What do you think of the Ban Bossy campaign? Sheryl Sandberg, Facebook COO and author of Lean In: Women, Work, and the Will to Lead, has partnered with Anna Maria Chavez, CEO of the Girl Scouts, and former Secretary of State Condeleeza Rice to encourage girls to strive for leadership roles. Their thought is that girls are discouraged from asserting themselves because they don’t want to be called bossy—domineering, prone to giving orders. The campaign argues that if we take away the stigma by banning the word, girls will take the risk to become more authoritative.
Despite Title IX, not much has changed for American girls in the classroom, according to their campaign statistics:
- · Children’s books are almost twice as likely to feature a male hero.
- · Girls are called on less in class and interrupted more.
- · Girls are twice as likely as boys to worry that taking on leadership roles will make them seem bossy.
- · Between elementary and high school, girls’ self-esteem drops 3.5 times more than boys’.
- · Only 13% of high school girls plan to pursue careers in STEM fields.
It’s hard to turn the tide but we need to look at the messages our children receive, even from us parents. I remember being called bossy myself, not by the other kids at school, but by my own mother. She was a closet feminist before the word existed, worked two jobs while raising me and identified with a major goal of feminism—equal opportunity for women. Yet she encouraged me to be liked, fit in and not be bossy or officious – meddlesome and giving unwanted advice.
If you’ve found yourself slipping into that same trap, linguistics scholar Deborah Tannen has a suggestion – let women of all ages know they can still be liked even when they exercise authority. This may seem like a simple task but even as young toddlers playing, girls learn to use language to maintain closeness while boys use it to negotiate status. Consequently, women are often ambivalent about being singled out as a leader with accomplishments.
Psychologists studying gender inequality in the workforce have found that these effects continue, making it difficult for women to challenge traditional male dominant roles. Drs. Susan Fiske and Peter Glick distinguish between the motivations for hostile sexism and benevolent sexism, but indicate that the results of the two are similar—holding women back from leadership roles. Women doubt themselves either when they are punished for attacking male status or are protected and treated with kid gloves.
But some are questioning whether just banning the word will actually help girls become more confident about taking charge. They stress that effective leaders use skills far beyond telling people what to do – listening, encouraging, building consensus, setting an example, inspiring excellence. With girls’ exceptional verbal and social abilities, they can develop these leadership talents with the help of female mentors.
So what is your take? Have you been called bossy or called anyone else bossy? Feel free to weigh in with your thoughts about the Ban Bossy campaign – we won’t call you names no matter what you say!