A campaign designed to support female leaders has stirred a controversy among the women it purports to help.
The “Ban Bossy” movement was started by Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg and Rachel Thomas, co-founders of LeanIn.Org, a nonprofit organization “committed to encouraging all women to achieve their ambitions” The Ban Bossy website received 1 million visits the day it launched, according to The Huffington Post. The crusade condemns treating boys and girls differently for the same behavior. “When a little boy asserts himself, he’s called a ‘leader.’ Yet when a little girl does the same, she risks being branded ‘bossy,’” the website reads.
Some of the country’s most prominent women—including first lady Michelle Obama, pop star Beyoncé, actresses Jane Lynch and Jennifer Garner, former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, and Girl Scouts of the USA CEO Anna Maria Chavez—are calling for a ban on the word “bossy” from describing women.
The Ban Bossy site offers advice for combating gender bias, saying that women should stop apologizing before they speak (“I’m not sure if this is right, but …”); parents should avoid wage-gap indoctrination at home by paying the same allowance for typical boy and girl chores (mowing vs. dishes); and managers should not place a “likeability penalty” on women (only promoting qualified women who have amiable dispositions).
But some prominent women are criticizing the campaign, saying that banning a word that could be replaced by a host of others is silly, not to mention bossy. Washington Post columnist Alexandra Petri noted that the people willing to pledge not to use the word are not the people standing in the way of women reaching their potential. Psychologist Peggy Drexler, author of Our Fathers, Ourselves, wrote for CNN that women should find motivation from the successes of other women and not focus on the times they have been victims.
“There is evidence that girls and women aren’t, in fact, being overlooked or discouraged into meekness,” Drexler said, “Girls are outperforming boys in schools. More women than men are graduating college and going on to earn as much, if not more, than their male partners. Fortune’s latest ranking of America’s 500 largest corporations includes more female CEOs than ever.”
Mollie Hemingway, senior editor at The Federalist, pointed out that banning words is un-American. “Let Putin ban words and thoughts,” she said. “We don’t do that.”