#GIRLBOSS. I don’t like it. It took a while for me to decide exactly why this term never fails to ignite a mild to moderate flicker of irritation in my gut when I so resolutely support what it’s supposed to represent. Women starting their own businesses? Tick. Women in power? Tick. Women having the confidence to celebrate their success? Tick tick tick. So why don’t I embrace the notion of the Girl Boss? Why does it irk where it’s supposed to inspire?
The issue of course is with the word ‘girl’. Why do we feel the need to preface our hard won status with a word that denotes neither power, success, professionalism nor expertise? Why, after so many generations of women have fought for equality, are we so keen to differentiate ourselves from our male peers? I think what we need to ask ourselves is whether or not these terms add to or detract from our achievements. If you have the grit and the determination needed to start your own business are a #girlboss or are you an entrepreneur? If you work hard and excel in a certain field are you a #bossbabe or are you an expert? If you climb the grease slicked corporate pole and find yourself in a position of leadership are you a #girlincharge or are you just in charge? There is something infantilising about these terms. For me, they simply don’t read as ‘I am a woman at the top of my game’. Rather, they read as ‘I am a woman at the top of my game – but I’m still cute though’. They are the lexical equivalent of a princess crown emoji and it is this simpering, superficial undertone that renders them counterproductive and gives rise to the thorny question of inclusivity.
Who can be a #bossbabe? Is it any woman working hard to carve out a successful career or are the rules more narrowly defined? To google the term is to uncover a laundry list of bizarre and somewhat aggressive edicts. ‘Sundays should feel like yoga pants and messy buns’. ‘If you’re not living your dream then what is your life even about?’. ‘Heels on and hustle’. ‘You can’t deposit excuses’. ‘Closet like Carrie – money like Big’. The overriding message is clear; #bossbabes measure success in monetary terms. The monetary gains must then be spent on improving ones appearance, buying expensive things and partaking in middle class pursuits. Because if your soles aren’t red and your arms aren’t toned, if your hair isn’t blow dried and you don’t have an overpriced coffee in your hand, are you even successful? The image of a #bossbabe is only relatable for a very specific type of girl. What about the fat girls, shy girls, nerdy girls, sensitive girls, creative girls and poor girls? What about the girls with bad haircuts or no interest in fashion? How are they supposed to be empowered by a term that promotes such a rigid aesthetic for achievement? The answer is that they’re not because the term has lost all semblance of empowerment. It is now little more than a marketing term and, as with all successful marketing terms, it relies on the push and pull of aspiration and exclusion in order to be relevant. And what if you don’t want to be a #GIRLBOSS? What if you don’t want to ‘kill it’, ‘slay it’ or ‘lean in’? What if you value minimal stress over maximum success? When the message is ‘wake up with goals or go back to sleep’, what are we really saying to the girls who just aren’t wired that way – start achieving, you’re letting the side down?
And so, I’ll never be a #girlboss because I’m 26 years old and if I was going to refer to myself as a boss I would feel no need whatsoever to feminize it first. I’ll never be a #bossbabe because I resent the implied link between physical appearance and achievement and have little interest in promoting one specific lifestyle as the talisman of success. I’ll never be MUMpreneur, EntreprenHER, Lady Boss or She E O because Entrepreneur, Boss and CEO can freely apply to anyone regardless of gender and to promote a ‘female’ version sets us back by implying otherwise. The language that we use to describe both ourselves and our role models should feel empowering and inspirational. We can be Leaders! Pioneers! Trailblazers! Tycoons! These labels denote the dedication and courage that it takes to succeed and can be claimed by anyone who is willing to work for them. Whether they sound ‘cute’ or not is beside the point.