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Ban Bossy: The bossy campaign that wants to ban the b word

Sometimes getting attention means you gotta get bossy. And that's exactly what LeanIn.org and the Girl Scouts of America have done with their arguably satirical campaign, Ban Bossy. The non-profit organization, Lean In, was founded by FaceBook COO, Sheryl Sandberg, as an initiative to empower women and encourage young girls into leadership positions. Evidently, usage of the word bossy, according to social scientists and anecdotal testimonies, has disenfranchised girls at a young age. By telling assertive girls that they are bossy, the passion of wanting to become a leader diminishes. Bossy, it turns out, when used to tamp down a girl's despotic personality, is a motivation killer. Bossy is no longer just a euphemism for being imperious; it connotes being pushy, stubborn, and arrogant. Actress Jane Lynch says that, "I think the word bossy is just a squasher." One might be amused by the bossy manner in which she states this sentiment in the campaign's PSA. Actress Jennifer Garner, meanwhile, comes off much more accessible, not so bossy, when she declares that "Being labeled something matters." It's hard to argue with that logic.

To further involve the audience, the PSA pulls from across the entertainment spectrum and political divide to include an impressive roster of luminaries, from NASCAR champion, Jimmie Johnson, to Beyoncé, from former Secretary of State, Condoleezza Rice, to the CEO of the Girl Scouts of the USA, Anna Maria Chávez.

As the PSA progresses, we learn that by middle school, boys are more interested in leadership than girls. Why is that? Is it because girls really worry about being called bossy? Or is it that girls, by their very nature, are bossy and just don't like being called out for it? Seems that a bossy personality would not be so much worried as be annoyed that the term is being used. Indeed, bossy is a snippy word. The user of the word typically delivers those two loaded syllables in a curt manner. Bossy does carry with it a sense of wanting to shut someone down, to stifle the assertive nature of the person being labeled. It's unlikely that when a girl is called bossy, it's not coming as a positive, declarative moment, like, "Hey, you're bossy! Excellent. The world's been waiting for more assertive women to step up and take leadership roles." Bossy denotes an authoritarian attitude. No getting around that. So what we want are leaders who aren't bossy. Leaders who know how to motivate people.

Indeed, there's plenty of evidence that the world would be a much better place if more women were leaders -- in politics, business, and at home. Turns out, according to Arne Duncan, the U.S. Secretary of Education, that what we need to do is to let girls know it's okay to be ambitious. Girls, don't let those bullies drain your enthusiasm because of the word bossy. Go ahead, get all highfalutin and huffy -- we got your back; we've just banned the use of the word bossy. Please, continue on your tyrannical tirade.

Frankly, I give a lot more credit to girls. I don't think they're so sensitive and breakable by being called bossy. To suggest that infers that girls aren't innately very strong, are overly-emotional creatures, and can be crushed by a word. That's why I think the Ban Bossy campaign is pure hyperbole. It's designed to be over-the-top simply to draw attention to itself, to get the conversation into the Zeitgeist, and to recruit girls to be more assertive -- so that by middle school, there will be an equal amount of boys and girls wanting to be hall monitor -- eventually, class president -- and then, president of the United States. As Condoleezza Rice remarks in the PSA, "There are no limits." And she knows from experience. Another pearl of wisdom comes from Diane von Fürstenberg's fashionable message to girls: "Dare to be you."

Is it possible, though, that there's room for this little but powerful word in our daily patter? What if, regardless of gender, a person is overbearing and abrasive in trying to get you to do something? Should we not have a tool at our disposal to shut down such arrogance? A real leader knows how to get people motivated and be responsive without being -- uh, what's the word? Bossy? Yes, that's a good one. It rings out loud and true and crushes the bejeebers out of the supercilious soul who's trying to bossily boss people about. Effective bosses aren't bossy. Telling a boss that he or she is bossy has its merit: it sends a clear message to the boss that the tactics being used to get things done aren't motivating. The boss can then try a different strategy. Something less...well, bossy.

Clearly it is not the intention of the campaign to literally ban the word bossy. The PSA cleverly and effectively gets the dialogue going. Beyoncé's assertion at the end of the spot is revealing: "I'm not bossy. I'm the boss." There's a confidence to that turn of phrase, a nuance that neuters the word bossy. The intent of the campaign is noble: Encourage girls to lead. Be strong. Be ambitious. But maybe not so powerful that they have the power to ban words. Because some words, like bossy, have their time and place. Imagine a world of presumptuous, overbearing girls in leadership positions who grow up and don't know any better because no one told them they were being bossy. Let's be honest: that kind of world is reserved for us men.

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