Sheryl Sandberg has long wanted to ban words like “bossy” when referring to young girls.. And now she’s got a host of prominent women behind her to help sell the message.
The #banbossy public service campaign, a collaboration between the Facebook COO Sandberg, her Lean In organisation and Girls Scout USA, has recruited a number of famous faces, including Beyonce, Victoria Beckham, Jane Lynch and Jennifer Garner, to encourage people to ban the word “bossy” when referring to young women.
The new campaign comes one year after the release of Sandberg’s Lean In, in which she encourages women to raise their hands at work, demand recognition for their achievements and help close the gender pay gap. Banning the word bossy is one more step in Sandberg’s quest to end unequal treatment of women in the workplace, starting with the stereotypes applied to girls at a young age.
The word “bossy” carries a stigma, particularly when attached to young girls, according to Sandberg, and can keep ambitious women from taking the next step in their careers. She told the Wall Street Journal that her ‘bossy’ nature was referred to as a negative trait while she was in school.
“When I was in junior high and running for class vice president, one of my teachers pulled my best friend aside to warn her not to follow my example: ‘Nobody likes a bossy girl,’ the teacher warned.”
Sandberg believes the label contributes to create a mind-set where girls don’t actively take on leadership roles. According to banbossy.com, between primary school and secondary school, girls’ self-esteem drops 3.5 times more than boys’ and that by the age of 12 girls are much less interested in leading. “By middle school girls are less interested in leadership than boys and that’s because they’re worried about being labelled bossy,” Sandberg says.
“We too were called bossy as girls. Decades later, the word still stings, and we remember the sentiments it evoked: Keep your voice down. Don’t raise your hand. Don’t take the lead. If you do, people won’t like you,” Sandberg and co-founder Rachel Thomas write in a post on LinkedIn.
Along with Sandberg, high-profile women including Garner, Beyonce and former US secretary of state, Condoleezza Rice, have filmed a video message, released earlier this week, that encourages people to join the #banbossy campaign. “I’m not bossy, I’m the boss,” says Beyonce.
Within days of the #banbossy launch more than 100,000 people have already signed a pledge to stop using the word. As with all viral campaigns, however, there have been a number of vocal detractors.
It has been labelled ‘Stupidest campaign ever’ across social media, while Peggy Drexler writes in an op-ed for CNN that instead of banning the word bossy, women need to reclaim the positive nature of “bossiness“.
So hurtful, Tina Fey. So hurtful. pic.twitter.com/xY9vSzWQ8K
— T. Becket Adams (@BecketAdams) March 10, 2014
“By banning the word ‘bossy’ it risks sending the message that there’s something wrong with the characteristics associated with the word,” she writes.
Jessica Roy, in an op-ed for TIME says she, “doesn’t give a $*%& if you call me bossy.” Through this campaign, she believes Sandberg is using energy, money and influence to focus on “insignificant” issues, when important issues like lack of affordable childcare, sexual assault and domestic abuse as well as the lack of access to education worldwide would benefit more from the attention and money that Sandberg is providing for this campaign.
“It says a lot about Sandberg’s brand of feminism that this campaign focuses on policing language rather than bringing attention to important issues that have real impact on women and girls”, Roy writes.
What do you think about banning the word bossy? Will you join the #banbossy campaign?