“Ban Bossy” & “Mean Girls”-Changing the Way We Talk To and About Women

This week Sheryl Sandberg, Facebook COO and author of best-selling book, Lean In, with Anna Maria Chávez, CEO of Girl Scouts of the USA, made news when they launched their “Ban Bossy” campaign. Together, the women authored a Saturday Essay in the Wall Street Journal discussing their personal experiences becoming leaders and the impact the word “bossy” had on their growth. Their argument centers on the fact that the “b-word” (bossy) is only used to describe women and carries a negative connotation. As they put it, “Whether it is said directly or implied, girls get the message: Don’t be bossy. Don’t raise your hand too much. Keep your voice down. Don’t lead.1 With the support of actors, singers, and politicians, Chávez and Sandberg have created a media storm for #BanBossy.

However, not all women have been so quick to agree on banning the word “bossy.” Peggy Drexler, author of Our Fathers, Ourselves: Daughters, Fathers, and the Changing American Family and Raising Boys Without Men and assistant professor of psychology at Weill Cornell Medical College of Cornell University, argues instead that “the lesson to children, and to the parents and teachers who raise and nurture them, should be that there is pride in being opinionated, motivated and motivating—that is, bossy.”2 Her concern is that banning the word sends the wrong message—that it will, in fact, do the opposite of what Sandberg and Chávez want, and imply that being bossy is a bad thing. Similarly, in an op-ed for Forbes, Micheline Maynard fires back saying, “I’ve got news for [Sheryl]: there are far worse things for women than being called bossy. And, I don’t think banning bossy does much to help young girls, either.”3 Both of these women believe that rather than banning the word, we should change the behavior.

This is true and I don’t think that Sandberg or Chávez would disagree with this. Their view is that banning the word is the first step to this solution. But in today’s media and buzzword-filled world, you need a hook—something that people will remember and something that gets them motivated to act. #BanBossy is less about removing the word and more about changing how it’s used and what it means. It’s also about encouraging girls to lead rather than discouraging traits typically labeled as “bossy.” If the word grew to have a more positive connotation, I doubt that Chávez or Sandberg would be opposed to using it. The women even admit that it’s not just about removing the word, it’s about taking that first step towards creating awareness about a very serious problem: the active discouragement of girls from leadership roles.

Much of the campaign is also focused on how girls see themselves and speak to each other. As Tina Fey reminded her students in the movie Mean Girls, “you all have got to stop calling each other sluts and whores. It just makes it ok for guys to call you sluts and whores.” Tina sums it up perfectly. The more we use and accept a word with a negative connotation, whether it started out that way or not, the more we are condoning the meaning behind it.


What the critics of Ban Bossy fail to realize is that we can’t just stand idly by and, as Maynard says, tell girls “don’t take it personally.” If this was a singular event of name calling, sure, that might work. But in a lot of ways, this is a nationwide epidemic—it’s happening everyday. Yes, let’s work towards banning the word bossy, but more importantly let’s encourage girls (and women) to go after their dreams and become leaders, whether it’s in their homes or in the workplace.


 1Chávez, A. & Sandberg, S. (2014). Sheryl Sandberg and Anna Maria Chávez on ‘Bossy,’ the Other B-word. The Wall Street Journal. Retrieved from http://online.wsj.com/news/articles/SB10001424052702304360704579419150649284412

2Drexler, P. (2014). Sheryl Sandberg wrong on ‘bossy’ ban. CNN. Retrieved from http://www.cnn.com/2014/03/11/opinion/drexler-sandberg-bossy/index.html

 3Maynard, Micheline. (2014). Dear Sheryl Sandberg: There Are Far Worse Things Than Being Called Bossy” Forbes. Retrieved from http://www.forbes.com/sites/michelinemaynard/2014/03/10/dear-sheryl-sandberg-there-are-far-worse-things-than-being-called-bossy/

Feature image via http://stream.goodwin.drexel.edu/womenincoaching/


  1. J.G McKnight on March 14, 2014 at 7:30 pm


    I have never heard a man called bossy. It’s only used to put down a
    woman by other women. We are our own
    Worst enemy. What do I know I’ve only been a woman for 75 years!


  2. […]   This article from T4A.org discusses the campaign and the criticisms against it. Ultimately, the author argues that “#BanBossy is less about removing the word and more about changing how it’s used and what it means. It’s also about encouraging girls to lead rather than discouraging traits typically labeled as ‘bossy’.” […]