Sheryl Sandberg’s campaign to ban the word bossy is a somewhat flawed attempt to undermine a real sexist double standard.
American business executive and feminist Sheryl Sandberg has teamed up with Girls Scouts of the USA to launch a public service campaign called “Ban Bossy”. The campaign hopes to encourage people to think twice about how labelling young girls as “bossy” discourages them from seeking out leadership positions. The campaign ads feature celebrities like Beyoncé and Condoleezza Rice.
Those who claim this is a campaign for want of an actual problem are incorrect. From a young age, girls are taught to be less forward and opinionated than their male counterparts. Later in life, women who are assertive in leadership roles are more likely to be vilified as, unlike men, their behaviour is connected to their gender and they earn labels like “bitch”.
While Sandberg has correctly identified a problem, her solution leaves much to be desired. Instead of telling people to eliminate certain words from their vocabulary, a more forward-thinking campaign would have called for the reclamation of labels like “bossy” or, alternatively, for women to ignore these labels entirely.
However, it’s clear why Sandberg and her co-campaigners took the approach they did. Liberal feminists and mainstream organizations like the Girl Scouts are unlikely to get behind a campaign to reclaim the use of a label like “bossy”, nor would they be likely to highlight non-politically correct labels like “bitch”.
While their approach is understandable, those behind the “Ban Bossy” campaign have embarked on a largely fruitless endeavour. Calling for the discontinuation of one label is unlikely to get at underlying issues. At best, the campaign will serve as a starting point for conversations about gender.
On her hit single “Bossy”, Kelis rapped “I’m Bossy, I’m the bitch you love to hate”. Sandberg could stand to learn from Kelis’ attitude. Gender-based stereotypes should be dealt with forthrightly, not with an attempt to ban words.
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