Why I won’t ban bossy

The Lean In Campaign and its founder, Sheryl Sandberg, have launched a new initiative to “ban bossy.” 

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.

Source: pandorasykes.com

Here’s why I don’t like this notion:

There is a difference between bossiness and good leadership. There is a difference between being bossy and being assertive, or being opinionated.

Bossy is “because I said so” and “I want my own way.” A good leader takes the needs of others into consideration. Good leadership is figuring out how everyone can have as much fun as possible. Good leadership is “hey, let’s take a vote.” And sure, it’s hard for young children to discern the difference, but that’s why adults need to learn how to discourage bossiness without discouraging leadership. You know: “Hey, Jimmy, I like that you’re sharing your ideas, but let’s make sure everyone gets a turn,” or “I know you want to be goalie, Susie, but Mary wants to be goalie, too. What do you think is the best way to solve this problem?”


It might seem as though I am arguing semantics, but there are differences and they matter. Yes, girls are often discouraged from being assertive more than boys are and this is a problem. In my professional experience, I’ve noticed more female bosses than male ones who give off a “bossy” attitude of “don’t question me” and “because I said so,” especially in my younger (i.e. no longer on my resume) days. They were pretty terrible bosses because they were impatient and appeared to be more focused on having people recognize that they held the title of leader rather than on leading well. There was a real defensiveness there, and I wouldn’t be surprised if it stemmed from being stifled in girlhood.

However, this does not mean that “bossiness” (interrupting, leading with selfish intent, not giving others a chance) shouldn’t be discouraged.  We just need to make sure certain negative behaviors are discouraged equally in boys and girls.

Which leads me to one of my biggest issues with what I am increasingly seeing described as “feminism” (and, like Ferris Bueller, I don’t care for -isms in general)  — encouraging bad behavior in girls in the name of equality. Yes, girls are called bossy more often than boys and that isn’t right, but if we want an even playing field, let’s encourage the boys to rise up to the level of expectation placed on girls, rather than endorsing women stooping to succeed. If women are held to higher standards of respectability, then let those be the standards for everyone.

So rather than “banning bossy” and making it verboten to criticize girls for ill behavior, why not just make sure we are using the same standards to critique and praise girls and boys? I say discourage “bossiness” in boys as much as in girls, and for either gender, encourage the child to parlay a desire to take charge into an opportunity to practice good leadership skills.

Two lads from London

Note: I encountered David de Winter and Oliver Johnston at a Met Opera performance of L’Elisir d’Amore. It’s not exactly a place young men frequent of their own volition, so I was curious. 

When David de Winter and Oliver Johnston talk about the struggle of cracking voices, it’s hard not to think of Peter Brady.

But Johnston and de Winter are not singing in the family band. The two are freelance opera singers, currently performing in the chorus of the Glyndebourne  production of “Billy Budd,” which opens tonight at the Brooklyn Academy of Music, through Feb. 13.

De Winter, 25, began singing in choruses at age seven.

“You’re basically bombarded with music from a very early age,” said the Surrey native, who noted that traveling on tours and for radio broadcasts gave him a sense of responsibility and a “good life education.”

Presently, he is a fulltime choir singer at Westminster Cathedral.

This. It looks like this. Photo credit: Telegraph UK

Johnston, 24, also began his musical education early, singing in school choirs and children’s choruses.

“I thought it would be so good to do that for a living,” he said.

When he is not performing, Johnston is a student at the Royal Academy of Music.

“We have this culture of choirs for very young singers, so it encourages a lot of singers,” said de Winter.

Of course, very young singers – young male singers, that is – will eventually encounter that Peter Brady problem.

“When you get to about 14/15, and your voice breaks, you don’t feel very confident,” said deWinter.

“You don’t know whether you’ll be able to sing again,” Johnston added.

As most do, both men moved past adolescence and reclaimed a sense of confidence as young men. They light up when informed that girls who ask them for musical instruction are most likely flirting.

Though classical singers themselves, both Johnston and de Winter admire music of many genres. Johnston claims Oasis as his favorite band, and touts a style of London rap known as grime. De Winter prefers Radiohead, which he refers to as “the thinking man’s pop music,” early Kings of Leon, and garage music, particularly Artful Dodger (as in the Dickens character).

Jack Wild as The Artful Dodger in “Oliver!”

They debate Wagner – de Winter doesn’t like his work, Johnston does – and give some insight into the classical world, particularly the attitude toward crossover artists, which they agree is “quite snobbish.”

Though great admirers of classical opera, both defend the merits of modern compositions.

“It’s an opportunity to be a part of something new,” said Johnston, who enjoys seeking new music, and beams when handed a list of country artists to check out.

And just to be entirely well-rounded,  they are also fans of musical theater. Johnston blushes a bit when he admits a love for “Les Miserables,” though neither loved the recent film adaptation.

“I admire musical theater so much,” said deWinter. The previous night, he sang “Maria,” from “West Side Story,” at a karaoke bar. He can’t remember the name. “When I see a musical, I always wear a big smile on my face. When I see an opera, I’m always thinking with a critical head.”


Originally published 2/7/2014

After the storm, a cold front

Remember that scene in “Circle of Friends,” when Minnie Driver says to Chris O’Donnell: “I know I may look like a rhinoceros, but I’ve got quite a thin skin really, so just be a bit careful with me…”? I remember that one because it rings true for me, and always has.

From PastPosters.com. And that makes me a little sad.

So it shouldn’t surprise me, really, that 15 hours later, I’m still smarting from some unkind remarks that were made toward me, remarks that stemmed from miscommunication, a little indiscretion, and some poor judgment of character.

Here’s the backstory. After two days of reading articles about unimaginable gridlock in the South and checking Facebook posts repeatedly to see that my friends and their families had gotten home safely, I was angry. Winter happens every year, and while an ice storm in the deep South is rare, for the five years I lived in Tennessee, I saw mass inefficiency every time there was a hint of ice or snow there.

Photo from ABC News

Would it help if more people had four wheel drive tires or were better skilled at driving on ice? Of course. But that’s not the root of the problem. The problem, as has been stated in many articles, is that there is not preparedness to address a situation like a winter storm, which should not be considered unforeseeable. Whether it’s plows, salt, mass transit, poor planning, there’s a problem that needs to be addressed. I don’t have the answer, but I believe one can be reached with some consideration and good minds coming together.

Anyway, late Wednesday night, I posted an irate status on Facebook that included a bid that Southern states “get their shit together… and do better.”  States. Also cities, counties, etc. Not people. Not the individuals, the beleaguered citizens who sat for hours on gridlocked roads, who camped out in Home Depot, who waited on pins for their loved ones to come home. Those people did the best they could.

I woke up to some pretty nasty comments, mostly about the fact that as a Northerner I should keep my mouth shut. I even earned myself a “bless your heart.”

Sorry, the bitch knows. (Image from someecards)

Again, I used to live in the South. I’d feel the exact same way if I still did. Actually, I’d be even more angry (though I still would have cried laughing at this). At this point, I’m just indignant on behalf of people I care about, not on my own behalf. Honestly, this was the meanest strangers have been to me since I was a newspaper reporter (strangers can be really mean to newspaper reporters), and I live in New York. Being mean is sort of socially acceptable here.

This is a problem with social media, and pervasive online communications. In this situation, there was a three-step breakdown:

1) It is too easy to just put your random thoughts out there, like I did. We’re increasingly indiscrete.

2) Reading tone is difficult on a computer screen. If one does not know the source of the words, one can easily misinterpret the intention of the person delivering them, the way my ire at the very unfortunate situation in which people were placed was misinterpreted as my mocking blameless citizens.

3) Step three actually circles us back to step one, it’s too easy to just put your random thoughts out there, like the people who reacted to me (with the exception of one friend who questioned how I would suggest the problems be addressed, and while I don’t have an answer, it was a good and fair question).

In order to stop a vicious infinite loop from occurring, I had to practice a considerable amount of restraint, including resisting the urge to correct a very irritating grammatical error (that was hard for me). And I also refrained from reminding a stranger that some things are not lost in translation.

“That chick is just lucky I’m too polite to to tell her ‘I lived in the South. I know what bless your heart means, and fuck you, too.'” I groused to my boyfriend. (I love ‘bless your heart,’ it’s a marvelously versatile expression, but when it’s used to mean “fuck you,” it’s still rude).

“Social protocol is to express sympathy,” he replied.

I rolled my eyes. “I’m a New Yorker,” I reminded him. “We express sympathy by being pissed off.”

That’s why some of us might seem more like rhinoceroses at first glance.

(Originally written 1/31/2014)

Doing it for free

From time to time, I have conversations with fellow journalists about the notion of writing for free.

Some of my friends and colleagues maintain that writing for no pay is something they would never do. They are professionals. Their work has worth. It has value. I agree, and I also maintain that my work also holds worth and value.

However, I have done some writing for free, under a certain set of circumstances:
1) Can the work be done in a reasonable amount of time?
2) Is the topic something I might have written about on a personal blog?
3) Will my work be promoted in some manner?

If the answer to all three questions is yes, I will consider taking on an unpaid writing assignment.

That said, here’s where I have a major problem with the concept of free writing: Exclusivity.

Putting aside any laws, rules, etc., simply because I have a kitchen floor to scrub and don’t feel like taking the time to do research, this is my thought on the matter: If you pay me (a reasonable stipend) for my work, I’ll let you own it. If you are not going to pay me, however, I should own my work. That means I should be able to publish it in as many outlets as possible, outlets that are also not going to be paying me. If I want to submit a piece to PolicyMic, Huffington Post, The Rumpus, etc., I shouldn’t have to limit myself, so long as none of those outlets are paying me. What I am not making in cash, I should be making in recognition.

The year after I graduated college, I tried to get an internship with a local newspaper in upstate New York. I was told this would be impossible because they would not be able to pay me (and I lacked the experience to be hired on as a staff writer), but I was no longer a student so academic credit was not possible. It was necessary, I was told, for me to be receiving some form of compensation.

While I found that notion ridiculous at the time (and still do; as one who completed several unpaid internships, I think young people should suck it up/pay their dues/appreciate the learning experience and resume value) because I was willing to forego compensation for the sake of a learning experience, I also appreciate the idea that a person must be compensated in one form or another for her work.

As journalists/writers/media professionals, we are inundated with the notion of personal branding, which is basically another way of saying that shameless self-promotion is not only advisable, it is entirely necessary. If I’m being told I need to personally brand, I should have the right to spread my brand as far and wide as I can, so long as no one is offering to buy it from me.

I’m willing to make concessions and compromises, but there’s compromise and then there’s bending over and saying “please, sir, may I have another?”

A girl’s got to have her limits.

(Originally written 12/10/2013)

The Heidelberg Project

I loved reading this article about Tyree Guyton and his attempts to revitalize a crumbling Detroit neighborhood by turning destruction and decay into art. This is exactly the type of story I would have covered at the Times Free Press and I really miss having the opportunity to speak to creative minds like Tyree on an almost daily basis.

Photo from happynicetimepeople.com

Sadly, the project was twice demolished by the City of Detroit, but eventually was ruled protected under the First Amendment. This has not, however, prevented other problems from plaguing the project, including. On Nov. 12, 2013, according to the project’s website, there was “yet another ‘suspicious’ fire.”

For more about The Heidelberg Project, click here

(Originally written 11/20/2013)

Because laziness

Apparently “because” is finding its way into being considered a proper preposition. As in “Staying home from work today. Because sick.” This is another example of the sort of slippery slope de-formalizing of language that leads people to think it’s okay to write “ur” and “thx” in business correspondence, or that allows children to graduate high school without knowing how to discern between “you’re” and “your.”

I’m not a total stick-in-the-mud. I don’t mind the “because noun” combination where appropriate: In social media, blogs, casual conversation. But I think a person should have to pass a grammar test before he or she is allowed to flagrantly flout proper English.

Because embolism.

(Originally written 11/2o/2013)

Sequels and remakes are making my head spin

“I owe everything to George Bailey. Help him, dear Father.”

I have a Christmas tradition. Every year, on Christmas Eve, I put on the new pajamas I’ve bought, make a hot beverage, and put on “It’s A Wonderful Life.”

There are no interruptions, no pauses, no phone calls, no tweeting, Facebooking, texting. When the final bells ring, I go to bed. For years, I hit “play” right at midnight, but in my ever advancing years (or, you know, my thirties), I can’t stay up quite as late, so I now time the movie to end at midnight.

I watch “It’s A Wonderful Life” once a year, start to finish. It is my most valued holiday tradition.

And now… this is happening.

My boyfriend called last night to break the bad news to me.

“What?!” I bleated over and over again. “WHAT?!?!”

A sequel?!?! Is this a joke? Are you people kidding me? This is a travesty. Honest to God, is nothing sacred? What’s next, will there  be a remake of “Casablanca”? Of “The Goonies”? I’m just… I’m appalled, I’m dismayed, I’m disappointed.

Look, there are some films that could stand to be re-imagined, remade, or serialized. I wouldn’t object to a remake of “Harvey,” or even “Splendor in the Grass.” I didn’t hate the “Footloose” remake. But others, you just don’t mess with.

It’s not only film. I recently read that Stephen Sondheim is collaborating with Broadway director John Tiffany (“Once”) on an updated version of Sondheim’s 1970 classic musical “Company,” which will make the central character gay and will re-gender some of the supporting roles.

Photo from PBS.org. Cast of "Company" with the NY Philharmonic
Photo from PBS.org. Cast of “Company” with the NY Philharmonic

I hate this. And not because I’m homophobic, or because I have any sort of socio-political agenda. I hate it because I think it’s completely unnecessary, because I believe that Sondheim’s characters are well-written enough that the audience can empathize with them regardless of gender or sexuality. A update is just pandering. Trust your work, Sondheim. Trust your audience.

Let’s keep the original ideas flowing, shall we? Let’s respect the classics. In a world of hyperproduction, can we please, please have some appreciation for the works that have left a cultural marking?

(Originally written 11/19/2013)