Apparently, Sandberg felt the sting of the "b" word at some point in 9th grade when a teacher advised a student not to be friends with Sandberg because she was "bossy," according to an interview she gave on ABC News. Now she believes the use of the word is one of the factors that leads girls to become less interested in pursuing leadership positions by middle school.
Citing studies that show that "between elementary school and high school, girls' self-esteem drops 3.5 times more than boys" and that "girls are twice as likely as boys to worry that leadership roles will make them seem 'bossy,'" Sandberg's Ban Bossy campaign has garnered more than 100,000 pledges in its first week.
I must have grown up on a different planet than Sandberg. Although I came of age in the pre-feminist 1960s, the girls I knew never hesitated to lead. We competed for class offices, ran organizations and were often the top students, and no one suggested we ought to do otherwise. As for Sandberg's claim that girls are called on less in class and interrupted more, not in the inner-city Catholic school I attended.
Perhaps it was the influence of the nuns who taught us. Women ran parish schools in those days, with hardly a male authority figure in sight. It wasn't the girls who had a hard time, as I recall, but the boys. They were the ones whose knuckles got rapped with rulers or, as happened when I was in 10th grade, who were thrown down a flight of stairs for playing a practical joke on one particularly humorless sister.
I don't remember ever being called bossy -- except by my children, with good reason -- but I remember plenty of boys and girls whose behavior evoked the appellation. Being bossy means telling others what to do. Some bosses are bossy; others aren't. And I would argue leadership doesn't entail being bossy. In fact, true leaders inspire others to follow; they don't simply order people about.
Clearly, being called bossy didn't stop Sandberg from succeeding. She's led a rather privileged life. She was born into a stable, professional family, graduated summa cum laude from Harvard, and earned a Harvard MBA with distinction. She's now in a highly paid, powerful position at one of the biggest corporations in America. Yet she still seems hurt by a word.
Linda Chavez is chairman of the Center for Equal Opportunity and author of Betrayal: How Union Bosses Shake Down Their Members and Corrupt American Politics .
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