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Guest Blog: Colin Stokes On “Ban Bossy” Launch

Girl Scouts and Lean In Team Up To “Ban Bossy”  | By Colin Stokes


“This is a perfect example of ideas in action–the entire section of the parent toolkit is inspired by the TEDxBeaconStreet talk.  I met Sheryl Sandberg and helped the Lean In team develop an activity that parents all over the world can use with their families to change the way children watch movies.”

Colin, on his collaboration with the “Ban Bossy” movement


I’m so proud to be a part of the new campaign “Ban Bossy,” organized by the Girl Scouts of the USA and LeanIn.org. I personally would be nowhere without the many take-charge women I love, some of whom I must confess I have called “bossy” over the years. (Sorry mom. Sorry honey.)

As Sheryl Sandberg and Girl Scouts USA CEO Anna Maria Chavez summarize in their recent Wall Street Journal op-ed, the word pops into our heads when girls and women show leadership qualities. That’s not because we’re all sexist jerks. It’s because we’ve been trained to think that way, and the word is one way we get that training:

The word “bossy” has carried both a negative and a female connotation for more than a century. The first citation of “bossy” in the Oxford English Dictionary refers to an 1882 article in Harper’s Magazine, which declared: “There was a lady manager who was dreadfully bossy.” A Google Ngram analysis of digitized books over the past 100 years found that the use of “bossy” to describe women first peaked in the Depression-era 1930s, when popular sentiment held that a woman should not “steal” a job from a man, and reached its highest point in the mid-1970s as the women’s movement ramped up and more women entered the workforce.

Most dictionary entries for “bossy” provide a sentence showing its proper use, and nearly all focus on women.

Culture, including language, teaches each generation what to value and what to believe. As parents, we have a crucial role to play in helping our children filter the culture in a way that reflects the values we hold. So, if you want your children to believe that women and men can both be leaders, try not to signify through what you say and do that really, little girl, it’s kind of annoying when you raise your hand and have ideas and stuff.

Their teams have put together a fun website with tools for girls, parents, teachers, managers, and troop leaders. There’s also a highlights section called “Things We Love,” and I’m so delighted that my TED talk on “How Movies Teach Manhood” is featured. In fact, the talk has inspired an entire activity for parents!


“Leadership Tips for Parents” (PDF) I helped design the movie-watching activity on page 10 that will help you introduce great media criticism into your regular movie nights. Yes, the Bechdel Test figures prominently.


 Girls Leadership Institute co-founder Rachel Simmons and the Girl Scout Research Institute have compiled 10 tips:

  1. Encourage Girls and Boys Equally to Lead
  2. Be Conscious of the Ways You and She Talk
  3. Make Your Home an Equal Household
  4. Teach Her to Respect Her Feelings
  5. Moms and Grandmoms: Model Assertive Behavior
  6. Dads and Granddads: Know Your Influence
  7. Seize the Power of Organized Sports and Activities
  8. Get Media Literate–Together (hey, this looks familiar)
  9. Let Her Solve Problems on Her Own
  10. Encourage Her to Step Outside Her Comfort Zone

Looks to me like an excellent handbook on how to ban bossy in your household (while cultivating the strong, brave, and compassionate children we want to lead the next generation).

Read the full Article on Colin’s Blog: Zoom In

Follow Colin Stokes: @stokescolin