Sheryl Sandberg and LeanIn.Org launched a campaign to encourage more girls to lead, #banbossy, for the 1 year publishing anniversary of her book Lean In. In her book she recalled a childhood experience of being called bossy, when in reality she viewed her playground behavior as early leadership qualities. At that time she was viewed negatively because nice little girls weren’t suppose to act that way. Nice girls weren’t suppose to be assertive or ambitious and were discouraged from doing so. She was disheartened and feels that young girls shouldn’t be labeled harmfully for doing the same things that men do. She’s not the only one. Big names like Beyoncé, Jennifer Garner, Condoleezza Rice, the Girl Scouts and many others are behind this campaign. This campaign is trying to combat the negative deep-rooted stereotypes of how girls are discouraged when trying to assert their views. This isn’t just fluff Sheryl Sandberg is throwing out there because she’s bitter about bullying. There is real data that supports this.
A study conducted by the Girl Scouts in 2008 revealed that young girls from ages 8 to 17 purposely avoided leadership roles for fear of being labeled bossy and disliked by their peers. It also showed that self-esteem rates dropped 3.5 times more than boys.
What’s more alarming is that as these young girls enter adulthood, bossy gets replaced with another B word. We’ve all been there. The #banbossy campaign shines new positive light towards breaking stereotypes and encouraging girls to understand that there are no limits to what they can accomplish. It’s a platform to get talking about gender roles and negative labels imposed unfairly on women.
#Banbossy was successful, but there was also a barrage of criticism. Micheline Maynard, a Contributor to Forbes, published an article titled “Dear Sheryl Sandberg: There Are Far Worse Things Than Being Called Bossy.” In it Maynard explains that Sheryl Sandberg is “projecting her experience onto her gender,” that bossy isn’t a word that applies only to women, and is not the same thing as being a leader. Bossy is a gender neutral adjective she states, and “given the nastiness that many women face on a daily basis, being called bossy is the least of our problems.” She concludes that the solution to the problem isn’t banning the word bossy, but to teach young girls to believe in possibilities, no matter what anyone says about them. Although Maynard says it differently than Sandberg, the focus is still, thankfully, to encourage young girls.
Others in the feminist blogosphere have switched the focus to #bossyfeminism and discuss reclaiming the term bossy. It’s okay to be bossy. So what? Amy Poehler was quoted as saying “I just love bossy women. I could be around them all day. To me, bossy is not a pejorative term at all. It means somebody’s passionate and engaged and ambitious and doesn’t mind leading.”
Another blogger stated that we should “own the living shit out of bossiness.” and teach girls to harness their confidence.
Others have stated that these leadership tools and resources are already available for young women and they don’t see the value in a large campaign featuring many celebrities to #banbossy. Is all this really necessary? Also, the semantics of the campaign can distract from “real” gender inequality issues. It’s already invited critics to focus on the literal meaning of banning a word, instead of focusing on the double-standard that women face. Lastly, some feel that it misses the mark on engaging women of color, an important demographic concerned with bossy labels.
Although Sandberg is not a multi-faceted academic feminist, she is a wildly successful corporate leader and this just scratches the surface of changes that need to be made for women. It may not be the biggest problem women are facing, but it’s certainly not unimportant. Whatever side you’re taking, #banbossy or #bossyfeminism, doesn’t matter. As long as the conversation keeps going.
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