The white privilege behind Sheryl Sandberg's 'Ban Bossy' campaign

Among black women "bossy" is an anthem, not a pejorative

Sandberg and Bono
(Image credit: (AP Photo/Mark Lennihan))

It has been a year since the publication of what is sure to be the defining biz-advice book for women of our generation, Lean In: Women, Work and the Will to Lead. It has sold more than 1.5 million copies, spawned thousands of Lean In circles and probably as many think pieces and columns. I have contributed to the commentary in a couple of different places, lamenting that while Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg has started the conversation regarding gender inequality in the workplace, it is important for us to keep as part of the discussion the privilege and entitlement that comes with being the chief operating officer at one of the wealthiest and most ubiquitous companies in the world. But Lean In's latest campaign, sadly, might be the worst instance of Sandberg's tendency to overemphasize personal experience at the expense of a more inclusive message.

On International Women's Day, The Wall Street Journal published an article Sandberg co-wrote with Girls Scouts CEO Anna Chávez called "Sheryl Sandberg and Anna Chávez on 'Bossy' the Other B-word." In it, both Sandberg and Chavez share stories of being discouraged from leadership at young ages — the word bossy was leveled against them in a mean way by teachers and boys. "Although the two of us come from different backgrounds," they write, "we both heard the same put-down. Call it the other B-word. Whether it is said directly or implied, girls get the message: Don't be bossy. Don't raise your hand too much. Keep your voice down. Don't lead."

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Joshunda Sanders is a veteran journalist and writer. Her essays have recently appeared in Salon, Kirkus Reviews and Publishers Weekly among many other print and online publications.