A number of successful women, including Beyoncé Knowles, have joined Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg in a campaign to ban the word ‘bossy’ to describe girls and women. At issue is the fact that many girls and young women do not take leadership roles for fear of the brand.
The Ban Bossy public service campaign is striving to eradicate the label as well as encourage young women to become leaders. The high-profile crowd joining Sheryl Sandberg’s effort includes singer Beyoncé, actress Jennifer Garner, designer and singer Victoria Beckham, former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and Christiane Amanpour, one of CNN’s top foreign correspondents. Others lending efforts to the campaign include First Lady Michelle Obama, US Secretary of Education Arne Duncan, actress Jane Lynch and designer Diane von Furstenberg and Girl Scouts USA CEO Anna Maria Chávez.
The campaign kicked off one year after Sandberg published her best seller, Lean In, a manual encouraging women to speak up more in the workplace. In the book, she described her own experiences with being labeled as bossy in school and growing up being encouraged to pipe down. The effort to reach girls, their parents and their teachers is being supported by Sandberg’s nonprofit organization, LeanIn.Org, which she founded to empower women to achieve their ambitions, and the Girl Scouts of America, which has been trying to encourage girls to aspire to greater things for decades.
Sandberg has campaigned against the use of “bossy” to describe assertive young girls. The word has a pejorative connotation towards women (men are rarely called bossy). In a TED talk last year, Sandburg pointed out that many cultures still portray men as the superior sex. She pointed out that men are encouraged to be strong and speak up, but women who do are branded as bossy. She admitted that has happened to females at Facebook, but vowed that it will not in the future.
Studies have shown that the bossy label creates a mind-set by middle school that lead girls to avoid leadership roles, speak up less in class and have lower self-esteem than boys. Each of the influential women in the public service campaign admits that they have been labeled negatively in their careers. Sheryl Sandberg may be fronting the campaign to ban bossy, but one effective campaign ad featuring Beyoncé ends with her declaring, “I’m not bossy; I’m the boss.”
Part of the Ban Bossy campaign includes tips for girls, parents and teachers on encouraging young women. For example, the material tells schoolgirls to stop ending statements that sound like a question when responding in class.
The campaign also partners with Common Sense Media, a nonprofit that is heavily focused on the disparity of positive female role models in television, movies and books. The media can help establish strong female characters for adolescents who are not all princesses, gossipy schoolgirls, vampires or bossy. For example, even in the Harry Potter series, Hermione grew into a strong female character but referred to as bossy and a know-it-all. The organization recommends books and movies such as The Hunger Games, The Book Thief, and The Secret Garden with strong female leads.
It remains to be seen how effective Sheryl Sandberg’s campaign to ban ‘bossy’ will be and whether the A-listers she recruited, like Beyoncé, Garner and Rice, will continue to play a role. The important thing she has done is raising more awareness of the issue.
By Dyanne Weiss
Common Sense Media