In my children’s playroom, there’s a giant dress-up clothes bin. Most days, my kids put on costumes before they put on clothes. Recently, my son has claimed the sparkly blue Cinderella dress as his own. As such, it now has a giant rip down one side because he wears it while playing soccer in the backyard.
One day he came parading out in the blue sparkly dress and declared, “I am Mason, the boy princess!” I asked him if he meant that he was a prince, and he quickly urged me to look at his dress. “No, not a prince, mom. A boy princess.” This was a more accurate description, of course. He was acknowledging that he was a boy acting in a role that was typically female.
Our costume collection also includes a firefighter outfit and a space suit. Those costumes get equal attention around here, but neither needs a declaration of gender. When my son wears one he is simply a firefighter or an astronaut, and when my daughter puts one on we acknowledge her in the same way: she is not a “girl firefighter” or a “girl astronaut.” While those are still predominantly male dominated professions, the roles are not inherently male (like prince). She can be an astronaut or a firefighter in her own right.
What we’re all thinking is that the term ‘Boy Boss’ is redundant, the way ‘Girl Princess’ is redundant
Last night my husband called me on his way home from a meeting. He’d landed two new clients that day and was feeling particularly good about the growth of his business.
“You’re killing it!” I said.
“Hashtag Boy Boss,” he replied.
This is a joke we have. My husband has a small consulting firm, and recently he’s laughingly taken on this title to declare his business acumen. But that self-declaration rings as a little silly, doesn’t it? That’s why it’s funny. What we’re all thinking is that the term “Boy Boss” is redundant, the way “Girl Princess” is redundant. My husband is a boy – but no one would ever call him a boy because he’s almost 33 years old – so actually he’s a man who runs his own business. No one is sitting around thinking this is nice or remarkable. He is simply the boss.
Meanwhile,the phrase #GirlBoss has circulated the Internet for nearly two years, and its popularity continues to grow. Like my husband, I’m also in my early thirties and self-employed, but every time I sit down in a coffee shop to pound out an email, I’m supposed to snap a pic, tag it #GirlBoss, and allegedly that’s supposed to be empowering.
Sophia Amoruso, founder and CEO of NastyGal, coined this term for her 2014 book by the same name. The phrase and the philosophy behind it are designed to encourage women in their pursuits – whatever those may be. “#Girlboss™ is a platform inspiring women to lead deliberate lives.” This is a great mission, actually. Women should be empowered to live the lives they want. Here’s the deal, though: #Girlboss will not get you there. It is not the phrase we should tout if we want to be powerful or successful. Female-run businesses are not adorable. Women don’t need to justify their abilities and intellect by making it cute.
In her book, We Should All Be Feminists, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie writes, “We teach girls to shrink themselves, to make themselves smaller. We say to girls, you can have ambition, but not too much. You should aim to be successful, but not too successful.” Today, we are telling girls — and adult women — that they can be the #Girlboss, but they can’t be “the boss”.
Women don’t need to justify their abilities and intellect by making it cute.
In the words of Tina Fey as Ms. Norbury in Mean Girls: “We’ve gotta stop calling each other sluts and whores; it only makes it okay for guys to call us sluts and whores.” Similarly, #Girlboss is a phrase that minimizes the value of female leadership. Claiming a diminutive title will not give us power.
When Amoruso was asked about feminism in an interview with Elle, she replied: “I think it’s a fine word, but I think the most feminist thing to do is just to show up and be a #GirlBoss. Maybe #GirlBoss is a new word for feminism.” I would argue the opposite. #GirlBoss is not the new word for feminism. Feminism has always and will always refer to equality, while this phrase only provides another avenue for women to be made subordinate.
My children are growing up in the home with two self-employed parents, and like many of their peers, they are seeing business as an equal playing field. According to National Business Women’s Council, “[w]omen are entering the ranks of business ownership at record rates. Women are launching a net of more than 1,100 new businesses every single day.” There’s a reason that my daughter doesn’t want to grow up to be a girl pilot or a girl doctor, and it’s because she doesn’t view those professions as inherently male. It’s time that we see business through the same lens. If we want to shrink the pay gap, break the glass ceiling, and lean in, we need to be The Boss, not the #GirlBoss.