Ban "bossy," but don't stop there

Tuesday, March 11, 2014

I'm sorry to write about the Ban Bossy campaign two days in a row. But yesterday, after sharing my last post via social media I found myself essentially writing a second blog post in Facebook threads.  I figured I should get some of those pageviews and not give them all to Mark Zuckerberg.

Some people seem to have missed the point of the Ban Bossy campaign.

Firstly, #BanBossy, in my opinion, is not telling parents to stop correcting their daughters if they're being disrespectful or rude. 

Parents may look at this campaign and ask, "But what if my daughter is being bossy?" Then you need to do something about it. Nobody's saying let your kid be a jerk. 

Ironically, in her post The Problem with Banning Bossy, Ann Handley actually stated the point I'd like to make in support of #BanBossy: 

The campaign is really more about banning attitudes than banning the word, of course. In some people’s minds, “woman leader” (“strong woman”) often equals “bossy.” (Or worse.)

Handley said she discussed this campaign with her daughter Caroline and her response (paraphrased by Handley) was:  “But bossy girls aren’t leaders.” 

And Caroline is right. 

Let's look at the definitions Handley lays out in her post: 

Bossy (adjective): Fond of giving people orders; domineering. Synonyms: domineering, pushy, overbearing, imperious, high-handed, authoritation, dictatorial, controlling 

Lead·er·ship (noun): The action of leading a group of people or an organization. Synonyms: guidance, direction, control, management, supervision, superintendence 

But here's the problem. No, leader doesn't equal bossy, but society didn't seem to get that memo, at least when it comes to women and girls. 

If a girl is being bossy, if she is being "domineering," "pushy," or "overbearing" you should absolutely call her out on it and that behavior is absolutely not the makings of a good leader. 

But oftentimes girls offering constructive "guidance" or "direction" are called bossy too. And when those girls become women they're called "bossy," "aggressive," "intimidating" or even "a bitch." 

Secondly, I don't think Facebook chief operating officer and Lean In author Sheryl Sandberg, Girl Scouts USA CEO Anna Maria Ch├ívez, or any of the other women involved in this campaign are naive enough to think they will change the world simply by getting parents and teachers to stop calling girls bossy.

Ban bossy, but don't stop there. offers a wealth of information on how to encourage leadership in girls and even tips for girls themselves. Speak up in class, challenge yourself, ask for help, and don't do everybody's work -- are just a few tips the site offers for girls, tips I could have certainly used when I was growing up. As an educator I especially appreciate the tips for teachers on cultivating gender equity in the classroom. also gives information on great programs like Black Girls Code, which seeks to introduce girls in underrepresented communities to computer programming through workshops and after-school programs. The site also includes links to books and films with strong female characters. 

Lastly, I'm frustrated that we're wasting so much time arguing over semantics. You may be thinking, "I don't think 'bossy' is the word we should be focusing on." And you're right, but you're also missing the point. We shouldn't simply be focusing on "bossy" or any other single word. The goal of the #BanBossy campaign is not to simply ban a five letter word but to start a discussion about and spark action toward encouraging female leadership. Again, it's not about banning a word; it's about banning attitudes that discourage women and girls to speak their minds and strive for lofty goals.

#BanBossy is simply a clever way to get folks' attention about this important issue.  Does this mean #BanBossy is a marketing ploy? Of course, it's a marketing ploy! But, unfortunately, we live in a world where everything, even movements for social change, need a PR plan. I'm not happy about that, but it's the truth. And I'd rather get behind a marketing campaign with a greater cause, a cause that I essentially devote my life to, than a campaign for something ridiculous that I won't give a shit about in two months. 

So remember, you can ban bossy, but please don't stop there because that's not the point. Encourage the girls in your life to be good leaders, whether they're getting called bossy or not.  

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