Calling Bullshit on the “Ban Bossy” Campaign

Here’s their website and starting point.

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.

Sheryl Sandberg and company report that “Between elementary and high school, girls’ self–esteem drops 3.5 times more than boys’.” I need Sheryl or Beyonce or Jane Lynch to explain to me how they measure self-esteem. Until I understand their methodology, I’m calling bullshit on their statistic and their campaign.

I’m committed to gender equality, but fired up about the “Ban Bossy” campaign because the young women I teach are flat out running circles around their male classmates. I’ve written about it before. Others have documented the same thing. Sixty percent of bachelors degrees go to women. Not only are there more female college students than male, they also tend to be more purposeful in their studies, they’re studying abroad at greater rates, and they’re enrolling in graduate schools in greater numbers.

In many of my classes, the gap is glaring. In a class of 30 students, 17 or 18 will be female and 12 or 13 male. Typically, six of the top eight students who are most engaged, most hard working, and most successful, are female. Class after class, semester after semester, year after year. There are purposeful, hard working, outstanding male students; they’re just outnumbered by their female counterparts. Despite young women’s alleged lack of self esteem, some universities are relaxing admission criteria for men.

Arne Duncan no doubt enjoyed making the vid with Beyonce and company. His line, “We have to convince them that it’s okay to be ambitious”. Arne, put down the basketball and spend some time on a college campus. Then you’ll understand why we have to convince young men it’s okay to be as ambitious as young women.

Ultimately, I don’t believe Sheryl Sandberg. If she proves me wrong, self esteem isn’t as integral to academic achievement as commonly thought.

Apart from the higher education realities the campaign strangely ignores, there’s something perverse about “if only girls were treated more like boys” thinking. In the last decade or so, “leadership” has been redefined to include “soft skills” like questioning, listening, and team building. Many boys struggle with those things because, to put it most simply, they’re bossy. It makes no sense to emulate a flawed male ideal. Instead parents, grandparents, teachers, coaches, youth group leaders, anyone that works with children should be cultivating 21st Century leadership skills. That just happen to be gender neutral.

I should start a campaign to ban thinking about gender attributes as a zero-sum game. Ban “boys versus girls thinking” or something like that. A movement to help all young people fulfill their potential for the betterment of society. I should gather some of my celeb friends to make a YouTube vid. And leverage social media. And call in some favors with my friends in the national media.

If only I had more ambition.

* some of the above is adapted from the previous post I linked to, this self plagiarizing is also known as Rick Reillying one’s self

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