March 13, 2014, by Bahar Shadpour, 5 Comments

ban BossyYou might have heard about a new campaign called Ban Bossy. It’s gained momentum in the past few days and has the support of celebrities like Beyonce, Victoria Beckham and Jennifer Garner.

It has also gained non-celebrity supporters like that of First Lady Michelle Obama, the former U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and the New York Times columnist Nicholas Kristof.



So what is Ban Bossy campaign anyway?

It was launched by Facebook’s COO Sheryl Sandberg’s non-profit called Lean In and Girl Scouts USA. The campaign is to change social attitudes about traits that are considered to be “masculine” and those considered “feminine”. You know, like the word bossy which is often used to describe women with leadership traits while men with the same traits are labeled as a boss. Calling a woman bossy discourages her to speak up, to voice her opinion, and to be confident in her ability to lead. Remember the Pantene shampoo ad last year?

The bossy impact is most troublesome for girls because it discourages girls to show their leadership qualities and disinterests them to become leaders.

As the CEO of Girls Scouts tweets:

Because when girls at a young age are socialized to believe that their ‘leadership’ traits are ‘bad’ they lose confidence in themselves.

The discussion on Twitter has taken-off. Many people are pledging to #banbossy.

But the discussion isn’t all positive. Many people find the campaign to be a celebrity PR stunt, a form of slacktivism that hardly changes the reality while many just dismiss the idea all together. Can “banning” the use of a word really make a difference or is it better to raise awareness about negative uses of a word and to reclaim it?

Ann Handley asks the important question, “does banning a word change the data”?

A writer and mother makes a good point,

Telegraph’s article written by @radhikasanghani encourages Beyonce to:

While some have gone as far as pushing a new hashtag, #BeBossy

Then there are those that just don’t get it!

Discussions on both ends are interesting. Let’s see how far this campaign can go in really changing public attitudes towards the use of language and labelling women and girls in negative ways.

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The Great Debate

I appreciate how this article presents divisions within the debate without taking a stance on them (and can only assume Jennifer's comment that "what [she's] just read completely ignores the power of suggestion embodied in campaigns like this" refers to the tweets, not Shadpour's article).

As for the debate itself, it's definitely worth considering the implications of our language. I've always said I like bossy women, when really my intent was far from negative. Banning a word outright doesn’t address the intentions of those using it to denigrate others, but as Jennifer suggests it can raise awareness among people such as myself who have been using it blindly and inadvertently perpetuating the biases it carries.

Perhaps the campaign was designed to be polarizing, to provoke dialogue and debate so that people can write articles like this one that cover multiple sides of the issue :)

Provoke dialogue

Thank you for your comment Philip. I'm glad you enjoyed reading the two sides of the debate and for sharing your own personal experience with the use of the word bossy. I think this campaign has been powerful in its ability to provoke dialogue, which is how awareness is raised.

Words are powerful

While I agree that the act of banning a word in and of itself is not going to do much toward changing behaviour, what I've just read completely ignores the power of suggestion embodied in campaigns like this.

It is reductionist to suggest that this campaign is solely concerned with banning of a word. It is a consciousness-raising exercise which will bear other fruit in the form of offshoots. That is it's value.

Let's not be quite so literal. Let's support an endeavour which has material merit and stop parsing everything half to death.

Words are indeed powerful

Thanks for your comment Jennifer. I completely agree that words are powerful and using a word like 'bossy' to describe women with leadership traits has negative consequences. This post was meant to be unbiased and to simply showcase the discussion around #banbossy, which is not a movement to literally ban the word but to question it's use and raise awareness.

Thank you

Thank you very much

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