Sheryl Sandberg wants to ban the word bossy. Sandberg — and the celebrities jumping on board her campaign — want the word removed from the way we talk about girls. While her argument has merit, the time and effort to ban a single word are masking more serious problems about the way we differentiate between boys, girls and leadership behavior.
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The #BanBossy movement

Sheryl Sandberg, Condoleezza Rice and Girl Scouts CEO Anna Maria Chávez want us to stop using the word bossy. The trio — a power trifecta by anyone's standards — believes girls with leadership attributes are pigeon-holed into a "bossy" corner early in life, causing them to hide and minimize those qualities. Boys, however, don't get called bossy. The same qualities in boys are generally called aggressive or strong-willed, and those labels don't hurt boys' self-images the way girls are affected by the bossy label.

What the Ban Bossy movement gets right

Spending time on the Ban Bossy website gives credence to the movement. There are leadership tips for girls and the adults around them, images with powerful quotes about helping girls succeed, powerhouse partners and links to articles about girls making a difference all over the world — skater girls in Afghanistan are fabulous in any context. Fostering leadership qualities in girls and helping them find ways to make a difference in their own lives and in their communities is a noble, important and crucial job, especially because of the documented facts about girls and the "confidence gap."

Banning bossy might just be a Band-Aid

The problem with Ban Bossy isn't the overreaching goal of the campaign — no one can argue against closing the confidence gap between girls and boys. Girls need to know their leadership abilities are as valued as the abilities of the boys sitting next to them in class. Studies that show how early girls begin to lose confidence in themselves should tell us there's a serious problem about the way girls perceive their own abilities.

The implications behind the word are truly the problem: Bossy becomes a negative term for girls because the ways 'bossy' is used toward them says their leadership isn't wanted and their directives aren't valued.

Striking "bossy" from our vernacular doesn't change the tone with which people use it — or the meaning behind that tone. The implications behind the word are truly the problem: Bossy becomes a negative term for girls because the ways "bossy" is used toward them says their leadership isn't wanted and their directives aren't valued. Instead of banning bossy, there needs to be a serious conversation about why the word is used for girls and not for boys. Until we figure out how to change that mental double standard, there will always be other words that will come to mean the same thing to our girls.

Empower girls by focusing on the positive

If we only worry about the word and not the power that lies beneath it, in 10 years we'll be talking about another word that's keeping our girls from feeling like leaders. We need to give them tools to face any word thrown in their face, because until the leadership discrepancy between men and women is equalized, strong women will always face language that belittles their achievements. Ban Bossy focuses its efforts on one small aspect of the problem and by drawing attention to the word, it gains even more negative power. Complaints are already arising about money and energy going toward a ban on a word. With all of the positive, affirming and truly helpful content available on the Ban Bossy site, it's a shame to see the campaign focus on a word purported to drag down our future female leaders.

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