Opinion: I’m not your #GirlBoss, I’m your boss
Catherine Lloyd, Copy Editor, condemns the recent trend of reducing women’s corporate and business successes to the term “girlboss”
The term “Girlboss” is the verbal equivalent of a pat on the head or worse, a participation medal. And women are cladding themselves in t-shirts, carrying tote bags and drinking from water-bottles emblazoned with the phrase under the auspices of empowerment. Feminism has been hijacked, repackaged with a pink bow and sold back to us for a profit.
Whilst seemingly innocent, girlboss culture commodifies our insecurities in a bid to pinkwash. It’s as if the coined word was intended to pacify us while women’s issues of gender discrimination are casually dismissed for a more comfortable reality. It’s late capitalism manifest. When we partake, that’s when we perpetuate the farce. Let’s call time on faux-empowerment and all its trappings. Put down that water bottle.
The gendered neologism was first popularised by Sophia Amoruso – the founder of online retailer Nasty Gal – with the intention of highlighting how language is implicitly coded as male. ‘CEO’ is synonymous in our minds with cufflinks, pressed suits and brogues. We would do well to remember that language is phallogocentric so in tow reinforces a male world view.
The solution isn’t found in assigning women the palatable alternative ‘she-EO’ – a label which only reinforces gender binaries – but rather in ridding ourselves of society’s version of female success. The troubling fact remains that women are held to a higher account than men, expected to remain implacable once we return from a cut-short maternity leave. Linguistically, the term infantilises the role of a female in the upper echelons of the corporate world, dissuading her from occupying space.
The need to qualify a word with gender downplays women’s accomplishments, diminishes the legitimacy of said accomplishments and reinforces women as the exception when men hold court. It’s semantic sexism.
Even when women do overcome this and succeed, we toe the line in a man’s corporate space. Upon reaching positions of authority, we replicate the power structures that bode well for men rather than develop an alternative to that pervasive hierarchy that benefits women. These structures disempower the most vulnerable and marginalised rather than allowing a minority workforce to have a say in pay and working conditions. True equality is women being held to the same standards as men, as opposed to successes being qualified by virtue of gender.
The need to qualify a word with gender downplays women’s accomplishments, diminishes the legitimacy of said accomplishments and reinforces women as the exception when men hold court. It’s semantic sexism. We throw disdain upon “female athlete” and “actress”, as it implies the original word belongs to a man but the tide is slowly shifting as these sectors no longer remain male-centric. Women need a workplace free of bias rather than having their gender preface their successes. Its maddening that there is still a desire to differentiate a boss with one that is female. Our gender has nothing to do with our ability to lead.
“Girlboss” was meant to enable and inspire but undermined the very achievements it was coined to champion. Does #boyboss exist? No. That’s because men in the workplace is still the status quo. The term claims to carve out a space in the boardroom for women but in turn ridicules our authority, making our presence more palatable. The higher you climb the corporate ladder, the worse it gets. An advert for PeoplePerHour – an online platform that connects freelancers with businesses – led their campaign with the patronising slogan, “You do the girl boss thing, we’ll do the SEO thing”. Plastered around the London Underground, the ad highlights the very issue at hand: no women were involved in the approval of that ad. It is endemic of a society that does not care to give space to a female perspective. Tech CEO Lisa Myers’ tweet in response encapsulates the frustration of a dismissed minority (although ignore the implicit trans erasure),
I’m the BOSS of an SEO Agency. My vagina has nothing to do with it.Lisa Myers
Girlboss culture came to the fore amid the age of ‘influencers’ and in turn many women have taken up precarious multi-hyphen careers. With ambitions to be self-made entrepreneurs, women have fallen into multi-level marketing schemes – essentially pyramid schemes – where markets are oversaturated and products overpriced. Vendors earn little commission and must tie other unsuspecting women into the web of MLMs, recruiting women into an ‘upline’. MLMs specifically target women, as single or homestay mothers are opportune recruits. MLMs are the definition of women scrambling over other women for their own individual advancement. While issues of pay equity are swept under the carpet, support genuine women-owned businesses. Don’t wait for a seat at the table to be offered, create your own.
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