Why I Won’t Ban Bossy

ban-bossy-badge2If you don’t like a word and you’re a massively influential figure, just have it banned.

That’s the mindset of Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg, who is making headlines this week for starting the Ban Bossy campaign. Basically Sandberg feels little boys who assert themselves are told they’re displaying leadership skills by teachers and parents, while girls are called “bossy.” The result, according to Sandberg, is girls become hesitant to speak up and reluctant to take on leadership roles as they get older. So the author of the renowned Lean In book says the answer is simple — ban the word bossy.

Except, in my opinion, the only thing that should be banned is this contrived Ban Bossy marketing ploy.

Look, I’m not saying this double standard doesn’t exist or that some girls aren’t wrongly called bossy compared to their male classmates. I’m sure that happens and when it does, it’s wrong. Women are just as capable as men when it comes to taking on leadership roles, and that message needs to be sent to kids early and often in classrooms across the country. And I think these days it is.

But I have two main problems with Sandberg’s misguided campaign.

First of all, the news and research I’ve read recently involving education has girls leaving boys in the dust academically. There are more women enrolled in colleges and universities than men, women are more likely to stay in school compared to men, and a 2013 Pew Research Study showed 40% of all sole or primary earners in families with kids under 18 are women. Also, more women than ever before are entering the workplace as the recent economic depression hit men especially hard.

So while I understand there is still a gender pay gap and the number of female executives is nothing compared to men, it still seems like women are surging forward right now. This is a fact that is completely and curiously ignored by Sandberg in her quest to reenter the news cycle.

But the biggest reason why this is an ill conceived notion is because the idea of banning words is a terrible thing.

Why is it everyone wants to ban everything they disagree with these days? Don’t like a book? Try to get Amazon to ban it. That stupid and ridiculous kids’ shirt bothers you? Get the store to ban it. Don’t like a magazine putting a controversial figure on the cover? Get the stores to ban it. When did we lose the ability to disagree with something — to passionately make our cases and speak out against it — without resorting to the “I don’t like it so have it stricken from existence” mentality?

Not to mention the irony of someone complaining about the term bossy and then using her influence and power to restrict vocabulary for the masses. Dare I say that, in and of itself, is pretty…bossy.

And lastly, some kids — boys and girls — ARE bossy.

My son is almost 6 and he’s bossy as all hell sometimes. I told him as much yesterday, before I had even heard of Sandberg’s nonsense. Bossiness knows no gender. And at the risk of irritating the Sandbergs of the world, it seems to be an epidemic among girls his age.

Many young girls who hang around with my son are the epitome of bossy. They boss Will around to the point we’ve had to tell him to stand up for himself and that he doesn’t have to do everything they say. We’ve even had to talk to a few of the girls and their parents directly and let them know they need to back off and stop being so bossy.

It’s utterly ridiculous that Sandberg wants to ignore and condone this behavior simply because they’re girls. If a girl (or a boy) is being overly bossy and obnoxious, it needs to be rectified. They should absolutely be told they’re being bossy and that they need to stop it. Trying to strike the word bossy from society doesn’t make bossiness disappear, or become any more palatable.

I get what Sandberg was trying to do, but this marketing ploy misses the mark. Big time.

I hope I’m not being too bossy in saying so.

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20 thoughts on “Why I Won’t Ban Bossy

  1. I’m actually going to have to agree with you on this one. There is definitely a fucked up mentality coming around that if you don’t like something, then nobody should have access to it. As you pointed out, this happens a lot with clothing stores and books.

    And just like you, I would agree that some kids are bossy. My daughter, not because she’s “a girl trying to assume a leadership role” at the age of 4, is bossy as hell. She wants it her way, everyone doing what she tells them to, despite their attempts to do something else. She’s not trying to be a leader those times. She’s bossing kids around.

    The problem is that society as a whole has become one of “if it offends, it needs to end”. Well, congress offends me quite often. Should we dissolve it? Pastors offend me sometimes. Should we dissolve religion? Bloggers offend me sometimes. Should we shut down WordPress?

    If she wants to have HER kids not use it, then fine. But save the rhetoric for something important.

  2. Yes! Definitely. Can someone please explain that Boss does NO equal Leadership. Boys and girls can be bossy and it is fine to call it out. You can’t play nice with others and be bossy. You CAN be a leader and play nice with others.

    So no, I won’t ban bossy.

  3. You’re absolutely right, trying to strike the word bossy from society doesnโ€™t make it disappear. Society would just find a new name to call it. If I’m ever offended by a book, magazine cover, a product, etc. I would simply avoid it for myself. I don’t expect to have something banned simply because I don’t like it. That’s nonsense. Same with words. Essentially all words were made up anyway so if I was banned for using a word, I’d just make up another one.
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  4. Aaron, I heart you and your blog, but you are way off on this one.

    “Bossy” and other codewords are absolutely used in corporate America to diminish women. We should stop the double-standard that an assertive man is assertive and an assertive women is an emasculating bitch, etc.

    Obviously, Sandberg is not Putin and can’t ban anything (quick quiz, who has been called “bossy” more- Hillary or Putin?). But she chose to use provocative language here to get people discussing and reacting and multiplying her mission. Well done, Sheryl.

    Finally, re: “2013 Pew Research Study showed 40% of all sole or primary earners in families with kids under 18 are women.” This is a horrible misreading of the survey (and the innumerate members of the media really blew it in reporting this). You get to this 40% by combining:
    14% single never married women with children 9over 80% of whom live in poverty)
    11% divorced moms
    15% dual-parent households in which mom outearns dad.
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  5. Scott, all due respect but I’m not off. You are.

    Look at the backlash this has created. For someone so concerned about word choice, it was extraordinarily short-sighted of Sandberg to use the charged word “ban” here. I understand she doesn’t have the power to ban words, but many people (myself definitely included) balk at the mere thought of banning any words. It’s stupid and pointless. And worse than that, it takes away from an issue you and I agree is important (more women in leadership) to the point that even feminists are disagreeing with Sandberg.

    If your goal is to actually fix the situation, that’s not smart. However, if your goal is to augment a Lean In campaign and get back in the news cycle, it’s very smart. And that’s what is happening here.

    Are some women called bossy in a condescending tone? Yes. But men are called bossy, or worse. Jerk. Asshole. Prick. Hardly any better. And sorry, but some women (and men) ARE DEFINITELY BOSSY. Why are we overlooking that?

    This whole thing makes zero sense. And it is a dud.
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  6. I don’t believe in banning words unless they’re completely racist or completely sexist and so on, and even then there’s some leeway since one has to teach about inappropriate language, right?

    I never thought of Bossy as being about women. Promote equality and call boys bossy, too, when they are!
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  7. JPL: Exactly. Like I said, my son is bossy sometimes and I call him on it. I don’t believe doing so means I’m jeopardizing his future ability to lead, and if I had a daughter I’d feel the same way.

    But mainly I’m upset because they way they framed this campaign is taking away from its core message about women in leadership. And that is where it has failed.
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  8. Shhhh….Sandberg may try to ban your site next and then she may ban your Facebook like button ๐Ÿ™

    Seriously…loved the post and I don’t think bossy is a sexist term. There is a difference between being assertive and being bossy. I love assertiveness (boy or girl) and I really dislike bossy (boy or girl). However…the word should not be banned. On the other hand, I have been pushing to ban things being banned ๐Ÿ™‚

  9. You’re right. No word should be banned. It’s like banning books. It’s a bad idea, just on general principle. Also, I hate Sandberg. I hate her “Lean In” campaign, I find it condescending to the women who are already “leaning in” and have been for years.

    However, I think you’re oversimplifying and dismissing a valid problem that needs to be identified. No, the word ‘bossy’ shouldn’t be banned. But girls shouldn’t be called bossy for taking on traditional male roles. Also, boys shouldn’t be called sissies for taking on traditionally female roles. Same concept, different challenges for different genders.

    It’s not that bossiness shouldn’t be corrected in both male and female children. It’s that a boy and a girl can engage in the EXACT SAME ACTIVITY and it will be called “leadership” in boys and “bossiness” in girls. Different labels are applied to the exact same actions based on the gender of the actor. That’s not an unsupported assertion, it’s a documented problem.

    Research done in the last couple of years still shows girls & women in primary schools, universities and workplaces are penalized as not feminine enough when they are as competent as their male counterparts and demonstrating the same leadership abilities. Again, men are leaders, women are bossy.

    What does this mean in the classroom? Teachers are less likely to refer smart girls into gifted programs than boys due to gender bias (Study: Gifted Girls: Gender Bias in Gifted Referrals). Women are less likely to be accepted into research-intensive universities science programs (Study: Science Faculty’s Subtle Gender Biases Favor Male Students). Girls are more likely to receive and internalize negative feedback which contributes to the prevalence of self identity issues like eating disorders. Girls are doing better in the math and sciences but are less likely to choose a career in the math & sciences if they’re in a coed classroom because the gender roles that are defined in the classroom are likely to carry forward into the workplace (Girls, girls, girls: gender composition and female school choice).

    What does this mean in business? When women and men engage in the exact same activities in the workplace it’s seen differently. Numerous peer-reviewed, scientific studies have supported this. “Women exhibiting the same behaviors as men were judged less favorably than men.” Read that last sentence one more time. That is why bossiness DOES know a gender. It’s not that some kids are bossy and some are not…it’s that the exact same behavior in girls/women and boys/men is PERCEIVED differently. Women are called bossy, bitchy or ice-queens. Men are called assertive, powerful or take-charge.

    Women are penalized for being as assertive as men. “Recent research suggests that stereotypic bias likely manifests itself in a number of reoccurring, but SUBTLE (emphasis mine) slights, which over time can amount to a significant disadvantage.” Women are compensated less, are less likely to be promoted and are held to a different, higher standard than men for advancement. Women must work harder to make less, be promoted less often and are perceived more negatively for demonstrating the exact same behaviors as men in leadership roles. (Study: Women Take Care, Men Take Charge). Two resumes…exactly the same…one assigned a male name & one assigned a female name…all other factors equal…guess which candidate gets hired or promoted? Studies have shown that women who talk at the same rate as men in a business meeting are perceived to have talked more. In other words, the same behavior demonstrated by the two genders is judged more negatively in women…they’re perceived as having talked too much. Subtle slights that start in childhood as “bossy” instead of “take-charge” do a lot of damage over a lifetime.

    This also manifests in other places in life. Women are far more likely to be misdiagnosed by a doctor because of biases in gender communication. (Too many studies to list on this one, over diagnosis of mental illness, under diagnosis of heart conditions, higher rates of misdiagnosis of many different ailments.) The studies suggest that women “provide too much context” (i.e. they talk too much) so doctors tune out their complaints that might provide clues to their condition.

    Painting men in stereo-typically female roles (such as SAHD & nurses) as weak, less masculine or worthy of ridicule is wrong. In much the same way, painting girls and women in stereo-typically male roles (such as CEO & scientist) as bossy, domineering or dumber than equally qualified male candidates is also wrong. The same principle is true for both genders.

    Traditional views on gender roles is a conversation worth having. Challenge the views of traditional roles for men, it’s a worthy cause. Don’t get upset when someone does the same for women. No word should be banned. It’s inelegant to suggest otherwise. But we also live in a 24 hour news cycle, 140 character limit world. I doubt her campaign would have been as effective if she tried to sell it by presenting all of the information and the supporting evidence as I did above.

  10. Allison: You’re actually making my point.

    I agree it’s an issue. I’ve written extensively in my day job about the gender wage gap, and I’ve interviewed authors on the unfair and unnecessary obstacles women have to face compared to men when asking for a raise or promotion. And yes, some girls/women are unfairly called bossy for no good reason.

    The problem with this campaign is all that gets lost because of the ill-conceived title #BanBossy. It sidetracks all the great discussion you brought up simply because people are stuck on the idea of banning a word. And the fact that Sandberg complains about the flippant use of an emotionally charged word like bossy by using another emotionally charged word like “ban,” displays a stunning lack of foresight on her part.

    Because of how this campaign is framed, she’s got people who would ordinarily be allies talking about how this missed the mark. Very few people disagree with the cause or the problems you aptly described, but I can’t fully get behind it because I refuse to ban bossy.

    It’s a shame.
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  11. You’re right, it can be viewed as inflammatory. But sometimes people make inflammatory statements for the sole purpose of getting page views or publicity…your point is not missed about her dedication to her own brand but she’s not the only one willing to risk a flame war to make her point. *nudge, nudge, wink, wink*

    And remember, this isn’t Congress trying to pass a law to ban a word. This is an activist trying to encourage mindfulness towards the roles we define for girls. We are not a society, generally speaking, that appreciates or rewards subtlety. Subtlety means your cause is dismissed by the media as too esoteric or you are denigrated by your opponents as lacking conviction. If she called it the “Don’t discriminate against girls in small and subtle ways that are going to impact their self-identity, education prospects and wealth creation throughout their lives” campaign…well, call me crazy, but I don’t think it would have gotten quite as much attention.

    Defining someone else’s capabilities, interests and acceptable roles, in home and in business, based solely on their gender stinks. It oughta be banned.

  12. As my friend John at AskYourDadBlog said, it could’ve been #BeyondBossy and gotten nothing but great press. Simplest of changes. And if he thought of it, they could’ve done something similar.

    I have no problem with inciting a flame war for pageviews, but that’s my goal, not hers. Hers is (supposedly) to bring about change and support a cause. If that were my goal on this site, I’d write in a very different style. Because flame wars might be good for pageviews, but they’re terrible for actual, meaningful discussion. And because she is who she is, it still would’ve gotten plenty of press. I don’t think that’s really a concern for her at this point with her name and brand recognition.
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  13. I just spent a lot of time composing some thoughts to post here, but because I failed to answer your security question, my composition is now lost. Please consider allowing your website to retain the composition when this happens. I wanted to be part of your discussion, but I’m not going to type it again. Also, may I suggest placing the “Post Comment” button to be BELOW the security question, to clearly point out that posting the comment comes AFTER answering the security question (and that the security question is not merely associated only with the “commentluv” tickbox? Thank you.

  14. Now if ban bossy had actual scientific proof to back it up and didn’t make completely false claims then MAYBE think of hopping on board. But the problem is that I see girls called leaders all the time, I see boys called bossy all the time not just vise versa as they want you to belive. What seems to be the worst crime nowadays? Aparently it’s offending someones own fragil ego. America has become (for lack of a better word) pussyfied. 30 years ago, a kid comes home from scholl covered in bruises from a bully who probably wouldn’t even get in trouble if a teacher watched. What does the parent tell the kid? ” You better whoop their ass tomorrow, or am I going to have to whoop yours?” Today if you fight back in deffence BOTH of you get suspended, and what do the parents do? They either do nothing or threaten to sue the school. Back to ban bossy… When a kid (boy OR girl) says “I THINK we SHOULD do this” that’s showing leadership, but when the say “We are GOING to do this” that’s bossy. Bossy is not a gender specific word. Nothing really is 100% gender specific, but ban bossy is really 50/50.

  15. Peyton: I agree that both sexes can be bossy, but that’s about all I agree with.

    If my sons came home from school bruised and bloodied I would not tell them to “whoop ass” tomorrow and I CERTAINLY wouldn’t threaten them further. That is stupid. Beyond stupid, actually.

    I tell my kids they have a right to defend themselves as a last resort if all other options have been exhausted. But bullying is not what it used to be. With social media it follows kids home from the playground and seeps into their home lives, which used to be a safe haven. And while standing up for yourself and fighting back is called for in some instances, it takes a lot more than that to stop habitual bullying. And if that’s happening, any parent who doesn’t step in and advocate for their kid is an irresponsible deadbeat — plain and simple.
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  16. Daddy Files: The bullying part was exagerated at both ends. You seem like a sensible person, and a great parent . Thank you for pointing this out. I was just getting really into what I was writing.

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