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Be the boss, not the #girlboss

Be the boss, not the #girlboss

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.

It’s not.

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.

  • Completely agreed. I struggled with Sophia Amoruso’s book for this reason, among others.

    We don’t call men boys unless it’s in a joking/less serious fashion i.e. “boys will be boys”, so I’ve been trying to make an effort to call other female women rather than girls at least in professional settings because I even find myself falling into that language at times.

  • I have been fairly ambivalent about the GirlBoss idea, and I think you articulate some good thoughts here. Of course it makes sense that boss can refer to a man or woman. However, because “boss” is so typically masculine in our culture, I can see why using the term “girlboss” would be a way of fighting against that. It’s reshaping perception, showing that femininity can exist in that domain. I don’t think my ambivalence has changed. Girlboss or no, if you’re the boss, you’re the boss.

  • […] Now I’ve heard many arguments about how the term GirlBoss is reclaiming a feminine word to empower, but I just don’t see it. And, obviously, I realize that I’m writing this post about a million years after the book has reached global success, so everything I’ve said has definitely been said before. One of my favourite articles on the topic is this one by Anna Jordan. […]

  • wonderful on so many levels. #GirlBoss has never sat well with me but I couldn’t really articulate why – that’s why!

  • Thank you! I hate all the rubbish that defines our working lives by our gender – mumprenuer, girlboss, business in heels, blah blah blah.. It’s why men doing EXACTLY THE SAME ROLE as me in a previous life were paid about 25 per cent more. And were never called “balloon boy” (I was a senior regional manager in marketing and PR, which involved a lot of representing company at community events – with helium balloons, hence balloon girl)

  • Thank you SO much – I just posted this link on LinkedIn as I’m getting so tired of the infantilizing term “girlboss” used to describe adults. I don’t refer to men in business as “boyboss” and reducing each other by using childlike terms in business is not OK. We are grown women and until we start demanding to be treated as such (and call each other as such), we will still be part of the problem. I had a woman promoting the term tell me “most millenial women think this term is OK” – as if she knew all women of an entire generation, and as if the fact that many are offended by it still didn’t matter because those *she* knew were okay with it. I am proud to call myself a woman and like your article said, use of this term is NOT equivalent to feminist. Thank you for a great post.

  • […] “What we’re all thinking is that the term ‘Boy Boss’ is redundant, the way ‘Girl Princess’ is redundant.” For the last couple years, there’s been this burgeoning idea that women should claim their boss-iness with more fervor. I couldn’t agree more, because if you’ve got the power to lead, then by all means, get up on that podium, and let’s get to it. Unfortunately, many women can’t seem to shake the idea that their role as boss has to be labeled different than a man’s because it is, in some manner unknown to me, different. Calling yourself a “girl boss” or a “bossy lady” is the equivalent of having the title CEO with an (*) next to it. You have every right to be a leader, but how about being one without classification. […]

  • It’s really a shame that you’re writing negative articles about a woman whose business is all about supporting other women. Also, any #girlboss would know that it’s bad business to advertise your product on someone’s podcast, only to turn around and trash their business. You just lost this #girlboss as a customer.

    • Nuanced critique is essential to helping us navigate the path toward progress. One can be critical of a term without dismissing anyone who uses it. In the case of this piece, I think Jordan is careful to explain that, while the #girlboss ideology is in some ways good for women, it’s not the ideal. It’s ok to be cautiously optimistic. And for myself, I’d rather be a boss than a girl boss.

  • Amen!! I’ve been thinking about this exact point a lot lately. We shouldn’t have to clarify boss with “girl” in front of it, like we’re doing something out of the ordinary. We’re just being boss ladies, because ladies are bosses. Putting “girl” in front of it makes it seem special, and as long as we keep doing that it won’t seem normal, as it should be.

    • Well put. When we use the term “boy” to a man it is to diminish him, and I believe “girl” does the same thing whether it’s intentional by some or not. We’ve earned our years.

  • So great! And as Anna mentioned, a perspective that I hadn’t thought about but now makes total sense.

  • This is such a great perspective – and one I hadn’t really considered. Consider this my very last #GirlBoss reference. But also my very FIRST #BoyBoss reference, because that definitely deserves more play 😉

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