Cited in Associated Press – Some Question Sheryl Sandberg’s Ban Bossy Campaign

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“Some question Sheryl Sandberg’s Ban Bossy Campaign”

Leanne Italie of the Associated Press writes a compelling article about the Ban Bossy campaign missing the mark in its emphasis on the word “bossy.”  In interviewing experts and children, she highlights a need for leadership skill building, and even being nicer.

The Ban Bossy campaign cites a study by the Girl Scout Research Institute in which girls reported being twice as likely as boys to worry that leadership roles would make them seem bossy. The fear of being seen as bossy is put forth as a primary reason girls resist such roles.

Alicia Clark, a Washington, D.C., psychologist whose specialties include parenting and couples counseling, lauded the campaign’s suggested alternatives to bossy and ideas for fostering leadership in girls, but she sees a broader sense of social anxiety at play.

“Girls experience fears and inhibitions about social acceptance more acutely, in the form of stress,” she said. In some cases, “Mean, bossy girls, as my 13-year-old daughter describes them, are closer to being bullies than they are leaders. And we know that bullies fundamentally feel insecure, hate themselves for it and assert themselves over other insecure people as a way of garnering a sense of control and dominance. This is not leadership. This is intimidation.”

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Alicia H. Clark, PsyD


  1. Dacia Temin on March 22, 2014 at 10:35 am

    Alicia, I must strongly disagree. It turns out that I am the First Vice Chair of Girl Scouts of the USA, and have been highly active in supporting this campaign. Indeed, after having spoken to and known so many of our wonderful girls around the country, i firmly believe that if they are FREED from negative appellations of their spirit and ambition and power, they won’t have to subvert it, and become traditionally devious “mean girls.” By saying it is ok for our daughters to use power directly, there is less of a need to let it morph into something indirect, and uglier. In fact, I believe that “bossy” is the EXACT OPPOSITE of “bully.” Bossy is a bit of girls being girls, directly exercising their will, knowing they’re right, and going a bit overboard. It can be addressed easily without squeezing their spirit out of them. Bully has a perverted sense of power and will, and I believe it exacerbated when girls are told they can not be direct and open and forthright about wanting their own power. Then, it gets subverted, and nasty.
    Shame on you for not recognizing the difference between bossy and bully, and therefore knocking one of the most positive campaigns I have seen for girls in a long, long time!

    • Alicia H. Clark, PsyD on March 22, 2014 at 6:08 pm

      Davia, Thank you for taking the time to comment on my post. I value your insight as a leader at the Girl Scouts of the USA and someone active in the campaign.

      As I have said consistently, I applaud the campaign for what I think is its underling mission – promoting leadership. Nevertheless, I am disappointed by the campaign’s choice to focus on the word bossy – a word that is neither supported in the literature as a primary barrier to leadership nor meaningfully resonant with young girls today in my personal and professional experience. I agree that girls need to be, as you said, “freed from negative appellations of their spirit and ambition and power.” I would also add girls need to be encouraged, shown how to express their thoughts effectively, and handle adversity and the feelings that accompany it. In many ways, this is what the campaign materials do very well; they are excellent.

      However, I disagree that girls subverting their voice lead to “traditionally devious ‘mean girls’” as you suggest. This seems a stretch. Girls too afraid to speak up, who choose to subvert their voice become more socially anxious, suffer poor self-esteem, and can develop a host of mental health issues I see regularly in my practice. I would assert that bullying behavior, meanness, and even bossiness, is distinguished from those who have subverted their voices by their willingness to assert themselves through shared tactics of dominance and domineering behavior. I agree the terms “bossy” and “bully” are different, and I certainly have never asserted they are the same thing. However, setting aside our disagreement on how close or disparate they are conceptually, these concepts are indeed comingled in the view of the very girls the campaign is trying to reach. This is the point of my quote, and, with respect, is part of the problem with the campaign’s choice to focus on the word as its battle cry.

      Focusing too heavily on the word bossy, whether to ban or even embrace it as some have argued, threatens to obscure the very thing I believe we all are agreed on – fostering self-esteem and confidence in girls. There is work to be done and I commend Sheryl Sandberg, the Girl Scouts of the USA, and you for taking up the mantle of developing leadership and empowering young girls. In the spirit of a campaign that has my respect and purports to model leadership, I would hope that my voice would be heard as it was intended – as a challenge, even an invitation – and not simply a knock that should be silenced or shamed.

      I sincerely hope the campaign will broaden to embrace these dialogues, and move the conversation away from a word that doesn’t resonate and toward the problem’s real solution – fostering courage and self-esteem in girls. This is what I do every day and, I believe, would be the campaign at its best.