The Girl Scouts and Sheryl Sandberg, a Facebook executive and author of the best-selling book “Lean In,” recently collaborated on a campaign designed to encourage girls to become leaders. The “Ban Bossy” campaign harnessed the star power of Beyoncé, the political punch of Michelle Obama and the emerging sympathetic face of motherhood, Jennifer Garner. Its website uses videos and predesigned graphics with quotes from these high-powered women. The campaign also offers merchandise encouraging ideas to help build girls’ self-esteem. The initiative’s goal is to have all girls fight to “Ban Bossy,” which organizers have declared the new “B-word.”
The statistics are jaw-dropping but unsurprising to any parent of a preteen or teen girl. Between elementary school and high school, girls’ self-esteem drops 3.5 times more than boys’. Girls are called on less often in class then boys and are interrupted more, all according to the Ban Bossy website.
The Ban Bossy premise is that when a young boy is assertive (read: a leader) he is thought of in a positive way, but when a little girl is assertive, she is labeled “bossy,” sparking a spiral of self-doubt and fear.
Though I wholeheartedly support Sandberg’s other “lean in” efforts – especially a new partnership with Getty Images that supplies realistic photos of women in the workplace – I think she and the Girl Scouts are off base with this campaign.
The word “bossy” isn't the problem. I think it’s a branding thing for them: “BAN BOSSY!” Everyone likes good alliteration, right? Through personal experiences, the founders of this campaign have had negative experiences with it, but I find no offense with the word.
In fact, I have embraced it over the years. I have a T-shirt that has the word splashed across it. Ironically, to me, the word is empowering, not demeaning, stifling or an insult. Having said all that, I'm glad the discussion is happening! If it promotes conversations about young girls and their place as leaders, I’m in! Let’s talk about it! (I’m bossy like that).
Where I think this well-intentioned campaign goes wrong is its negative focus on the hapless word “bossy.” The Ban Bossy campaign’s main logo is the word bossy with a red strike through it. Girls with stern looks holding up signs with the “anti-bossy” image come across as – ironically – well … bossy. There is just simply nothing inspiring about it. It gives too much power to a word.
No one from Lean In or the Girls Scouts consulted me before they launched the campaign (the very nerve!), but if they had, I would have offered up some more positive monikers. I personally lean toward “Like a Boss” or “Your future employer. Be nice.” I would much rather have young girls surrounded by positive words, images and advice.
Putting aside the issue I have with banning a word that I kinda like, I love the campaign’s goal: to encourage girls to be more confident and comfortable in leadership roles.
I urge you to take a look at the Ban Bossy website at banbossy.com. The cruel twist of the campaign’s name and focus is that the site provides an enormous amount of good, positive stuff! There are some great articles for parents of young girls, and commentary from leaders on how to encourage girls to lead and be brave. Some of the material talks to girls directly about how being called bossy shouldn’t hinder or slow them down. But in the end, I want to teach my 12-year-old daughter that it doesn’t matter what label you are given by others, or what name you are called. It’s how you answer that is important.