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Why Not to #BanBossy

Columbia Records

Cari Donaldson - published on 03/24/14 - updated on 06/07/17

Out-dated statistics, conflicting messages, and a stable of bad sponsors - I think feminism can do better.

It’s easy for me to roll my eyes and dismiss boneheaded initiatives like #banbossy.  Everything I hate about cultural engineering is represented: forced, inorganic change, hysterical pitch, and shoddy research dressed up in slick graphics designed to encourage mindless online sharing.

In case you’re not familiar with the site, #banbossy is a movement designed to… do what, exactly?  Even nailing down its focus is difficult.  It seems to be a rehashing of girl power slogans with a new, social media friendly, hashtag designation: “Girls can be leaders!”; “Girls are smart!”; “Girls can do sporty things!”; “Girls can do anything boys can do – just don’t call them bossy while they’re doing them.”

It’s this last part, this rankling at the word “bossy,” that really puzzles me.  According to Gavin, the sweet-faced third grader on one of #banbossy’s sharable memes, boys don’t get called “bossy”, only girls.  And according to Georgetown professor Deborah Tannen, when women adopt more masculine modes of speech, they are called bossy as a pejorative.  The fact that Professor Tannen’s entire premise – that when women use syntax more common to women versus syntax more common to men, they sound less confident – is a completely subjective assessment on Tannen’s part that is never discussed.  No; instead, we have a movement based on appeals to emotion and arbitrary decisions that “manspeak” exudes confidence while “womanspeak” doesn’t.

Then we have conflicting information.  #banbossy tells us, using statistics from over two decades ago, that girls are less likely to get called on in class, yet far more recent studies indicate that boys are consistently discriminated against in public education (as evidenced here, and here) and subtly punished for their more energetic natures.  According to Gavin and Professor Tannen, boys may not be called “bossy”, but studies show they’re being disciplined for exhibiting that behavior.

Another one of #banbossy’s sharable memes decries the “confidence gap”, and claims that between elementary and high school, girls’ self confidence drops 3.5 times more than boys’ does.  Interestingly, #banbossy’s biggest “face” is Beyonce, a woman known for highly sexualized performances and a PR department that attempts to ban less-than-flattering pictures of the performer.  As ever, girls are expected to sludge through the doublespeak of pop feminism: the mantra of “looks don’t matter!” chirped by a woman who sells her sexuality for the price of a concert ticket.

The partners for this site are predictable.  There’s Girls Scouts of America, whose “girl empowerment” possibly includes ties to Planned Parenthood; Babble, which contains the tagline “courtesy of Disney” and had this piece railing against Christianity in general and Catholicism in specific as its lead story yesterday.  There is one feminine hygiene company under two distinct names (Always and BeingGirl), and, in bizarre and circular logic, a group that has ties to SPARK, an organization dedicated to ending the sexualization of women in media (which really makes you wonder what SPARK thinks of Pantene, another #banbossy partner, running ads like this).

In other words, #banbossy is funded by a cluster of conflicting interest groups and corporations that succeed in creating a babble of sound with no meaning; a series of slick graphics with no substance.  Instead of searching out and affirming the value of each individual person from conception to natural death, movements like #banbossy seek to elevate a small segment of humanity for nothing other than profit.

Cari Donaldsonis the author of Pope Awesome and Other Stories: How I Found God, Had Kids, and Lived to Tell the Tale. She married her high school sweetheart, had six children with him, and now spends her days homeschooling, writing, and figuring out how to stay one step ahead of her child army. She blogs about faith and family life at

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