Banning “Bossy”

Published: March 20, 2014

In recent days, Sheryl Sandberg has landed herself in the headlines once again, but this time with an innovative campaign designed to encourage women to “ban bossy.” The recently launched website is designed to urge people to stop using the term “bossy” when it comes to labeling women and girls who are confident, assertive, and who demand recognition for their contributions both at work and at school. Born out of a partnership between Girl Scouts USA and, Sandberg and her co-founder Rachel Thomas state, “This is not just about a single word. The stereotypes behind the word “bossy” are deep rooted and discouraging. We expect boys to be assertive and confident, while we expect girls to be kind and nurturing. We encourage boys to lead and reward them when they do. When girls lead, however, we disapprove—and our language communicates that disapproval clearly.” The website has garnered significant public attention, particularly after Beyoncé and several well-known actresses, comedians, and politicians helped launch the campaign. Of course, this is not to say that Ban Bossy has gone without its share of criticism; however the spirit of the campaign seems to be one that encourages women and girls to broaden their definition of self beyond that of physical appearance and narrowly defined versions of femininity. It empowers women to share their innovative ideas, value their contributions, and step into leadership roles where they can truly make a difference.

Perhaps more importantly, campaigns like Ban Bossy encourage women and girls to be confident in their abilities and in themselves. Low self-esteem, constant social comparison to nearly unattainable physical beauty standards, and a pervasive desire to “fit in” can often leave women feeling insecure and ultimately at risk for disordered eating and weight/shape dissatisfaction. In fact, many researchers and feminists who study eating disorders have posited that the drive to conform to a societal standard of “femininity” is a chief contributor to eating disorder behaviors and body dissatisfaction. Bonnie Morris, one such feminist theorist, suggests that weight loss becomes a salient goal valued among peers (i.e., other women) in that it moves a woman closer to the thin ideal and thus helps her achieve a certain status in society. Theories like Morris’ may only tell us part of the story – but they tell us an important part. They highlight the importance of encouraging women to pursue other avenues of achievement and remind us that this pursuit can start early. Ban Bossy seeks to deliver an avenue for this type of encouragement by collecting empowering stories, providing a forum for discussion, starting a national conversation. The full impact of Sandberg’s newest brainchild is yet to be seen, but the hope is that it will inspire this and future generations to look beyond simple, reductionistic labels (or physical appearance) and to value the person underneath.

photo credit: iNkMan_ via Creative Commons