The inherent fallacies and dangers of the “Ban Bossy” campaign

Image from Ban Bossy event - Courtesy
Image from Ban Bossy event - Courtesy

BETHESDA, Md., March 17, 2014 — Author, Facebook COO and Lean In co-founder Sheryl Sandberg along with The Girl Scouts of America launched the Ban Bossy campaign in recent weeks to encourage young girls to become leaders and for all of us to stop using the word “bossy” when addressing girls.

Unfortunately, the campaign sits upon false assumptions and empty data, which serves to obfuscate and distort the real reasons behind why kids call other kids bossy and why more girls fail to become leaders.

Fallacy #1: The campaign creates a self-serving definition of bossy and suggests that only girls are called bossy.

The opening text on the Ban Bossy website reads:

When a little boy asserts himself, he’s called a “leader.” Yet when a little girl does the same, she risks being branded “bossy.” Words like bossy send a message: don’t raise your hand or speak up. By middle school, girls are less interested in leading than boys—a trend that continues into adulthood.

Claiming that boys who act bossy are considered leaders among their peers is a blatant distortion of the truth used to manipulate people into supporting the campaign. It is an insult to those who have children and watch children interact, because boys are frequently called bossy, too.

Being assertive is not the same thing as being bossy. Raising your hand is not being bossy. Speaking up is not being bossy. Kids don’t scream, “Stop being bossy!” when a friend or classmate raises their hand or offers to assist. Kids scream, “Stop being bossy!” when a friend or classmate is being pushy, careless and arrogant.

Being bossy is when a girl or a boy tells another girl or boy what to do in such a way that discourages participation.

Being bossy is akin to being a bully. The Ban Bossy campaign falsely implies that the behavior resulting in a child, specifically a female child, being called bossy is leadership behavior.

Which leads directly to the campaign’s second fallacy.

Fallacy #2: The campaign implies bossy is synonymous with leadership.

Being bossy is negative behavior. Being a leader is positive behavior. The campaign fails to make that distinction.

Bossy is briefly defined as an inclination to domineer, to be dictatorial.

Leadership is briefly defined as an ability to guide or direct.

Bossy people are rude, arrogant and not respected. Leaders are thoughtful, confident and revered.

Certainly, there are individuals in so-called leadership positions in corporate America who are not leaders but bossy dictators. Being a dictator serves the individual not the group. It’s unfortunately rare to find true leaders in leadership roles. These individuals take full accountability for business failures but share the spotlight when the business succeeds. These are the non-bossy bosses we all wish we had.

Therefore, when we consider these denotative and applied definitions of bossy vs. leadership, we begin to understand more clearly why kids who act bossy are called bossy and not praised for being great leaders–they are not acting like leaders.

Bossy behavior is not the behavior of leaders, and the Ban Bossy campaign seems uninterested in seeking the answer to the most basic question: “Why do kids use the word ‘bossy’ in the first place?”

The answer is not, “Because boys want to oppress girls and keep them from growing up to be leaders.”

Sometimes girls and boys who have leadership qualities act bossy. Calling them out on their bossy, negative behavior should not be disallowed. When we call out an issue, it should open up an inclusive conversation about why the behavior occurs.

Ban Bossy shuts down the conversation before it has a chance to start.

Fallacy #3: The campaign is exclusive and designed just for girls.

When visiting the Ban Bossy website today, you’ll be bombarded with images of girls and girl-inspired content. There is not a single image or positive reference to boys on any of the pages. The main navigation tab “Leadership Tips” takes users to pages designated for girls, parents, teachers, managers and troop leaders. Nothing for boys.

That’s exclusive.

Leaders are not exclusive; leaders are inclusive. Therefore, the campaign’s main purpose of building leadership qualities in girls is, ironically, anti-leadership at its core and is itself…well…bossy.

The campaign’s online dissemination serves to alienate and increases disparities in communication, which further increases feelings of inequality, diminished self-worth and decreased trust between the members (girls) and the non-members (boys).

Isolating girls and boys further is a good idea? Pulling girls aside and encouraging them to “like” and “love” the stuff the creators of the Ban Bossy campaign “like” and “love” is building leadership skills?

To the more discerning among us, this type of activity is encouraging girls to become the complete opposite, to become followers of a doctrine that promises to set girls apart and on a pedestal.

Fallacy #4: There is no statistical data to support the argument that calling girls bossy is the root cause of why girls fail to become leaders.

Even the creator of the Ban Bossy campaign, Sandberg, who believes that calling girls bossy negatively affects a girl’s ability to lead, repeatedly asserts in interviews that she was not negatively affected as a child from being called bossy.

Sandberg states that she was simply lucky and fortunate to have a supportive family to help her transcend the potential damage that being called bossy by her peers and even by her teachers could have caused.

Yet for someone so unaffected, Sandberg, dramatically and with disdain in her voice, retells personal story after personal story of being called bossy.

“You shouldn’t be friends with Sheryl. She’s bossy,” Sandberg shares in an interview with Joanne Po of The Wall Street Journal Live about a time when a teacher took her friend aside to warn her about Sandberg.

Anyone who views the interview can see the astonishment in Sandberg’s eyes, suggesting that even after all of these years, Sandberg remains triggered by the thought of her teacher’s gull at calling her bossy. Regardless of her claim that her family protected her from the harmful side effects of being called bossy, Sandberg was affected. Unfortunately, she refuses to ask herself why she was perceived as bossy and chooses to self-righteously view herself as a successful leader, based solely on her acquired title despite her inability to acquire respect and reverence, and is convinced that she is somehow the exception and model by which all other girls should aspire. She claims to care about girls.

If Sandberg cared about girls and empowering girls, she would have leveraged her leadership position and created a social media/Facebook campaign that encourages boys and girls to talk among themselves about the word bossy, to learn what leadership means and looks like, and to help foster it in themselves and others. She would have put the power to discover the answers into the hands of the girls and boys interested in learning in the first place.

Instead, Sandberg projects and twists the definition of the word bossy to align with her negative and imposed connotations and abuses her power to successfully dupe, fool and manipulate organizations and celebrities into helping her promote a personal agenda disguised as public service.

In our quest to reach equality among the sexes/genders, society continues to fail, because we continue creating and accepting exclusive action plans that widen the gender gap. The Ban Bossy campaign is self-serving and exclusive and will not succeed, because trying to empower girls at the expense of emasculating boys is a setup for social failure.

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  • Well Done!

    • PaulaCarrasquillo

      Thank you, Gert!

  • flicker66

    I have had it with political correctness. I will continue to call a man or woman who deserve the title bossy. You can ban the word all you want to but those who exhibit the tendency to be “BOSSY” will not change so in my opinion it is perfectly acceptable to use the word.

    • PaulaCarrasquillo

      Bossy is pretty tame considering the other words we could use to describe a person who is bossy. 🙂

  • Carolyn

    There is an elephant in the room no one is talking about.
    Think of how a woman is physically built. She has a soft voice, cushy and smaller body and gentleness. Men are larger with deep voice and muscles. Doesn’t that tell us that nature designed women for mothering and nuturing? and men for aggressive and dominering roles in society?
    Whenever we attempt to take anything out of its natural place, disorder happens.