B. Bossy. Barbie. Bothered.
Like Goldilocks, nothing is fitting just right for me. Or like silly Winnie the Pooh, I just feel like saying:
It started with the bothersome news that Mattel and the Girls Scouts of the USA teamed up on a career Barbie doll promotion. Ostensibly, this deal was about an online Barbie game, showing all the wonderful and smart careers a girl could have while wearing mini-skirts and high heels. It seems like an uncomfortable arrangement. But $2M is $2M, and the GS needed it, no doubt. It’s a changing world and they need to stay relevant. I’m all for collaborations that makes sense, but this one just doesn’t feel right to me. And the “Do Anything, Be Anything” patch with the Barbie insignia for Daisies and Brownies? Mere 1st through 3rdgraders? That crossed the line for me. I’m siding with the folks who want GS to end their relationship with Mattel. The Girls Scouts could do so much better.
It doesn’t help that a small study was recently published suggesting that girls who are exposed to a Barbie doll – compared to girls exposed to a Mrs. Potato Head doll – may have limited views of potential careers for girls relative to careers for boys. Had the study been published earlier, maybe the GS would have thought twice about hopping into bed with Mattel. Goldilocks, I feel your pain.
Then we have LeanIn.org’s #BanBossy campaign (also in partnership with the Girl Scouts, by the way). I have many friends and female entrepreneurs colleagues who love Sheryl Sandberg’s campaign. These are highly motivated women who persevere and demonstrate true grit in starting their own businesses. Empowered women are bossy. They have to be. They may have had their share of bossy (aka bitchy) comments over a lifetime. And yes, the word can be condescending, interfere with job promotions, and thwart fundraising. I get it. We’ve been told that a woman who is capable in her role is often perceived as being bossy, whereas her male counterpart is seen as an inspired leader. It’s also been reported that less than 5% of women entrepreneurs succeed in securing venture capital. This is part, because they go it alone and don’t bring along their football pals to fill the C-level positions. (I hear this on the street.) But let me tell you, smart and sweet doesn’t get women very far either. That might be interpreted as sassy. Shall we ban that word, too?
I work with girls and young women who could use a good dose of bossy. Be bossy! I want them to ignite their inner CEO, find meaningful work, and do what they stand for. My favorite commentary on the #BanBossy brouhaha is from Keli Goff at the Daily Beast. Her take is personal.
The bottom line is worrying about a word is a luxury that only kids who are already growing up with a host of advantages can afford. If Sandberg wants to make a real difference, she should put her money where her mouth is and come up with solutions that will insure more equality for girls who have more pressing concerns beyond banning bossy.
Right on. I was raised by a single mother and we had our share of struggles. #BanBossy just doesn’t resonate for me in the least (nor does “lean in.”) The whole campaign makes me feel like I’m supposed to “fit in” with the smart girls. It’s all rather cliquey. I guess I’m just not feelin’ it.
But you can’t talk about #BanBossy without also talking about the Pantene ad that may have inspired Sandberg’s new initiative. A Pantene ad called “Labels Against Women” went viral in the Philippines last winter (video). It spotlights sexism in the workplace. When Sandberg caught wind of it and endorsed it, P&G, the parent company, quickly disseminated it in the US. LeanIn.org partnered with Pantene in the #BanBossy initiative. It’s all very cozy.
As it is, Pantene created a very compelling ad. The last I checked there were 46 million views on YouTube. Their hashtag, #ShineStrong, has a more hopeful and upbeat message than #BanBossy. I might even buy the product for my teen daughters when it goes on sale at the grocery store. (The whole end game for P&G.) My girls are killing their lovely long strands with flat irons as it is. But I’ll never be a Pantene loyalist, either.
I ponder instead. Who seems to be getting it right?
I have The Representation Project to thank. They have an online campaign to raise awareness of sexism in the media. #NotBuyingIt encourages people to take action and engage in a public conversation. They also have #MediaWeLike to spotlight media that empowers women/girls and boys/men. At its core, this is excellent media literacy. After all, media as a communication channel is neither good nor bad. It just depends on how it is being used. So let’s use it for the greater good.
The greater good. What of late has inspired me in the arena of women’s empowerment? A guy named Nikolay Lamm, that’s who. Last year he created 3-D rendition of what a fashion doll (ok, Barbie) would like look like if she was based on an average 19-year-old woman. He asked: “What if fashion dolls were made using standard human body proportions?” The public loved it. Lamm recently went for crowd funding and raised almost a half a million dollars to manufacture the “Lammily” doll. His campaign title? Average is Beautiful. What’s not to love?
Rather than waiting for toy companies to change their designs, let’s change them ourselves by creating a fashion doll that promotes realistic beauty standards.
Product. Message. Movement. This guy gets it. I pre-ordered two dolls in honor of my daughters. Although they will be too old to play with a Lammily doll by the time it’s manufactured, the purchase is symbolic. Maybe the doll will go to college with them as a reminder from Mom that they are beautiful just they way they are.
Yes, the Lammily doll. Now here’s an initiative that the Girl Scouts of the US should just jump at even if it involves no funding. It’s a credibility issue. Plus, moms of up-and-coming Daisies, Brownies and Scouts will care. They all start selling cookies like mad. And a Lammily patch? Now that is something to consider.
I was a Girl Scout once. We made our own revolutionary outfits for the ’76 bicentennial parade in town, donning our green sashes covered with badges. It felt like something bigger than myself. Opportunity was in the air. I wish my girls had been Scouts. But Title IX came long and they are fiendish athletes now. I’m not totally happy about the exclusivity that sports play in their lives, but they get in their social action whenever possible. I try to reframe the non-GS track in this way: maybe my daughters will bring along their soccer pals when they pitch for venture funding in another 10 years. But even without handing down the baton of the GS experience to my girls, the organization is making some good choices.
The Girl Guides in the UK just teamed up with Dove’s Self Esteem Project*, which is part of DOVE/Unilever –another beauty brand. The initiative includes a body image curriculum for girls and a “Free Being Me” patch to promote body confidence. It’s starting up in the US, too, among the Girls Scouts, and I hope it will prove more successful and fitting than the Mattel partnership. (Lammily would make a great body confidence mascot by the way.)
I love these kinds of initiatives. It engages girls on a positive level, not a defensive one. It speaks to one’s best self. I can’t help to recall the Free to Be You and Me series with Marlo Thomas and Friends. Oh, how I looked up to Marlo. Her show and catchy tunes had timeless messages for all kids to behold. (This was a project with the Ms. Foundation for Women back in the 1970s, equal rights and all.) The idea was that a girl or boy could be anything they want to be; that all humans are connected (depicted by the song, Sister and Brothers), and it is ok to feel things deep down. Remember Rosie Grier, the football player, singing “It’s Alright to Cry”? It seems so retro and radical. And essential.
Ok, I know this rant totally dates me. But it helps to have bit of a lifetime perspective given the bumbling Bs of recent months. Am I right?
* * *
*Disclosure. I am an expert global advisor to the Dove Self Esteem Project, which has a social mission to improve body confidence in girls. I provide expertise on evidence-based content and curriculum development to support educational initiatives on self-esteem and positive body image in girls. My participation on the Dove Self-Esteem Project advisory board is not an endorsement the DOVE products. The opinions stated on my blog/website are my own.