Random Scribbles: Banning bossy bounces like a bad bomb

[Random Scribbles are my occasional posts of half-formed thoughts, half-baked ideas, and off-the-cuff observations.]

Sheryl Sandberg is at it again. Unless you’ve been living off-world for the last month, you likely may have heard about her new “Ban Bossy” campaign. The gist is this: in order to encourage girls and women to be leaders, we need to make using the word “bossy” taboo.bb-red-button-212x212

I won’t argue that language doesn’t have power, because it does. It can bring order and meaning to the otherwise chaotic. It can give something weight and substance, culturally speaking, that it might not have if we didn’t give it a name.

I’m also completely in favor of empowering girls and women. But ceasing to use the word “bossy” will not change the underlying behavior that Sandberg is trying to address.

Children (boys or girls) who want to impose their will on others will continue to do so whether we have a name for it or not. Think of the kid who “took charge” of the games on the playground in sixth grade using force, aggression, and/or subtle forms of blackmail. Adults who (rightly) perceive that this is going on will counsel these children to stop.

There’s a difference between bossiness and true leadership. As any parent knows, leadership is more than just saying “because I said so.”

More importantly, banning “bossy” will not correct some deeply-seated biases that exist against women’s achievement, including some in Sandberg’s own back yard: the tech industry. A recent study has shown that venture capitalists are more likely to support a project proposed by a man than by a women, even when the projects being proposed are exactly the same.

Sandberg’s first major attempt at cultural influence, her (ghost-written) book Lean In (2013) left a lot of women cold, even as it claimed to speak for all women. (Some feel that Susan Cain’s is better.) I think banning bossy will also be less successful than she’d like it to be, for many of the same reasons. Until Sandberg can find more common ground with the majority of women and the problems they face, she’ll continue to lob more duds.



  1. Julie Taylor

    Im very impressed with the number of followers that you now have! You have a good number of posts that would be good Letters to the Editor or something like that. Im going to have to research how Sheryl Sandberg is.

    oxox J

  2. geralynwichers

    I agree that bossy and leader are not equivalent–at all. But I remember always accusing my older sister of bossiness, and she grew up to be a gifted administrator and leader (in no small part due to a leadership education). I’m not sure what the moral of this is…

  3. architect of the jungle

    I hate the idea of yet more censorship. Trying to change people’s hearts or minds through controlling their words is backfiring. I see this effect in myself. I can’t be the only one who resents this.

    • Matthew Taylor

      Thanks for your comment.

      I liked what you posted too. I hadn’t really reached that conclusion yet, but you’re right, it is censorship. Something I too am opposed to, as a writer and thinker.

  4. Leave the Cannoli, Take the Knife

    Not a fan of Ms. Sandberg in general. It’s really easy to tell other women what to do (i.e. be bossy) when you are that wealthy and in such a position in life as she is. Lean in…. Shove it is more like it.

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