Commentary Media

Leaned In, Pushed Out: Jill Abramson’s Firing Should Make Us Reconsider Sandberg’s Philosophy

Katherine Cross

The central argument in Lean In is that one can strategize their way through the patterns of structural sexism. But Abramson’s firing provides a powerful case study for the fact that we cannot win a game we are rigged to lose.

A flurry of opinion-making has followed the tumultuous firing of former New York Times Executive Editor Jill Abramson. Abramson had been the subject of intense speculation and gossip about her newsroom leadership style, variously described as “brusque,” “divisive,” and, now most infamously, “pushy”—in part because, it has been reported, she was forthright in investigating the fact that she was being paid markedly less than male peers for doing the same demanding work. The manner of her firing was no less alarming. Despite a long career at the Times and a stellar tenure as executive editor, she has been fully cut out of the newspaper, dropped from the masthead immediately and given an ignominious sendoff in the form of a newsroom announcement at which she was not present—all a marked contrast to the feting of Howell Raines when he was celebrated and honored, even as he was being let go for presiding over the Jayson Blair plagiarism scandal.

At long last, then, can we declare the central philosophy behind Lean In dead?

Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg’s hugely popular book, and the “movement” that bears its name, have been struck by tidal waves of criticismparticularly from feminists and leftists—who accuse her feminist self-help opus aimed at career women of being irresponsible, credulous about capitalism/neoliberalism, ignorant of women of color and LGBTQ people, or just sociologically inapt. The criticism from many corners of feminism raised serious, legitimate questions about the value of Lean In’s advice to women, such as this tidbit she relays from her current boss at Facebook, Mark Zuckerberg:

One of the things [Zuckerberg] told me was that my desire to be liked by everyone would hold me back. He said that when you want to change things, you can’t please everyone. … Mark was right.

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One certainly doubts that Jill Abramson pleased everyone, but her firing raises the question of whether this advice represents an ideal strategy for women.

To be fair to Sandberg, her actual book is somewhat more nuanced than the popular conception of “leaning in” as an idea. She demonstrates her fluency with social science literature, explaining the often intractable double binds faced by women in the professions and showing how assertive women are often condemned for the trait even as their workplaces all but demand it—much like the fate that befell Abramson.

Yet Sandberg has no one but herself to blame for that nuance getting lost in the shuffle; her own elevator speeches in her battery of press interviews and public appearances for Lean In emphasize the idea that women should be better advocates for ourselves, lean in to the boys’ club, and be more demanding. She talks up the hyper-individualist empowerment angle that is the book’s raison d’etre and downplays the socio-structural forces she describes in the book’s earlier chapters.

“Taking risks, choosing growth, challenging ourselves, and asking for promotions (with smiles on our faces, of course) are all important elements of managing a career,” she writes, illustrating one of the major problems many feminists had with the book. She argues that women need to find a perilously narrow equilibrium between being nice and being assertive, ditching her own discussion of double-binds and failing to complete the gesture of her own attempts at nuance. We must smile more, she says, and do everything we can to avoid appearing selfish: frame our bids for promotion as good for the workplace community and avoid appearing pushy or threatening, while still enthusiastically seizing the day. “Do not wait for power to be offered,” she says, while suggesting that one grab it as nicely as possible—as if the workplaces she describes lend themselves to such gentility.

One is left wondering: Would Sandberg blame Abramson for her firing? Would she say that Abramson’s needful investigations of her pay gap were too threatening to her male colleagues, or that Abramson’s storied “brusqueness” was evidence that she failed to wear that all-important smile often enough?

And if Sandberg would not blame Abramson for her sacking (as one certainly hopes she has the decency to avoid doing), then what does that say about the quality and applicability of the whole Lean In argument?

The vagaries of sexism never made sense; there is no truly rational prejudice. The contempt of women was always delimited by moving goalposts and Dali-esque melting, bending boundaries. Sandberg’s argument is that one can strategize their way through the patterns of structural sexism, but Abramson’s firing provides a powerful empirical case study that validates the arguments made from without by feminist scholars and activists: We cannot win a game we are rigged to lose.

Abramson was, in many ways, a Sandbergian paragon: a mighty woman, talented and experienced, with every advantage but her gender. She was, by many accounts, tough, unapologetic, leaned in without asking, all while trailblazing at major newspapers. She was the latter day counterpart of A.M. Rosenthal or Arthur Ochs Sulzburger Sr.—neither of whom were known for their cuddliness but remain praised for doing their jobs well.

Yet even she could not defeat the Escher-esque labyrinth of misogyny that still prevails in the nation’s skyscrapers. At least not without an embarrassingly public fight that reminds us why social movements still retain tremendous value. If this is so, what good is “leaning in” for the rest of us?

Banning “Bossy”

There has been extensive discussion within feminism, to be sure, about salvaging the merits of Lean In, as well as vital critique of how we seem to reserve a special fire for women we disagree with. It is not unreasonable to suggest that the performative activist outrage around Lean In would not have occurred had Sandberg been a man, and that it ironically holds her to impossible standards because of her gender. If you can’t be perfect, some critics seemed to say, keep quiet.

This remains a valid concern. Let me be clear: I do not wish to start another bacchanalia of criticism of Sandberg as a person with this article. My concern is to illustrate how the summary version of Lean In‘s philosophy—which has come to dominate a national conversation about women in the workforce—leaves us with few tools for grappling with the far more insidious and archly irrational forces behind Abramson’s firing.

The activism spearheaded by Sandberg’s Lean In Foundation typifies the inadequacy of these tools. The “Ban Bossy” campaign, for instance, borders on self-parody, taking the germ of an important social insight—that language and child-rearing practices winnow the possibilities that girls can imagine for themselves—and turning it into a movement that gets at oppressive behaviors from entirely the wrong way around.

To return to Abramson, the issue was not that she was called any permutation of “bossy” but rather that such a belief is the death-knell of a woman’s career. The word itself is less the problem than the suite of ideas it transmits, as well as how the social practices inscribe its meaning in a woman’s paycheck or résumé. A word like that means nothing unless it does something. But the “Ban Bossy” campaign gets at none of this because its marketing depends on the punchy alliteration of its title.

The website can seem inspiring: The girls and young women who participated should be commended for their civic mindedness and encouraged to—in Beyonce’s memorable words for the campaign—“be the boss.” But this campaign alone will not be the solution, and it exemplifies the impoverishment of Lean In. Simply put, this would not have saved Abramson’s job.

As Soraya Chemaly puts it, “It sure feels like, while we parse whether or not to #BanBossy or embrace #GirlBoss, a whole lot of white men with power are having a chuckle and a smoke in a back room.”

Gendered slurs like “bitch,” “cunt,” and “whore” can be entirely excised from the vocabulary of the worst offenders in the professions, but that may not help their treatment of the women who work for or with them. They may never deign to call a woman employee a “cunt,” but they still treat her as if the constellation of implications that word connotes are true about her—that she is an angry, wicked, shrill girl acting above her station who needs to be put in her place. You can do all of that without the word. Indeed, it can be argued that so much “sensitivity training” nowadays teaches people to do just that: Be bigoted, but with more prosaic language.

Changing the Terms of the Game

Abramson’s tenure at the Times was characterized by success—both on the purely business side of things, and in the quality of the paper’s journalism, from eight Pulitzers to the technological innovation of “Snow Fall.” She did her job, and one that entails inevitable conflict.

It is instructive to compare her to another Times editor who has been the subject of gossip in the wider press: opinion page editor Andrew Rosenthal. He too found himself on the wrong side of knives shaped like anonymous comments, but his position—and by extension, the positions of the (in)famous Times opinion columnists in his stable—is far more secure than the lifeboat political cartoon in this New York Observer piece seems to suggest. But even if he does get fired, one suspects that there will be generous severance packages and going away parties aplenty involved, perhaps even a charming retrospective on the op-ed page itself.

This disparity in social practice is why Lean In, as career advice, is ultimately built on wishes and fictions. The fjords of minefields we navigate in professional life are hewn into their senseless abstraction by social forces that are rigged against us. Prejudice means that people fail to be rewarded in spite of their “hard work,” not because we are too afraid to do the hard work.

Abramson’s firing is a wake-up call to all of us: We can’t lean our way into a solution to women’s problems in the workforce. The terms of the game need to be changed root and branch, and we ought to refuse to play by the rules we have been given. Sandberg is not wrong when she suggests that the self-doubt we are all socialized with acts as webbing that holds us back from our potential, but cutting that lattice is not enough by itself; there are fundamental questions to be asked about what we can do with our newfound self-confidence.

I myself am riven by doubt, impostor syndrome, depression, and anxiety about my abilities on an almost daily basis. I am intimately acquainted with the struggles of being a woman who must find an assertiveness that society also punishes her for. Truth be told, when I first read Lean In, Sandberg’s personal reflections on her own struggles with impostor syndrome resonated powerfully with me. But it was not that long after that I realized simply girding my self-esteem was not going to be enough to allow me to spread my wings. I had to be the sociologist I was training myself to be—I had to be skeptical and critical of the social world I was confronted with, and I had to ask how it could be changed.

Sandberg’s book ends on a resoundingly optimistic note, arguing that she has faith that women “at the top” will lift other women up as well, and so change the cultures of their workplaces.

Jill Abramson seemed to be doing just that in promoting women at the New York Times, inspiring and shepherding their aspirations—but what happens when the “woman at the top” gets shoved over a glass cliff?

Answering that question takes us far beyond the comfortably neoliberal limits of Lean In’s self-help and into far more challenging, but ultimately more transformative, territory that sees all workplaces restructured around an emancipatory ethic.

That’d be worth leaning into, for sure.

Commentary Race

Black Women Are Already Leaning In

Imani Gandy

To be a Black professional woman in a white-centric corporate space is to be constantly aware of how you fit in—or don’t—and to be constantly battling the preconceptions that your white colleagues have about your character and capabilities due to the pervasive negative stereotypes about Black women.

A couple months ago, I was invited to be a panelist at a conference hosted by The Baffler that would explore some of the issues Sheryl Sandberg ignored in her bestselling book Lean In: Women, Work, and the Will to Lead. Specifically, I was tasked with speaking about the impact of race in the workplace. While I was honored to have received such an invite, I must admit to having felt an overwhelming sense of dread at first.

I had avoided reading Sandberg’s book because, quite frankly, I really didn’t want to. As I pondered whether I would bother reading the book for this conference, I decided against it. Having read reviews of Lean In—both for and against the book—the inescapable conclusion was that this book is not for me.

My impression of Lean In is that aside from the sort of generic advice that benefits almost everyone in the corporate world—men and women alike, really—the book doesn’t offer any groundbreaking revelations for Black women professionals like me.

Some Black women professionals have clearly found value in some of Sandberg’s advice. Journalist Mary C. Curtis, for example, writes that she and two other Black women professionals found that “some of Sandberg’s basic rules make sense for anyone at every level: look for mentors, find balance, appreciate your worth.” Certainly these are good tips for professionals trying to navigate corporate spaces, but they’re not exactly revelatory.

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Others, however, criticize Sandberg for failing to clearly articulate her racial privilege. According to Tamara Winfrey Harris, “It would have been helpful for Sandberg to acknowledge that a Latina or African-American woman in her position would be burdened by gender and race.”

And that’s why I had avoided reading the book. Aside from the fact that it seems like the sort of self-help claptrap that I generally avoid, Sandberg apparently glosses over the intersectional burdens faced by women of color in the workplace. Lean In just didn’t seem to me like the kind of book that any feminist who values intersectionality—who values smashing the patriarchy rather than digging a hole just small enough to fit a handful of white women through it—should be lauding as the next great feminist treatise.

Sandberg’s response to a question a young Black woman posed to her at the Howard University launch of her “Lean In” campus program illustrates her myopia when it comes to the sort of intersectional burdens that Black women professionals like me face in the corporate world. As Jenée Desmond-Harris reports for The RootNya Whitaker, a freshman international business major, asked Sandberg, “As African-American women, what should we do to fortify and prepare ourselves for the trials we’re going to face?” Sandberg’s response, as described by Desmond-Harris, was vague—it felt as if she tossed “women of color” into an answer geared for white women, almost as an after-thought. “As women and as women of color, the bar is higher. We know men get promoted based on potential and women on what they already know,” she said. “We’ve gotta change that, and until we change that, the onus is on us to be super prepared.”

Black women professionals have always understood that “the onus is on us to be super prepared.” That we have to be twice as smart and work twice as hard in order to be considered equal to our white counterparts is advice that most of our parents engrained in our heads when we were little girls. And we know that despite our being “super prepared,” we are bound to face discrimination and bias at work. We know that we will have to deal with microaggressions—a million little slights and indignities that probably are race-based, but then again maybe not, most of which we simply let pass without comment out of fear of how our comments will be received.

The sort of bias and discrimination that Black women face in the workplace was the subject of a recent book called Shifting: The Double Lives of Black Women in America. In that book, Charisse Jones and Kumea Shorter-Gooden detail the results of a comprehensive study they conducted on Black professional women’s experiences with bias in the workplace.

Jones and Shorter-Gooden describe how Black women engage in what they call “shifting,” which they describe as “a sort of subterfuge that African Americans have long practiced to ensure their survival in our society.” Jones and Shorter-Gooden note that “Black women are relentlessly pushed to serve and satisfy others and made to hide their true selves to placate White colleagues.”

Because Black women are often portrayed as inferior to white men and women, we find ourselves fighting to prove that the stereotypes are not true—at least not as applied to us as individuals. We fight back against the expectation that we are incompetent, lazy, or “diversity hires” by changing the way we behave at work and interact with our colleagues.

Shifting manifests itself at the workplace on a daily basis, and most Black women aren’t even aware that they are doing it. Every time a Black woman takes on more than her share of the work in order to prove to her colleagues that she is capable and willing to go that extra mile, she is shifting. Every time she code switches from AAVE (African American Vernacular English) at home to “standard English” at work, she is shifting. Every time she loudly announces her credentials, degrees, and achievements in order to be taken seriously by white people, she is shifting. Every time she ignores racist comments and behaviors in the workplace out of fear that addressing them will make her seem threatening and aggressive, she is shifting. Every time she chooses to relax (chemically straighten) her hair rather than wear her hair in a natural style because natural hairstyles (twists, cornrows, braids, or dreadlocks) are viewed as “wild,” “extreme,” or “political,” she is shifting.

Put simply, shifting is a reflexive defense strategy that we employ in order to assimilate to the predominantly white corporate world.

For many Black women, there’s nothing about ourselves that we don’t closely examine to make sure that our entrance into a corporate world that was built for white men and which only recently has begrudgingly decided to embrace white women will be smooth.

We want to blend in—to be invisible—so that we can conform to white-centric standards at the workplace. Eventually, however, we begin to yearn for visibility, because after we’ve sufficiently proven ourselves to our white colleagues, they tend to “forget” that we’re Black, or they view us as “one of the good ones,” and therefore feel more comfortable making racist remarks or exhibiting racist behaviors. And when that happens, how we choose to react can undermine that initial work that we put in trying to conform and be invisible. 

It’s a pickle—one which millions of Black women live every day.

During my ten years as a litigator, I shifted like crazy. When I started work as a first-year associate at a big law firm, I removed my tongue and nose rings and stopped dying my hair platinum blonde, wistfully watching white women in my first-year class who flaunted their pink hair and unusual body piercings.

As my career progressed, I would walk into depositions or meetings where I would be the only Black woman in a sea of white faces. And because I look as young as I do—I’m 40 and can easily pass for 25, so imagine how young I looked when I was actually 25—I looked like a kid playing dress-up in a lawyer costume. I felt like I didn’t belong. And so I would overcompensate by working into conversations the fact that I was whatever age I happened to be at the time; that I went to a top-ten law school; that I “wrote on” to law review (the “write-on” process is a competition in which first-year law students have the opportunity to compete for fifteen slots on law review—25 slots are reserved for the students with the highest grades); that I was admitted to Yale Law School and turned them down. I found myself being overly cocky about my achievements—even though I’m usually quite modest about them—just so my white colleagues would know that I had earned my place at the table.

To be a Black professional woman in a white-centric corporate space is to be constantly aware of how you fit in—or don’t—and to be constantly battling the preconceptions that your white colleagues have about your character and capabilities due to the pervasive negative stereotypes about Black women.

That’s why Sandberg’s ideology, as it’s been described in the media, rings so hollow for me. The notion that if I just speak up more and make myself heard—if I just lean in—somehow that will translate into more respect and more career advancement is ludicrous.

Take this paragraph from Sandberg’s book, as quoted by Jill Filipovic in the Guardian:

In addition to the external barriers erected by society, women are also hindered by barriers that exist within ourselves. We hold ourselves back in ways both big and small, by lacking self-confidence, by not raising our hands, and by pulling back when we should be leaning in. We internalize the negative messages we get throughout our lives – the messages that say it’s wrong to be outspoken, aggressive, more powerful than men. We lower our own expectations of what we can achieve. 

As a Black woman, I read the above paragraph and can’t help but scoff. It’s not a lack of self-confidence that keeps me from raising my hand and leaning in. It’s that I have learned to pull back—to shift—because when I don’t, I run the risk of being viewed as emotionally unstable, angry, or aggressive. 

Sandberg’s advice simply doesn’t feel relevant to me.

Sandberg advises women to speak up. True. Women should speak up. But Black women have to make calculated decisions about when to speak up, and how to do so. If we’re too opinionated, we risk raising the specter of the Mammy, a stereotype that casts Black women as loud, brash, and comical, like the woman turned famous meme Sweet Brown.

I’ve been a victim of that stereotype. At my first law firm, there was a rumor circulating about me that when a partner called me up to ask if I was planning on performing a specific task, my response was “HAIL NO!” Can you imagine?

On the flip side, if we’re not opinionated enough, white colleagues view us as incompetent and question whether or not we’ve “got what it takes.”

Sandberg advises women that it’s OK to cry at work. For white women, maybe; some may elicit sympathy when they do. But when Black women cry at work, they push up against another stereotype—one that casts Black women as the unflappable Strong Black Woman. And if we counter that stereotype—if we dare show any emotion—then something must be wrong with us. And the fact that we showed vulnerability and emotion is likely to be used against us in future performance reviews. 

I felt it over the course of my ten years in private practice.

The simple fact is that corporate culture is hostile to Black women who cry at work. Tressie McMillan Cottom, who also was a panelist at The Baffler conference, has felt it too:

Crying at work is a euphemism for the myriad ways in which black women are sanctioned for demonstrating behavior from which white women benefit. My particular story is about the day I started bleeding at work. I was pregnant so bleeding was cause for extra alarm. I may have cried a little. The VP of the department saw me and was aghast that Tressie has tear ducts. My co-worker, a darling petite brunette, had cried over lunch choices, returning from maternity leave, and being asked to move offices. In every instance, I witnessed how her tears garnered positive reinforcement and support from managers and peers. When I cried it was a clear violation of the “strong black asexual woman” archetype and I sensed the shift in how I was subsequently treated.

When Sheryl Sandberg encourages us to “ban bossy,” she fails to understand that white women who are bossy aren’t viewed as negatively as Black women who are bossy. Indeed, “bossy” is not a term that is generally applied to Black women in the workplace. We are more likely to be called angry, aggressive, or to be accused of having an attitude. Being bossy can be positive for white women, but for Black women, it almost never is. 

The bottom line is this: Black women have always leaned in, and, for the most part, it hasn’t really gotten us anywhere. In fact, a growing number of Black women are abandoning the workplace and becoming entrepreneurs —perhaps because Black women are limited in their advancement in the workplace and consistently face a larger wage gap than white and Asian-American women. While it is true that Black women face hurdles when starting their own businesses, it may be that Black women feel they can overcome those hurdles better than they can navigate corporate business waters. 

Certainly Black women are not a monolith. Many Black women have been able to lean in and grab the corporate brass ring. But I find it hard to believe that they needed Sandberg’s advice to help them do it. I doubt there are many Black professional women out there who aren’t already constantly thinking about how they can progress in a corporate culture invested in ignoring them.

Commentary Race

Banning ‘Bossy’ Won’t Help Black Women and Girls Seeking Justice

Amber J. Phillips

Sheryl Sandberg and others want to see us ban the word "bossy" when talking about girls. But for many Black women, being called "bossy" and being bossy have the potential to save and change our lives.

This piece is published in collaboration with Echoing Ida, a Strong Families project.

Recently, Lean In author Sheryl Sandberg, Girl Scouts CEO Anna Maria Chávez, and friends introduced a new campaign, called Ban Bossy, meant to encourage girls to lead by banning the use of the word when talking about girls. The campaign, announced in a Wall Street Journal article, is based on research conducted by social scientists on “how language affects society.” The research found “that even subtle messages can have a big impact on girls’ goals and aspirations. Calling a girl ‘bossy’ not only undermines her ability to see herself as a leader, but it also influences how others treat her,” explain Sandberg and Chávez.

Instead of just being swift in criticizing Ban Bossy, which I have been in personal conversations, I believe the introduction of this campaign presents us with the opportunity to find an intersectional approach to developing leadership skills in girls and women that could also address some of the most pressing problems facing Black women and girls, specifically issues of gender, as well as race, class, power, and privilege. Black women are often known for being or are called bossy. While it may be said in malice, we have to be bossy if it means taking charge of our lives, protecting our families, and holding down our communities.

While campaigns like Ban Bossy focus on whether or not girls and women are called bossy and how that affects their ability to lead, it’s also important to expand societal notions of leadership to include the ways that women lead outside the board room and classroom, and the ways Black women and girls are systematically inhibited or punished for doing so because our motivations are seen as misplaced anger and spitefulness.

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Black women and girls are not just faced with the fear of how we might be perceived when we raise our hands in class or ask for a major promotion at work. We fear that being assertive will threaten our quality of life. While it may just sound like strong galvanizing rhetoric, Black women are under attack, so despite our fears we know we have to be assertive and aggressive just to have a chance at fighting back. Because the systems—political, judicial, and social—are constructed in such a way that is oppressive for some groups and not for others, when a particular group, such as Black women and girls, break away from being silent or passive to take the lead through expressing justified rage while aggressively fighting to defend ourselves, we can end up facing unreasonable consequences. We saw this in the recent events surrounding CeCe McDonald and Marissa Alexander.

CeCe McDonald, a transgender Black woman, spent 19 months in a men’s prison after fatally stabbing a man while defending herself during a racist and transphobic attack. For CeCe McDonald, being “bossy” meant implicitly saving her own life by standing up for herself against verbal harassment and a violent attack from her perpetrators. Though this seems like the perfect example of when claiming self-defense under the law should be justified, McDonald was not granted this projection. Her bodily autonomy was further assaulted when she was forced to spend time in a men’s prison despite identifying as a woman. In an interview with Melissa Harris-Perry following her release from prison, McDonald said, “I felt like they [the prison authorities] wanted me to hate myself as a trans woman. They wanted to force me to be someone that I wasn’t. They wanted me to delegitimize myself as a trans woman, and I was not taking that. As a trans woman, as a proud Black trans woman, I was not going to allow the system to delegitimize and hyper-sexualize and take my identity away from me.”

Then there is the case of Marissa Alexander, a Black woman in Florida who now faces 60 years in prison—triple her original, repealed sentence because “the judge in the case gave improper jury instructions”—for firing a warning shot at her abusive, estranged husband. (The shot did not harm or kill anyone.) This case is particularly interesting because Alexander is seeking immunity under Florida’s “stand your ground” law. This is the same law that allowed George Zimmerman to be acquitted for pursuing and then murdering an unarmed teenager, Trayvon Martin. For Marissa Alexander, being “bossy” meant defending herself during an ongoing attack by only firing a warning shot in the direction of a man who has a history domestic violence toward her just to get the violence in that moment to stop. Additionally, Alexander had just given birth to a baby before the tumultuous altercation that may result in her being imprisoned for the rest of her life and the lives of her small children. In both cases, claiming self-defense/the right to stand your ground failed to be recognized as a valid defense, which is often how it is for Black women who must use force to defend their bodies against greater force.

These are two examples of what happens when Black women “lean in” to stand up for themselves but are ultimately punished for it. And they show that Black women will lead even despite highly unfavorable consequences. 

In the examples above, these women had no other choice but to be bossy, protect themselves, and demand that their lives be valued. In order to take on transphobic violence, mass incarceration, and the prison industrial complex’s detrimental effects on the entire Black community regardless of gender or sexuality, we have to be bossy. In order to take on Florida State Attorney Angela Corey, who failed to secure murder convictions for the killers of Trayvon Martin and Jordan Davis yet wants to lock away a domestic violence survivor for the rest of her life, we have to be bossy.

I am grateful for CeCe McDonald, Marissa Alexander, and countless other phenomenal Black women leaders and activists who are able to find their voices and strength to lead out of adverse situations. We make sacrifices to our personal lives, risk being viewed as unreasonably angry Black women, and some of us even risk our lives to fight for justice while paving the way for the girls who will follow behind us. I’d like to see the Ban Bossy campaign incorporate leadership development that meets the needs of the women and girls facing (or who will face) these issues.

Though Black women continue to be victims of patriarchy, as displayed by our criminal justice and political system’s inability to protect us, there is always hope and the possibility of actual progress. This is especially true when we take our liberation and the liberation of our communities into our own hands. While our situation is dire, we will proudly take on the bossy characteristics of being assertive and aggressive to forge ahead. Young Black women and young women of color need to be acknowledged and continuously developed as the leaders and experts in advocating on their own behalf without the fear of being seen as too emotional, violent, or angry in addition to this idea of being called “bossy.” This will help to combat the negative connotations Black women face when inserting themselves as leaders that will not undermine their goals, aspirations, or the reasons (often induced by enraging situations) for taking on leadership roles; which is overall what the Ban Bossy Campaign sets out to accomplish.

Developing girls and women to be leaders with this type of intersectional approach will give us the opportunity not only to be CEOs but also to be proactive in fighting to improve our overall quality of life in a system that has historically sought to keep us in a state of despair. We need a campaign that acknowledges that when we fight back or speak up for ourselves, even if it is out of anger, that our feelings and emotional responses are valid. Acknowledging our anger as just volatile instead of taking a moment to realize that our aggressiveness and anger is righteous and justified is silencing. Black girls and women deserve a voice especially in the decisions that impact our lives, because no one knows the issues that we, our families, and our communities face better than us.

I’m a Black woman and organizer who has turned my bossiness into a lifetime of organizing for progressive issues, developing community leaders, and writing to ensure that the voices of young people, people of color, and folks from communities of limited resources are heard. My passion for being “bossy” and being one out of countless people collectively fighting for justice comes from my lived experience as someone who holds the identities of those who often go unheard and victimized in our society. Our families and communities call on us every day to be leaders, whether we’re called bossy or not. Sure you can try to ban the word (thought I must admit, I will never give up having an occasional sing-a-long and private dance party to my favorite Kelis song). However, banning the word will do little if we aren’t also working to remove the systemic barriers in our political system, while doing the cultural work of understanding how Black girls and women exhibit leadership qualities beyond being just being accommodating and accepting.

For starters, women—specifically young women—should find every outlet possible to grow, develop, and execute our capability to lead with the ultimate goal of eradicating our social vulnerabilities. This can include applying to civic engagement leadership programs like the PolitiCorps, which focuses on training young leaders who are ready to commit themselves to working in public service full time; working with the 1 in 3 Campaign, which seeks to develop leaders and campus based student groups to destigmatize abortion by creating a new dialogue that puts people at the center of the conversation about abortion rights and access; or getting involved with Black Women For, which is a leadership development network for professional Black women ages 21 to 34 who are committed to changing the world.

There are countless organizations that are going beyond just addressing rhetoric to develop leadership skills in women and teach them how to make the change they want to see in the world through whatever medium is best for them, such as by showing them how to use their voice to express their frustration toward an oppressive system while also directing their passionate feelings to incite change and having the patience to see their work through to the end. While encouraging young women to apply to leadership development and activism programs, we must also remove the barriers of oppression that stand in their path to success.

Whether young women are bossy or have a less confrontational, more introverted approach to leadership, they are the future leaders we have been waiting for. We should tell them to harness their power, be a leader, and use their voice in order to create the type of change that will create options and equal access within our society for all people. And, we should say: Please be bossy!