Have you heard all the commotion about Sheryl Sandberg’s ‘Ban Bossy’ campaign? The general point of the campaign is to stop using the word ‘bossy’ in a negative way to describe girls who are loud and assertive. A lot of opinions have been shared about this campaign, lauding its general idea, but calling out challenges with the specific approach of banning a word that isn’t necessarily gender specific. I have found myself falling within the mix of responses myself, but thinking more along the lines of being bossy – and being a woman in the Catholic church.
I share some of Sandberg’s childhood experience of being called bossy. My family had an old Polish word (I couldn’t spell it to save my life, but my best guess is vouchka) that they used to describe me because I was quite the assertive and mouthy young girl. In case you were wondering, I grew into an assertive and mouthy woman. It occasionally gets me into trouble but I do my best to use my mouthy assertiveness prudently and for the betterment of others. But being frequently called a vouchka as a child has stayed with me. It kept me quiet in a lot of instances where I should have spoken up. I spoke up in college when I saw a lot of problems going on in the campus programs around me – and was told by one of the priests that the problems were my fault and that any contributions I thought I had made weren’t of any value. It took me a long time to realize none of that was true, and the attack on me was a defensive reaction. Nonetheless, my confidence and courage to speak up took a hit that I am still bouncing back from.
It’s hard to speak up as a woman in the Church. I have come to know many wonderful men who are or will be priests, who have never made me feel that my ‘bossiness’ is a problem. But I have faced some who have no interest in what I have to say, or what other women around them have to say. I am currently discerning whether or not to take a preaching course as a part of my MDiv. I have to decide if it is worth it to take a course that might not be of much use to me in the Church while watching my classmates put it to frequent use. As someone who wants to work in some relation to the Church, I have to come to terms with the reality that most of my jobs will likely have the final word resting with an ordained man. And no matter what injustice I might ever see or how much I speak up – it doesn’t have to matter to that man.
In Confirmation class I asked the girls to write down words they wished people would use to describe them. There were a lot of words written down that addressed body image, but one stuck out to me – ‘leader.’ Instead of being called leaders, or being encouraged to speak up, these girls hear words like ‘bitch’ or ‘slut’ –used jokingly even- to describe them. They hear those words that devalue who they are as women far more than ones that celebrate their potential. We talked during their other classes and retreat about the gifts of the Spirit, the gifts and talents God has given them, what they want in their lives as beloved disciples, and what they think God might want for them and their lives. They have so many things to speak up about, so many things to say and to share and to give to everyone around them. I don’t want to necessarily ban ‘bossy’ for them. I want to focus more on how they, myself, and any other woman in the church can cotinually find the courage to speak up, to assert themselves, and to take charge in their lives, their faith and their church.