomping my foot like we were preparing for Broadway (I was the choreographer!) and being called bossy. So I was called bossy by other kids on the regular and I don’t think it has affected my life negatively, like, at all. Because I’m still pretty much that way in adult form.
I’m not saying that words can’t hurt. They can. And as children, if we are told something over and over, it CAN shape the people we turn into. But I think the BIGGER lesson in the #BanBossy campaign should be to take the power away from those words. Let’s go back to “sticks and stones” instead of removing words from our lexicons. Let’s use words as conversation-starters about appropriate behaviors rather than ignoring the situation. Let’s put the power back on ourselves instead of on how others define us.
If you have daughters and someone calls them “bossy,” take a step back. Is she being bossy in the sense that she’s being a my-way-or-the-highway brat, or is she just being assertive in a way that only an 8-year-old can? If it’s a bad behavior moment, deal with that. Because putting all the blame on the word takes the responsibility away from the behavior.
HOWEVER. If your child is not being bossy, or a poophead or a dummy dummy dumbface or any other thing that kids say BECAUSE KIDS SAY ALL THE THINGS, do what I do with my kids when someone has said something they don’t like. Say “So?” “So what if little Johnny said he’s allergic to you?” “So what if Annie wants to sit with Suzie today?” “Mary said you are bossy? So?”
I’m not trying to minimize my children’s experiences and feelings. Instead, I’m trying to teach them that they are not defined by the people around them. Rather than banning words said by OTHERS, let’s turn the focus on self-awareness. “Are you being bossy?” I might ask. Or “It’s great that you know what you want. Let’s make sure we aren’t hurting others while we get it.”
What do you think about the #BanBossy campaign? I think the premise of #BanBossy is a good one. Let’s encourage girls to lead. Tell them they are valued. Tell them they matter. But more importantly, the only opinion that counts is their own. If you can focus on being proud of your choices, the words of others are meaningless. Like yourself, believe in yourself, and don’t be afraid of worms.