Being a Bossy Mormon Woman
There’s been a lot of talk about the word “bossy” lately. Sheryl Sandberg ala Lean In and Facebook started a Ban Bossy website that promotes leadership in girls. And of course there’s backlash from those who say bossiness and leadership have nothing to do with one another; and others who object to the campaign because they refuse to accept “bossy” as a pejorative term, and instead, like Tina Fey, Ms. Bossypants herself, embrace it.
I’m no stranger to the word bossy. I’ve been called it (and another lovely b-word) many times in my life. My sister and I got to a point in college where we wore it like a badge. I remember a time we were playing a game at a birthday party and had divided into two teams, Angela (the sassy blond you see above) and I in separate groups. People were having a hard time deciding how to proceed so I waited for a minute or two and when I sensed a leadership vacuum, I took charge. I have no desire to run the show, but when surrounded by passivity I go a bit nuts. A friend of my sister’s stood up and shouted at me, “I picked this team because I didn’t want to be with your bossy sister! But I think you may be worse!” and he stormed off to the punch bowl. My sister and I burst out laughing and were not so secretly proud of our take-charge abilities. We get stuff done.
What I would like to explore here are some of the ways being a BMW (bossy Mormon woman) are acceptable in the church, and some ways that aren’t. I’m going to limit myself to three in each category and would LOVE for others to share their insights as I am very much in the process of solving that intriguing question, posed by Tony Danza in the 80s: Who’s the Boss?
OK to be a BMW:
1. Events. If I show up for a baptism sponsored by the Ward Mission Leader (or a pancake breakfast put on by the Elders Quorum, or a fireside run by the bishopric) and find things running less than smoothly, I never get flack for rolling up my sleeves and taking charge. “You, set up tables over there.” “Find a liner for a trash can.” “I’ll locate an extension cord while you untangle the mike.” In fact I am revered for my willingness to problem solve and contribute to the success of the event. If food is involved, organizational skills needed, or “vision” is required, us bossy babes are seen as a godsend.
2. Children. I’m not talking officially tasked with kids as in Primary or YW, but if kids need some kind of adult intervention, we Mormons are fine with a BMW stepping in even when it is not her job description. For example, my dear friend Jen taught YW during the tenure of some very naughty teenage boys who roamed the halls during the third hour for the express purpose of causing trouble. One kid in particular, lets call him Willie, would pound on the door when he saw the girls praying thru the little window. Jen excused herself and gave this kid the lecture of a lifetime. Now Jen can make Oprah look inarticulate so I cannot pretend to recreate her diatribe. She was firm but not cruel, and let him know that his behavior would stop. It did. For weeks after people thanked Jen: his mother, the bishop, the YM president. Taking charge of children is a thumbs up.
3. Charity. This is another acceptable area where a woman can step out of her bounds and call the shots without being labeled a power hungry shrew. I heard about a ward council where the care of an elder gentleman was being discussed. The bishop and HP group leader bandied about different solutions. The activities committee chair, a woman, spoke up and suggested a plan. The men listened and followed her advice. Everyone was grateful she spoke up.
And then there are arenas where it is NOT OK wade in without being invited (and we rarely are):
1. Cultural Change. I’m not talking changing doctrine or policy, but women who try to alter “the ways things are” are deeply resented. Let’s take a simple thing like deciding to include girls in the Pinewood Derby. As far as I know the Derby is not a sacrament or an eternal principle. But in many cases this change has seriously caused trouble. Our Jessawhy wrote about the flack she received when she tried to implement it when she was an Activity Day leader. People were not merely in disagreement but seemed offended that she dared ask. And if said change is brought about by women, (as in this post by Starfoxy) I think folks feel more freedom to complain because a bossy feminist with an agenda did it. As Mormons we get so locked on to AUTHORITY that we confuse being in charge with God’s will, and because all our decision makers are men, we have come to think MEN=Authority. That, my friends, is a big problem. In a recent post at BCC the blogger shares a letter she wrote to her bishop and she raises the issue of girls and pinewood derby, among many other things. The comment that intrigued me most was not the haters who think that’s heritcal but the woman who defended the action because “the stake president said it was ok so it is.” Why do we need permission from our ecclesiastical leaders to let girls play with wooden cars? Watch out Derby Now proponents, they’re coming after your recommends!
2. Programs run by men. Don’t mess with them. Have a suggestion for the YM president on how to teach the new boys to pass the sacrament (because the newbies are wandering around like lost sheep)? Good luck. My girlfriend talked to the YM pres at least three times without success and for weeks her new deacon hid in the bathroom until sacrament was over. She solved the problem by contacting a kind 16 year old priest who agreed to come over and draw a diagram. Problem solved, but in a pain in the butt round about way. Another group of women could not get the scout leader to pass off any of their kids’ merit batches. “Let me worry about this,” he’d say as he blew them off. And let’s be clear, 80% of Eagle Scouts owe that title to their hard working mamas. I don’t think these guys were trying to be sexist jerks, but I do think they saw these women as stepping “out of their sphere” and encroaching on their turf. “Respect mah authoritah” as George Bush and Cartman from Southpark might say. I’m not advocating that the Bishop rearrange the home teaching routes on my say so, but if I have some insight, why not listen?
3. ANYTHING involving Handbook 1. Did you know there are two church handbooks? Handbook 2 is available online. Handbook 1 is subtitled “Stake Presidents and Bishops” and is only given to men. And the 9 women who serve in the General Auxiliaries. April wrote about what she brilliantly refers to as the “Sealed Book” here. I just don’t get why it’s kept such a secret. One would think that at least RS presidents would have access to it. On my cynical days this reminds me of the old Catholic leaders who insisted the Bible only be in Latin so that the masses could not read it. Whatever the reason, the result is that women are ignorant of the policies that affect them. Say you want your spouse to get a vasectomy. Your husband may tell you that the Handbook forbids it. Which it doesn’t. For the record, both vasectomies and tubal ligation are “strongly discouraged.” But I’ve seen women, strong bossy women, brought to their knees at the prospect of another surprise pregnancy. And had they known it was “discouraged” but not “forbidden,” it would have made a world of difference. And it seems icky to me to suggest that they should have to go to their bishop to get the skinny on their birth control. “Hi bishop, Heather here. Can I have an IUD? Are we a condom condoning people? How ’bout the ole snip snip?” I’ve also heard people say all sorts of things are in the secret book that aren’t, like you can only take the sacrament with the right hand, or you can’t have sex on Fast Sunday, or monkeys are prohibited as pets. Alright. I made that last one up. But my point is anyone can say something is in there and ALL but 9 women in the church have no way to verify it. I’m so blessed to have good men serving as my local leaders and I have never had any of them try to use the handbook to silence me. But I have seen it happen, and even the spunkiest of us have a hard time defending our actions against rules and regulations to which we are not privy.
So where do I land on this whole bossy issue? Banning words doesn’t seem effective. And some people are way too bossy, but generally we call them jerks. Personally, I don’t mind the term bossy. I think the woman with the issue of blood who touched the hem of Christ’s robe was bossy. Martha was super bossy for calling out Mary for not helping and taking Jesus to task for arriving after Lazarus died. And Mary of Bethany who anointed the Saviors feet with perfume was willing to tick off the disciples to do her part. Emma Smith and Eliza Snow could have a major bossy-off. But mostly the word simply conjures up images of 4 year old me sticking out my booty and my tongue, about to dive head first into a cold lake with my sister by my side. Mostly my bossiness allows me to get things done and hopefully bless people along the way. And when I run up against people who mistake their gender or their calling for true authority, my bossiness gives me the courage to dry myself off and get ready to dive back into the waters–with my sisters by my side.
How do you feel about “bossy?” If you are a BMW, in what ways has it allowed you to get stuff done? When does bossiness get in the way?