Assertive girls unite: Facebook's Sheryl Sandberg's new campaign to ban

Ban “bossy.”

That’s the simple message of the latest campaign from Sheryl Sandberg’s LeanIn.Org, in partnership with the Girl Scouts of the USA, long an advocate of girl empowerment. Together they propose changing the words used to describe girls that they say work to undermine their confidence and erode their aspirations to be leaders.

Number one on their hit list: The adjective “bossy.”

In an op-ed in the Wall Street Journal with interesting detail about the origins and use of “bossy,” Sandberg and Anna Marie Chavez, chief executive of the Girl Scouts, wrote:

Behind the negative connotations lie deep-rooted stereotypes about gender. Boys are expected to be assertive, confident and opinionated, while girls should be kind, nurturing and compassionate. When a little boy takes charge in class or on the playground, nobody is surprised or offended. We expect him to lead. But when a little girl does the same, she is often criticized and disliked.

Their new website,, includes tips for parents, teachers and others. And it offers statistics that are distressing, such as by “middle school, girls are 25 percent less likely than boys to say they like taking the lead.”

Some might find the campaign a little, well, um, assertive. Or maybe a tad earnest. As ABC News asks, “Can banning one school-yard word really change the world?”

And what about some of us raising daughters caught in the eternal power struggle of who is the boss? While I would never tell my daughter she was being “bossy,” I have said, “You are not the boss of the dog,” “You are not the boss of your brother” and so on.

In an interview at Facebook’s headquarters, Sandberg, the company’s chief operating officer, told ABC she wasn’t advocating mean-girl culture, bullying or rudeness:

Leadership is not bullying and leadership is not aggression. Leadership is the expectation that you can use your voice for good. That you can make the world a better place.

Photo: Sheryl Sandberg, Facebook chief operating officer and “Lean In” author, in November 2013. (Nhat V. Meyer/Bay Area News Group)

Michelle Quinn Michelle Quinn (212 Posts)

Michelle Quinn is a Business Columnist at the San Jose Mercury News. Prior to her current role, she was the Silicon Valley correspondent at Politico covering tech policy and politics. She has also covered the tech industry at the Los Angeles Times and the San Francisco Chronicle. She was a blogger for the New York Times.