fb-pixel Skip to main content
critic’s notebook

Sheryl Sandberg leans in on ‘bossy’

Facebook’s Sheryl Sandberg is author of “Lean In.”
Facebook’s Sheryl Sandberg is author of “Lean In.”Jean-Christophe Bott/EPA/file

Is Facebook Chief Operating Officer Sheryl Sandberg the new Gwyneth Paltrow — a privileged It Girl eager to tell everyone else how to live their lives?

Just as annoyance over Sandberg’s admonition to already exhausted women to “lean in” had finally been satirized into submission — “lean back” has become a new rallying cry — the best-selling author (of “Lean In”) has struck again. This time her foundation, LeanIn.org, has teamed up with the Girl Scouts for a Ban Bossy campaign, complete with a hashtag (#banbossy); a shampoo company as a partner (Pantene); and, of course “ban bossy” quotes from the top of the fame-osphere, including first lady Michelle Obama, actress Jennifer Garner, philanthropist Melinda Gates, and Beyoncé. “I’m not bossy,” the singer says in a video. “I’m the boss.”


The goal of encouraging girls to lead is terrific, of course, but pinning the problem on the word “bossy” is hardly new. But never mind. Sandberg’s got a linguistic villain and she’s going with it.

“When a little boy asserts himself, he’s called a ‘leader,’ ’’ the promotional text reads. “Yet when a little girl does the same, she risks being branded ‘bossy.’ Words like bossy send a message: Don’t raise your hand or speak up. By middle school, girls are less interested in leading than boys — a trend that continues into adulthood. Together we can encourage girls to lead.”

All good, of course, but as Sandberg makes the media rounds, you can’t help but feel that the public service campaign is doing double duty of extending her 2013 book’s run.

Beth Teitell can be reached at bteitell@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter @bethteitell.