Thursday, March 13, 2014

What else should we ban?

I recently read the Wall Street Journal Op-Ed by Sheryl Sandberg and Anna Maria Chavez.  Their new initiative, you've probably seen it, is now the Twitter hashtag #banbossy, a social media campaign aimed at preventing girls' and women's strength being pigeon holed into the label bossy.

A lot like she did with Lean In, it feels like Sandberg is calling it like she sees it from the c-suite.  She communicates from her own perspective about the challenges she herself has witnessed.  She participates in a corporate paradigm--and writes and thinks from that point of view.

The corporate paradigm is an aspect that throws up issues for some of us.  Not all of us sit in the c-suite (or want to), not all of us got pigeon holed as bossy.  And so it's can be easy to discount her message, to think it's not for us, or worse to imagine that her point of view diminishes our own choices.

I, for one, am an opt-outer.  I left my corporate job before I even had children.  I thought briefly about going to graduate school before having my third child, but bought a sewing machine instead.  It was right before Christmas.  That fall Gwendolyn had just learned to write her letters, and so for Christmas I had her write each of her grandparents' names in magic marker on a piece of off-white cloth.  Then, in tiny bright stitches, I embroidered over her writing.  Following her hand, I imagined myself crafting a tiny piece of history.  I took those little scraps and sewed them into custom Kindle covers for each of the grandparents.  They were sweet.  And for one Christmas my girls' new words were the gift that mattered.

Clearly not the c-suite.  But there were labels, definitely.

The ones I encountered as a girl were:  oversensitive and emotional.

And then just recently, I took our second daughter to the pediatrician.  For a couple of days she had been phlegmy and coughing.  The next afternoon her face looked a bit ashen, kind of like it did when she had pneumonia last year.  So I called for an appointment.  The receptionist heard my story, and commented that I was using my "mothers' intuition."  

That's a label I seem to be encountering lately:  intuitive.

I must admit, I prefer intuitive to oversensitive or emotional, but it still has an off-the-grid  feel to it.  I'm not sure I want to ban the word intuitive, but it has been interesting to think about other words that could be used instead.  

If I just use a couple of synonyms, my labels sound a lot different:

I am perceptive, connected and smart.

Girlfriends, whether we sit in the C-suite or not, regardless of how we relate to the corporate paradigm, we have been labeled.  Worse than that, some of our most important strengths have been diminished by the words others use to judge and describe who we are.  This labeling thing is about our voice, our visibility, our relationship to our own strength.  It is about the possibility that the culture around us has underestimated the usefulness of our gifts, and that we have, from time to time, accidentally followed suit.

The question #banbossy has raised for me is, what other labels should we be banning?

If it strikes you please share.  We need to be out there supporting one another.

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