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Opinion

Unmasking the junk science behind the #BanBossy campaign

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Beltway Confidential,Opinion,Ashe Schow,War on Women,Ban Bossy

Ban Bossy,” a new feminist campaign started by Facebook Chief Operating Officer Sheryl Sandberg, uses ancient surveys and misleading facts to claim the word “bossy” hurts girls.

And, as you might expect, the claims don’t support the campaign’s mission.

Claim 1: “By middle school, girls are 25 percent less likely than boys to say they like taking the lead.”

This study was conducted between 1992 and 1997, so it's already out of date.

The study found when students were asked if they “like to take the lead when a group does things together” 72 percent of sixth-grade boys reported yes, versus 54 percent of sixth-grade girls.

The study’s author, Barbara Schneider, told the Washington Examiner that the question was only asked during the first year of the study, so there’s no way to tell if girls were more or less likely to want to lead as they aged. And the study didn’t question younger children, so it’s unclear whether girls were more likely to say they liked taking the lead prior to middle school.

In a much more recent study, called “Change It Up,” girls were more likely than boys to say they wanted to be a leader.

Claim 2: “While 92 percent of girls believe anyone can acquire the skills of leadership, only 21 percent believe they currently have most of the key qualities required to be a good leader.”

This claim appears in the text of the “Change It Up” study, but the actual data behind the claim does not.

The study never says what percentage of boys thought they could learn leadership skills or already possessed them. When asked about the missing information, Kamla Modi, an analyst at the Girl Scout Research Institute (which commissioned the study), said the reason boys weren’t included in that question is because “there is not a leadership problem for men in this country, but there is a leadership problem for women.”

Further, Modi said that in a research poll conducted by GSRI for the Ban Bossy campaign that has yet to be released, girls were more likely to be called bossy than boys, women were more likely to be seen as bossy than men and the word “bossy” carried a “negative connotation.”

And while only 21 percent of girls say they already possess leadership skills, that doesn’t say anything about whether the girls were discouraged. The girls questioned in the survey were between the ages of 8 and 17. How many students at that age have the leadership skills to lead a company? This might be an honest assessment.

Just below the 21 percent claim, the Girl Scout study says “girls appear to be more positive in their self-assessment [of leadership qualities] than boys.” So perhaps its boys who need a campaign to help them succeed.

Claims 3/4: Parents placed a higher value on leadership for boys than for girls

The 1994 “National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent Health” questioned children in grades 7 through 12 and their parents. This single statistic, pulled out of a massive survey, only applies to parents of seventh graders. What did the parents of eighth, ninth, 10th, 11th and 12th-graders say about the importance of leadership for their children?

The study’s director, Kathleen Mullan Harris, told the Examiner that the question was asked only once during the study (to every age group), so there is no evidence about whether the values changed over time. Harris did, however, note that the difference between the values placed on leadership were not much higher for boys than girls.

“In seventh grade, 24 percent of parents of males chose a leader as the most important quality in school compared to 21.5 percent of parents of girls,” Harris said.

No wonder the Ban Bossy campaign excluded the exact numbers. Further, seventh grade seems to be the only year more parents said leadership was more important for boys than girls.

“Among eighth graders, it switched to 24.6 percent of parents of girls to 21.5 percent of parents of boys; ninth grade also favored girls (26.4 [percent] vs. 25.5 [percent]) – more parents chose the leader quality as most important,” Harris said. “For 10th through 12th grade there is virtually no difference or slightly in favor of boys.”

Harris went on to discuss how this statistic should have been used.

“I would not put a lot of stock into these differences, they are slight,” Harris said. “Perhaps the more important finding is that there is so little difference (i.e., parents value leadership in their daughters as much as they do in their sons).”

Claim 5: Between elementary school and high school, girls’ self-esteem drops 3.5 times more than boys’

This was another study conducted in the early 90s.

How do you even measure self-esteem? Apparently, by five measures: “I like the way I look,” “I like most things about myself,” “I’m happy the way I am,” “Sometimes I don’t like myself that much” and “I wish I were somebody else.”

The dating website eHarmony asks more questions than that before you even start your dating profile.

You know what’s not in the study? Any mention of the word “bossy.” Is that word the reason behind girls’ self-esteem problems?

Perhaps it’s other girls who cause self-esteem to fall. Middle school is about the time cliques form. Or the damage could be caused by changing bodies and the prevalence of the media flashing Images of Photoshop-perfect women that no girl can compete with — a culture perpetuated by Ban Bossy supporter Beyoncé.

Claim 6: “Parents often place greater value on the chores boys typically perform, like mowing the lawn, than on chores that girls usually do, like folding laundry or dishwashing.”

The link provided by the Ban Bossy campaign doesn't say anything about the chores girls and boys typically perform, only that more boys than girls receive allowances for doing chores.

And yes, between the ages of 10 and 18, more parents said they paid boys than girls (except at age 15, when apparently more girls are paid than boys). But this is a self-reported study, which study author Frank Stafford cautioned could be open to bias.

“People simply can’t report accurately what they do,” Stafford told University of Michigan spokeswoman Diane Swanbrow. “They have a bias depending on the activity.”

An Examiner inquiry to the author went unanswered.

Claim 7: “The wage gap starts at home: Girls get paid less than boys for household chores.”

What feminist-outrage campaign would be complete without bringing up a supposed wage gap?

This citation represents a classic “scientific” tactic for the media – an organization releases a press release or summary of a study with eye-popping headlines, but doesn’t provide the actual study.

An Examiner request for the study was unanswered.

The study surveyed kids in the United Kingdom, and found parents paid boys 15 percent more for the same chores as they did girls — £1.25 per chore for girls and £1.45 per chore for boys.

Missing from this study is whether parents who had boys and girls paid them unequally.

Other unresolved questions would be whether parents felt boys needed more incentive to do the chores than girls and whether girls simply chose to do more chores and were therefore paid less per chore since they were going to make more than the boys anyway.

Claim 8: “Girls are twice as likely as boys to worry that leadership roles will make them seem ‘bossy.’ ”

This comes from the same Girl Scout study cited for claim 2. The study says 29 percent of girls who said they don't want to be leaders said one reason was because they did “not want to seem bossy,” compared to just 13 percent of boys.

But that was not the top reason girls didn’t want to be leaders – it was the eighth. The top reasons were not wanting to speak in front of others, being too shy and not being interested.

Claim 9: “Both boys and girls think it’s easier for men to become leaders.”

Fifty-six percent of children believe that it’s “more difficult for a woman to become a leader than for a man,” according to the Girl Scout study. And 52 percent believe that “girls have to work harder than boys in order to gain positions of leadership.”

More girls (57 percent) believed these statements than boys (44 percent), which could be explained by campaigns like Ban Bossy constantly telling girls they are oppressed rather than girls experiencing such discrimination for themselves.

Further, the vast majority of girls (80 percent) said there was “no difference” between who would be better at running a business, but 13 percent said men were better, compared to 8 percent saying women were better.

And although 75 percent of girls said there was no difference between which sex would be better at running a state or country, 17 percent said men were better while just 8 percent said women would be better.

A different approach

The remaining statistics really have nothing to do with the word “bossy,” including a couple stats about Hollywood’s tendency to not make movies with female leads and to show women in “sexy attire.” Seems like this campaign should take a bigger stance against Hollywood than a single word that is applied to both men and women.

Finally, I think Beyoncé (of all people) had the best comment in the Ban Bossy campaign ad when she said “I’m not bossy. I’m the boss.”

Isn’t that a much better way to combat any supposed sexism and negative connotation in the word bossy? Wouldn’t it be a better campaign to teach girls to embrace the word bossy and come up with snappy comebacks than to tell them it’s a horrible word that will affect their futures?

Sheryl Sandberg said she was called bossy once and it really affected her. Maybe it did, but she’s a billionaire now and the chief operating officer of Facebook, so it couldn’t have hurt too badly. How did she actually deal with it? By kicking butt and taking names – that’s how. Why isn’t she teaching girls that?

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