By ALICE LIANG ’16
Co-Editor in Chief
Sheryl Sandberg of “Lean In” fame partnered with the Girl Scouts this month to create the “Ban Bossy” campaign, a movement to erase “bossy” from the vocabulary that people use to describe women and girls who are assertive. Several famous women, including Jane Lynch, Condoleezza Rice and Jennifer Garner, have backed this campaign in a public service video that ends with Beyoncé stating, “I’m not bossy; I’m a boss.” Yet, as much as I love Beyoncé, the “Ban Bossy” initiative fails to challenge the deeper issues that women face today.
Sandberg’s campaign brings up good points about how girls’ confidence is affected in adolescence. For instance, teachers tend to call on girls less in class, which may discourage girls from expressing their opinions.
Even in higher education, women sometimes preface their statements in class with some sort of apology. When a girl does assert herself, she is often called “bossy,” which according to the campaign can be a deterrent to her future ability to lead.
Despite the campaign’s good intentions, the systemic sexism that has contributed to this misogyny goes beyond the word “bossy.” Words do have the power to change culture, but language policing in terms of “banning bossy” only addresses a surface-level problem. It gives agency to those who use “bossy” to degrade females rather than to girls and women themselves.
There are dozens of other insulting words girls and women have been called, and all of these trace back to deeper problems that also differ for women of color and intersections of other identities.
Instead of calling girls “bossy,” Sandberg suggested in an interview that people should tell girls they have “executive leadership skills.” That new phrase means little to me and asserts that all girls should be aspiring toward executive boardrooms as Sandberg has.
The campaign implies that as soon as girls are able to have confidence, they will be able to ascend to the top of corporate America. But even confident girls and women face discrimination in daily life and in the workplace. Additionally, children of any gender who are aggressive to the point of violence shouldn’t be told they have “executive leadership skills.” They should be taught compassion. We should encourage children to have dreams beyond corporate leadership, such as dreams to understand and change systems that further sexism.
The “Ban Bossy” campaign has created conversations around how girls are treated and affected by societal standards, and these are valid and important conversations to have. But women around the United States face problems such as injustice in wages, lack of access to contraception, sexual assault and improper prison systems.
There are tangible solutions that wealthy women such as Sandberg, Rice and Beyoncé could be promoting with their power in mainstream culture. As for the word “bossy” itself, women should take ownership of it. We can redefine it if we want to. But I’ll also be bossy if I want to be.