Sheryl Sandberg may be a brilliant technology executive, but she's no Noah Webster.
The chief operating officer of Facebook a year ago gave us her "sort of feminist manifesto" for women to succeed in business: Don't worry about being liked, don't give in too soon, work hard, and assert yourself. She padded that out to 240 pages, charged $24.95 a pop and called it "Lean In," a rallying cry that instead lent itself to jokes about shattering glass ceilings with low-cut blouses.
Now Sandberg is leading a campaign to ban the word "bossy" because it allegedly holds back females. "Calling a girl `bossy' not only undermines her ability to see herself as a leader, but it also influences how others treat her," she and Girl Scout CEO Anna Maria Chávez wrote in a recent Wall Street Journal editorial. They cite a 2008 Girl Scouts survey of children showing 29 percent of girls do not want to seem "bossy," making it the eighth most prominent "barrier to leadership aspiration." The top three were: not wanting to speak in public (45 percent), being shy (43 percent) and, "I am simply not interested" (32 percent).
A conversation about labeling people and raising confident, self-assured children is worth having; however, the "Ban Bossy" campaign is a publicity stunt masquerading as a game-changer.
"Bossy" means domineering and over-authoritative, not exactly what you want in good leader, male or female. It's also not gender specific despite the so-called proof being that many dictionaries offer word usage examples along the lines of "she is bossy." Many adults I know, especially parents, use it equally to describe boys and girls who act like little dictators.
It can even be applied to entities. For example, Sandberg's company keeps changing its newsfeed methodology, without user consent, to push the ads and stories it wants you to see rather than those you choose to see. Facebook -- you are bossy.
I don't believe in banning words but, if you want to pick on descriptors that reinforce stereotypes and send hurtful messages that ultimately impact women, here are two relating exclusively to males that if we removed them from our vocabularies would positively impact both genders:
- "Wuss" -- Describes a male who doesn't meet macho, tough-guy standards. Not just a wimp, one who acts "like a girl." Often used when a guy refuses to take part in a foolish or a mean-spirited act, cries when physically or emotionally hurt, or simply asks for help. Using this word encourages boys to become insensitive, macho bullies and equate weakness (such as the inability to lead) with femininity.
- "Mr. Mom" -- Title of the 1983 Michael Keaton movie in which a husband and wife swap traditional parenting roles: He stays home with the kids, she becomes the breadwinner, hilarity ensues. A novel concept 30 years ago but no longer. A 2013 Pew Research Survey found 40 percent of moms are the sole or primary source of income for their families. Many other studies over the years show fathers are increasingly more active in the day-to-day raising of their children and sharing of the domestic duties. This is what many mothers, whether they consider themselves feminists or not, have long wanted, right? So why belittle guys being good parents and helpful partners by equating them with a movie dad's initial ineptness at feeding, diapering and shopping? Should we call Sheryl Sandberg "Mrs. COO"?
The "Ban Bossy" campaign appears to be generating mostly negative reviews in traditional and social media. On YouTube, for example, two LeanIn.Org public service announcement videos (one featuring regular girls, the other starring former U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza “Oops, I Guess There Weren’t Weapons of Mass Destruction” Rice and singer Beyoncé, whose has her hubby rap the praises of convicted rapist Mike Tyson and wife-beater Ike Turner on her new sex single – classy) have each received a majority of thumbs down from viewers.
Maybe this will inspire other self-proclaimed leaders of social movements to teach our children another valuable lesson: Choose your words wisely.