The Campaign To “Ban Bossy”

As some of you may have already heard, Sheryl Sandberg has launched a new campaign to empower girls and young women to become leaders. She has teamed up with other political figures and celebrities, Condoleezza Rice, Jane Lynch, and Beyonce to release a PSA called “Ban Bossy.”

In addition to encouraging girls to become leaders in their community, a goal for the campaign is to ban the word “bossy” from mainstream vocabulary in an effort to remove the negative connotations associated with girls and women who take charge in any given situation. Sheryl says that the term “bossy” is a loaded word that intimidates young girls away from speaking their minds and taking on roles of leadership.

This has been circulated all over internet and conversations have of course already begun. I have read all sorts of reactions about the campaign from people being all for it to others who think it’s just ridiculous. Honestly, I can see both sides of this issue.

For one, I love the idea that powerful men and women are behind the idea that girls and women should be just as encouraged to pursue leadership roles as anything else. There is undoubtedly a lack of interest from girls to take on certain positions because they have been culturally trained to think that their place is in other areas where they are quiet and following the lead of someone else.

I also love the idea that they are raising awareness about the stereotype that women are placed into if they do dare to take the lead of any group of people, and that stereotype being that they are too aggressive and pushy in their role. There is no doubt that a man can lead in a certain way and he is seen as assertive, while the woman can do the exact same thing as the man, but she will be somehow be criticized or put down for it. Examples of this are all over the place and it’s great that someone is finally recognizing it and bringing it to public attention.

So all of these goals are good, but I’m just not sure banning a word is the kind of approach I would take. I don’t even think we can actually put a  ban  on a word such as “bossy,” but even if we could, let’s face it…. people would still use it just to be assholes. They would see it as an even larger shaming tool than it has been already and they would use it whenever the opportunity came around.  I even start to wonder how far should we be letting words offend us anyway. Yes, it’s shitty that people judge and use words to put down others, but there comes a point when we must realize that we can’t stop them from thinking the things they think and saying the  things they say. I wonder if we would be better off  just brushing it off and keep doing whatever we want to do, instead of trying to silence their words. We give up our power the second we let someone get to us with their words.

Instead of banning the word “bossy”, let’s think about what would encourage people in general to see women in power as a positive thing.

I would also like to challenge their idea of leadership. When I think of women as leaders, I think of them leading in all sorts of areas of life, at any age, and at all different levels. They can be leaders at school, at their jobs, in the home, in their families, in their local communities, etc… not just in the corporate career world.

What do you think about the campaign and how they are going about their efforts?

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5 thoughts on “The Campaign To “Ban Bossy”

  1. My first thought with this was that bossy sounds a lot like bully. Now, those are two different things, but I can imagine situations where one would be mistaken for the other. I like what this is trying to do, I’m just worried it might also encourage bullies to continue their actions.

    I’m with you that I think it would be better to focus on what we want people to think of women. A campaign that encourages girls to be leaders, critical thinkers and adept speakers. At the same time, this kind of campaign could promote the idea that these should be seen as desirable qualities in a woman. The word bossy would then go away on it’s own, or maybe be left to sulk alongside the word bully.

  2. I think bossy is a great word and I’m actually a bit put off that anybody would suggest banning it or imply that it is somehow demeaning. I’m thinking of love and how intricate the term “bossy” can be. Elderly couples who have been together a long time often use “bossy” as a term of affection.

    Also I’m thinking if you’re going to be in a position of leadership, you better be tougher than the word “bossy.” In a backwards way, implying that women and girls can be scared off by a simple word, is to imply that they aren’t cut out to lead. It’s kind of demeaning to suggest that girls are that fragile and easily dissuaded.

    • “In a backwards way, implying that women and girls can be scared off by a simple word, is to imply that they aren’t cut out to lead. It’s kind of demeaning to suggest that girls are that fragile and easily dissuaded.”

      I mostly agree with this – definitely by the time you grow up and do what you’re going to do, you do need to not care what other people think.

      The issue is, though, that young girls who could grow into great leaders aren’t at that point yet and they can be scared off before they grow out of their need for the approval of their peers. I know when I was younger I was desperate to feel “normal” before finally giving up on that dream at 19 or so, well before it was too late to make up for lost time. Not everyone is so lucky.

  3. I really like what you’re saying here. We need to come up with some very positive words and associate them with women in leadership roles. Perhaps it would be more effective than giving the opposition more words to use. Perhaps; strong, gutsy, assertive, and leader. If there is a word to describe Captain Janeway from the show Voyager, that’s the word we should use. She is tough, but feminine, and a respected leader.

  4. I’ve noticed that the commentary on this campaign seems to break down generally along these lines:

    1) Men – think it’s stupid
    2) Women who have never held a position of leadership – think it’s stupid
    3) Women who have held a position of leadership – think it has merit

    Of the men that think it’s stupid, they generally seem to break down along these lines:

    1) They treat women differently but aren’t aware of it
    2) They don’t treat women differently and can’t imagine anyone doing so
    3) They treat women differently because of a (supposedly) Biblical mandate that men lead and women be submissive

    It’s great that they’re drawing attention to the disparity in perception of male leaders vs. female leaders, and thanks in part to efforts like this, you don’t see nearly as much resentment of female leaders in my generation. Of course, lengthy nuanced discussion doesn’t do a great job getting the message out easily and quickly … you need a short catch-phrase. Something like, oh let’s say, “ban bossy.”

    I had someone suggest that #celebratebossy was a better, more positive way to go, but I think #celebratebossy is not the way to go for something like this. You see women #celebratebossy when they have resigned themselves to the fact that no one will like them no matter what they do, simply because they are in charge. So they don’t even try to be nice or even polite anymore. This is not a good way to be and all it does is give misogynists more ammunition. Side note: This approach is actually quite common among women that are over 50 that have succeeded in male-dominated fields.

    #Banbossy, on the other hand, encourages people to change how they see women in authority. Words have power, and if a person stops themselves from lazily reaching for the nearest derogatory word (i.e. bossy), it can help reframe perception.

    So when I circled around, I think what they are doing is the most effective method of getting the message out.

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