Ban ‘Bossy’ – The Other ‘B-word’

Paige Smith | Contributing Writer

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“You’re not the boss of me!” can probably be heard in any schoolyard through- out the country. Sheryl Sandberg, COO of Facebook is publicly opposing the word “bossy” based on the idea that when a girl is young, if she is considered “bossy” then by adulthood it turns into a woman being “aggressive.” Sandberg recruited Girl Scouts of the U.S.A. CEO, Anna Marie Chavez, and former United States Secretary of State, Condoleezza Rice, to start an important conversation on the word “bossy.”

While the campaign is called “Ban Bossy,” it is supposed to facilitate a conversation on how the word is used in context to females and leadership. In an exclusive interview with Carol Dedrich, Chief External Relations Officer of Girl Scouts of Greater Los Angeles, she stated: “The Ban Bossy campaign is about raising awareness around a descriptive word used disproportionately to demean girls and women. We believe girls who exhibit assertiveness should be seen as acting like leaders, not acting bossy.”

According to an article from by Elissa Freeman, a PR and pop culture columnist, titled “#BanBossy: 25 names ‘bossy’ women are really called,” many women in the workplace are called: intimidating, emotional, annoying, nagging, demanding, pushy and assertive, while men with the same characteristics can be called leaders, authoritative and commanding. Freeman’s point? “Bossy” is definitely a nicer term, not displaying the worst of what women can be called.

“Girls are twice as likely as boys to avoid leadership roles for fear of being disliked or deemed ‘bossy’ by their peers,” Chávez said in the press kit for the campaign. “At Girl Scouts, we want to bring adults and girls together to empower girls as our next generation of leaders. Abandoning ‘bossy’ is a great start.”

While negative language is not used against women in all workplaces, it is important for girls to know from a young age that they are able to take on leadership roles without the name-calling or being disliked.

According to Dedrich, the reason this campaign is so focused on females is because girls and women still have a long way to go in terms of leadership equality. Women are vastly underrepresented in positions of power; for example, only 18 percent of the 113th Congress is comprised of women.

According to research that was conducted by Girl Scouts, “bossy” is a term that discourages girls at a young age to lead and by middle school they are less likely to assume leadership positions, which tends to continue into adulthood.

The co-founder and president of Le-, a website that supports women in three important ways: community, education and small groups, Rachel Thomas stated in a press release: “There are simple but powerful things we can do everyday to encourage girls to step forward and take the lead. We teach our daughters their multiplication tables; we need to teach them to flex their leadership muscles.”

Other public figures have also joined the pledge including Beyoncé Knowles, Michelle Obama, Chelsea Handler, Marc Morial and Geoffrey Canada.

This campaign was first announced in March in Parade magazine. However, within a few days the backlash began.

Melissa Sher, a contributing writer at HuffPost, stated in her blog, “Instead of having the powerful women talk about ‘banning bossy,’ I would have liked a still simple and hashtag-able campaign such as, ‘#IAmBossy’ or ‘#ThisIsBossy’ or ‘#DontYouWantToBeLikeBeyonce’ or ‘#BossypantsIsOneOfMyFavoriteBooksEver’.”

Some women take full advantage of being bossy, especially when trying to get the last laugh, such as Tina Fey in her book, Bossypants.

“Don’t waste your energy trying to educate or change opinions; go over, under, through, and opinions will change organically when you’re the boss. Or they won’t. Who cares? Do your thing, and don’t care if they like it,” Fey wrote in her book, which was published in 2011.

Fey who has had many leadership roles in her career from hosting the Academy Awards to having the lead role in the hit television show 30 Rock takes on issues within her book about female leadership—although instead of banning “bossy,” Fey embraces it.

“This is a word that is symbolic of systemic discouragement of girls to lead. We are not just talking about getting rid of a word, even though we want to get rid of a word,” Sandberg said in an interview with ABC News. “We’re talking about getting rid of the negative messages that hold our daughters back.”

Other individuals have even pointed out that the message has a good point but needs a better launching pad.

Libby Lowe, a freelance writer and editor said: “It’s a great catch phrase, but I think it kind of misses the opportunity to look at the difference between bossy and leading. Being bossy isn’t necessarily the same thing as being a leader.”

While the campaign focuses on young girls, it is important for college students to look at this and be aware of the terms they are using towards young children, whether they are male or female.

“Look at leadership as a collaborative effort. Bring the best out of every- one on your team. Know what you are good at and what you don’t know; be honest about it.” Lowe said. “Some- times you have to be bossy, that’s the reality of it. Someone has to be in charge or everyone will be sitting around going ‘I don’t know, what do you think?’, that is useless.”

According to Lowe it is understanding that leadership isn’t about being right, it is about getting the best out of the people you are working with to get to the best results.

Courage, confidence and character is part of the Girl Scouts mission and raising leaders no matter what the age to be able to take leadership roles in and out of the office. According to Dedrich, this campaign’s focus is to deliver an important and long-overdue message to girls, parents and communities across the US: that girls are ready and able to lead and should be encouraged to do so.

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