Assertive girls unite: Facebook’s Sheryl Sandberg’s new campaign to ban “bossy”

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)


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  • InconvenientTruthsYouHate

    The problem with this — and all attempts to “ban” (cleanse, or newspeak-ize) certain words is this: Just because the Eskimos decided they needed more words to describe the different kinds of snow and ice they encounter, does not mean they got rid of “snow” and “ice”. The original words still have meaning.

    Where this is relevant here, for those who don’t get it yet, there are surely good leaders and assertive girls for whom the term “assertive” is a good fit and well-deserved. BUT, there will always also be some “bossy” ones for whom we will no longer have an adjective if we newspeak it out of existence.

    So lobby and rally all you want to call keep assertive as a positive adjective, but do not try to banish the negative adjectives, as they still have value in a rich language.

  • Steve Hammill

    >>>I have said, “You are not the boss of the dog,” “You are not the boss of your brother” and so on…

    You just described a bossy little girl or boy to a “T.”

    Nowhere in my dictionary is the word “bossy” identified as a feminine descriptor.

    These sorts of things prove once again that, “The trouble with people today is that they are educated beyond their intelligence.” -Thank you Reverend Otto DuWright

    • Mel

      Next their going to ban the word misogynist because it sounds too much like massage and we know how men feel about that.

  • DFM

    Well…now she’s just being ‘bossy’.

  • sociopathic

    Whew, now don’t we feel better now that someone is looking out for us?

  • Albert Bourgess

    all that cash and this is what she spends her time ‘fighting’ for? can we say useless or would that be only considered offensive for the female gender? pfft!

  • Lorraine Freeman

    Men often are very bad leaders. In fact THEY need to learn better skills. I hope we are not encouraging women to be more like men. That is a step down. Gentleness and wisdom are actually assets.

  • Mel

    I’m sorry, but any woman who wants to ban the word bossy is guilty of being bossy.

  • Alex Kmal

    And care for women who support the ban as bossy sprung announced more open and more attention to women who are known by the majority.