Sunday, March 23, 2014

I'll Refrain from Saying Bossy, but You Can't Convince Me It's Will Solve Anything

Banning Bossy has been making me uncomfortable for weeks, but I couldn't put my finger on why. Which made me even more uncomfortable. Why couldn't I support other women by getting excited about banning the word bossy?

The first hint came with this post, which pointed out that being bossy is not necessarily the same as being a leader. Nay, a bossy person may be no leader at all, and a skilled leader need not be bossy. I agreed wholeheartedly, but there was still something missing.

A friend pointed out that all of this seemed to stem from the likelihood that Sheryl Sandberg was called bossy as a child and still resents it. I suspect she's right, but does that mean Sheryl Sandberg is wrong? After all, racism, sexism, homophobia, and every other "ism" leaves us with people who have been subjected to them and resent it. If not, there would be no problem.

Slowly, it dawned on me that Sheryl Sandberg is not wrong about bossy at all. Women are judged more harshly than men are regarding almost everything, and there's no doubt that women in leadership positions are more likely to be met with resentment for not being "nice" enough. Clearly men, are more comfortable with leadership, and Sandberg is right - it's a problem.

"Bossy" isn't even an entirely unflattering accusation. It's generally accompanied with at least some grudging admiration, and carries the implication that the "bossy" girl is capable, intelligent, and inspiring. She is, in short, a leader.

However, I can't shake the feeling that the girls it presents the biggest problem for are the girls who face few challenges aside from sexism. They have conventional interests, and their strengths are the things we tend to place a high value on as a culture. They are generally pleasing to adults. They're smart enough, and nobody is going to miss it because they have no trouble expressing it. They're high achieving, middle and upper class, white, and don't suffer from learning disabilities or behavioral disorders.

So what's the real issue? The middle-class white woman's desire and demand for universal approval. This need isn't rooted in entitlement - just the opposite. It's based on the idea that it's a girl's job to make sure everybody is happy - with her - all the time. If you've made someone angry or resentful, you've done something terribly wrong. Yet, although entitlement isn't the cause, it is the result. A certain culture of women realizes they shouldn't have to worry about pleasing everyone all the time, yet still feels they shouldn't be the target of any disapproval. Their job is to make everyone, adults in particular, happy and proud, and they are very, very good at it.

The problem is, every girl gets the message that they need to make everyone happy loud and clear. But poor girls, girls of color, and girls who aren't what they're supposed to be in one way or another learn very quickly that it's not going to happen. Large swaths of people will always disapprove of them. Even so, removing the ability to please doesn't remove the desire. Women who are called "bossy" are in fact the women who are the least hurt by all this.

The ability to please is, of course, a mixed blessing. It can turn into an unrealistic expectation, turning girls into insecure perfectionists who are vulnerable to eating disorders and other problems.

Sheryl Sandberg has worked hard, and has, in return, received plenty of admiration and praise. Being called "bossy" is the closest thing to negative feedback she's ever received. The sexism lies in the fact that it bothers her so much.

Monday, March 17, 2014

Free to Be a Brony

I recently came across this story about Grayson Bruce, who was told to leave his My Little Pony bag at home because other kids bullying him had become disruptive. It's been making the rounds on Facebook for the past few days, and many people have made many excellent points in regards to it. Clearly it's blatant victim blaming, on par with blaming a rape victim for the way they were dressed. It also sends the message that conformity is not only easier, but the right thing to do. You owe it to the people around you, and they have the right to make your life miserable if you don't do it. Not to mention the fact that Grayson is being bullied because he's different, which likely will not change if he ditches his backpack.

There is an age-old adage the angel on my left shoulder often repeats when I read an article like this. "Don't read the comments!" she urges. It's sage advice. However, the devil on my right shoulder, who looks remarkably like me (one key difference being that she wears a black statement t-shirt), disagrees. "Fuck that," she retorts. I'm right handed, so she generally forces my hand before the angel can step in.

Although the devil makes a compelling argument, the angel is right. Reading the comments makes my blood pressure rise. Worse, it makes me want to respond to some of the comments. But if I respond to the comments, I might as well put on a statement-t and go live under a bridge. I know, it's probably where I'm headed, but I'm not ready yet. For now, if I really can't control myself, I have my blog.

This story triggers quite a few different issues. The narrow, constrictive demands of masculinity is the most obvious, and the school is sending a damaging message to all of the children, bullies and victims alike. But it is also a reminder of our adult privilege. Yes, I, PC thug, said adult privilege.

The comments section contains some doozies, but the sentiment generally boils down to one concise point made by a thoughtful man named Brian.

"Another parent that doesn't understand the real world." 

Who, Brian, not that. Your literacy is head and shoulders above many of your fellow commenters, but the real world, people judge you on these things. I'm not kidding - the world is harsh, and some of us can be real assholes.

When adults use the term "the real world", they are generally referring to the adult world. This is strange, as kids inhabit the same planet we do and are in the process of living real lives, but I suppose I can let it go. I'm straying from the crux of the matter, which is that you have the "real" world dead wrong.

Assuming Brian is an adult, I would absolutely love to hear the last time he, the school administration, or the social worker Grayson Bruce's mother talked to were punched, verbally abused or received even the slightest disapproval regarding the vehicle in which they carry their possessions.

You know what doesn't fly in the adult world? Assault, harassment, and stalking, which are more accurate terms for what we call "bullying" when it happens to kids. You could probably get away with telling someone you disliked their purse (and, therefore, them), but it would reflect poorly on you, not them. You'd look like what you are - an emotionally stunted loser.

In the adult world, we don't punch someone because we don't like their bag. It does not happen. If it did happen, there would be consequences. Consequences that wouldn't involved telling the victim, "Yeah, well, that is a pretty stupid bag, and that guy hitting you is too much work for me. You're easier to control than he is, so just get a new bag."

But Grayson Bruce and his classmates aren't adults. They're kids. Kids who are not necessarily developmentally ready to accept that other kids like different things than they do. Kids who are still learning the rules. That's why they have adult guides. Social workers, teachers, parents and administrators to tell them, "Hey, if you don't like Grayson's backpack, you can just keep it to yourself."