Sheryl Sandberg’s ridiculous ‘Ban Bossy’ idea: Women like to be bossy

Sheryl Sandberg speaks at panel session at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland.
Sheryl Sandberg speaks at panel session at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland.
(Chris Ratcliffe / Bloomberg)

Sheryl Sandberg’s COO job at Facebook apparently isn’t demanding enough, so she’s launched her “Ban Bossy” campaign. The idea, advanced by Sandberg’s nonprofit Lean In Foundation, is that if you deem the word “bossy” off-limits, people will stop thinking of females in charge as being bossy, which supposedly damages little girls’ self-esteem and holds them back in the business world.

Instead you’re supposed to say “has executive leadership skills,” which is a mouthful but will make them feel better. To this cause Sandberg has recruited Girl Scouts CEO Anna Maria Chavez, plus Condoleezza Rice, who as a former secretary of State ought to have the gravitas to avoid this sort of thing, and Beyonce, who loves promoting Beyonce. All but Beyonce appeared on the cover of Sunday’s Parade magazine sporting the Ban Bossy logo, a Ghostbusters-style button with a slash mark over the B-word. That’ll do it, ladies!

Sandberg is clearly a “nominalist.” That’s the philosophy of the Middle Ages that held that if things didn’t have names, they didn’t exist. That’s why Umberto Eco titled his bestselling medieval whodunit “The Name of the Rose.” Its hero was based on the famous nominalist philosopher William of Ockham. The nominalists duked it out with the “realists,” who believed that things have an existence independent of the names that people give them.

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I’m siding with the realists. There’s a reason why people call female bosses bossy. It’s because they are bossy. We’ve had fifty years of feminist propaganda, and a sizable plurality of people still can’t stand working for women, deeming them as a group to be Nurse Ratched-like micromanagers who get into crying jags in the office and personal snits with their co-workers. And that goes for women. Women don’t want to work for other women. Here’s a Gallup poll from just last fall, as reported by the Daily Beast:

“If given the choice, Americans still prefer a male boss to a female one, according to a new Gallup poll. To be sure, roughly 40 percent of 2,059 people surveyed reported no gender preference, up from 25 percent in 1953, revealing a sizeable shift in cultural values about women in the workplace. But among those who do profess a preference, the gender gap remains -- and ladies are contributing to the yawning rift.

“According to the poll, 40 percent of women prefer a man in charge, compared to 27 percent who prefer a female boss.”

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The academic sociologists will tell you this is all due to “gender stereotypes” (“we call aggressive men leader-like, but we call aggressive women bossy”), blah, blah blah. But I think this -- female -- commenter on the Daily Beast story (one of several women who expressed identical sentiments) hit the nail on the head:

“I have worked for males and have been treated well and fairly, also kindly. I have work for females on two occasions and I couldn’t believe the manipulation, the unfairness, the lies. I really don’t want to believe this, but my experience indicates this. I have seen women do things to other women in the workplace that I would never do to any human being. Maybe it’s just a coincidence that the meanest, petty actions have involved females.”

The irony is that Sandberg herself boasts openly about her own bossiness -- sorry, I mean executive leadership skills -- which she says she exhibited even as a child. Here she is in a recent Wall Street Journal interview:

“When my brother and sister describe our childhood, they will say that I never actually played as a child but instead just organized other kids’ play. At my wedding, they stood up and introduced themselves by explaining, ‘Hi, we’re Sheryl’s younger brother and sister ... but we’re not really her younger brother and sister. We’re her first employees -- employee No. 1 and employee No. 2.’


“From a very young age, I liked to organize -- the toys in my room, neighborhood play sessions, clubs at school. When I was in junior high and running for class vice president, one of my teachers pulled my best friend aside to warn her not to follow my example: ‘Nobody likes a bossy girl,’ the teacher warned. “You should find a new friend who will be a better influence on you.”

That didn’t seem to hurt Sandberg’s self-esteem much or hold her back one bit. It seems that women like to be bossy, but don’t you dare call them bossy. That’s war on women.


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Charlotte Allen writes frequently about feminism, politics and religion. Follow her on Twitter @MeanCharlotte.