Alliterative Memes Won’t Ban Bossy

When I first saw #banbossy, I dismissed it as a marketing ploy for Sheryl Sandberg’s Lean-In empire-in-the-making. The participation of the Girl Scouts surprised me only a bit, because I can see where such an organization would want to partner with the likes of Sheryl and her campaign. On the surface, it makes sense.

But the sense stops there, and as I saw and heard others considering it more seriously, I began to give it more thought. I’m the parent of a school-age daughter (and son), and through them and my own experiences as a child, I’ve had a decent amount of exposure to the term bossy as applied to young girls.

Sheryl may be a talented corporate executive, but when it comes to something like this, she’s misguided. As stated on the Girl Scout website, Ban Bossy is a “campaign that helps girls flex their leadership muscles.” When I clicked through to the materials the campaign offers, I found content that is on target. It’s unfortunate that they chose such a term to package it.

Bossy is a real word, and just because a person has the resources and wherewithal to organize an entire campaign to ban a word, it still exists. And it still has a place in childhood.

One of the most difficult challenges of being a parent today is facing the criticism that we are too soft on our kids. We don’t want them to suffer failure. We don’t want them to be labeled. We don’t want any other adults to say anything disparaging about them.

I once sat in a meeting with a teacher who told me that she didn’t use the word “bully” in her class. Why? One of her students was a girl who was bullying multiple children in the classroom, and she was “sensitive” about that word. I suppose we could have used the term “bossy” to describe her behavior — leveraging alliances, pitting girls against each other, hitting, campaigning to have certain girls excluded at various different times to get what she wanted. But according to the Ban Bossy campaign, that wouldn’t be appropriate either.

The thing is, there is a gulf between bossy behavior and assertive behavior, and most of us get that. Banning the term bossy really should be banning the idea that girls don’t have something valuable to contribute. But if Sheryl had visited a classroom lately and really paid attention, she’d find that many are set up to support the needs of girls more than boys.

All of this ties back to Sheryl’s Lean In campaign that promotes women achieving their goals and not being held back in their ambitions. I think there are more impactful ways than banning bossy to make that happen.

How about #baninadequatematernityleaves? Or #banthe60hourworkweek? How about doing something about the concentration of wealth to a small percentage or the Walmartization of our economy? These things may not affect Sheryl personally, but they are realities, and frequently barriers, for many women in this country who would be more than happy to pursue their dreams.

Perhaps she could support the things that are disappearing from schools that help build confidence in kids, such as art and music programs. Maybe she could use her influence to convince the entertainment industry to present better role models and more quality shows for tweens (because I can tell you that shows like “Jessie” and “Dog with a Blog” are working against the likes of Ban Bossy). Here’s an idea — create a campaign that addresses the rise in teen bullying and intimidation on social media, because if there’s anything that will hold a girl back from sharing her ideas, it’s ridicule from her peers.

If Sheryl Sandberg and the folks at Lean In are serious about making a difference for future women leaders, it’s time to ban alliterative memes that gloss over the real issues. The problems women face in leadership deserve more than just catchy phrases.