If I hear “She-EO” or “Girlboss” one more time, I’m gonna fucking scream.
I’m breaking down why “Girlboss” business practices are so harmful and so lame.
I’m going to rant a little bit, but before I do, I want to set the stage: I am not the gatekeeper of feminism and how to “do it right.” I just have opinions. You can disagree – go ahead and yell at me if you do – but I’m going to share what I feel about this issue because I see it ALL THE TIME, and it just bugs me.
I’ll be honest, many years ago, I really bought into what we now call “girlboss feminism.” These posts, content or aspirational view of what being a “girlboss” looked like—even just that word and what it embodied. I used the hashtag; I used to really get it. But I have grown, learned, and seen how incredibly toxic it is. So, I want to share a new point for you if this is something you’re not familiar with and talk about how we can do better for women in business.
This very carefully curated idea of “feminism” appealed to me; I was very “girl power!” (I mean, let’s talk Spice Girls). It drew me in, and it has been a source of motivation and inspiration for tons and tons of women. But just like everywhere else in life, we learn, and we grow. So I’m going to share a few reasons why girlboss feminism is so toxic and what we can do about it.
Mean Girls for Business
It’s like “On Wednesdays we wear pink,” but every day. First and foremost, it’s not inclusive AT ALL. It perpetuates this extremely limited and prescriptive arena in which women “are allowed” to be successful and to be leaders. The idea that it perpetuates is essentially if you’re white, come from a privileged background, dress a certain way, act a certain way, if your home office is photoshoot ready all the time – if you do all of these things, THEN you can be successful. You have to be perfectly put together. You have to have grown up with money and had a great, formal education. You have to be white, cis, and straight; it’s all about this mold, and you have to fit into it. And, just like everything else society tells us about women: it has to be pretty.
That’s not real life. It’s bullshit that immediately alienates like almost all people. Real life and business are fucking hard and messy. It’s not always pretty. But, to be a successful woman in business, be a leader, make an impact, and make money – you don’t have to feed into this. You don’t have to be “pretty,” have a perfectly curated Instagram feed, and you don’t have to be white!
“Girlboss feminism” perpetuates this extremely toxic myth about what women in business have to look like.
The term “Girlboss” is Patronizing and Diminutive
The whole concept, even just the word “girlboss,” is ridiculous. I am a god damn woman; I am not a girl, first of all. Me being a “boss” has nothing to do with my gender.
Have you ever told someone what you’re working on, and they go, “oh, how’s your little business going? How’s your little project going?” There’s this practice of making it smaller because that is what their mind is willing to accept. And that’s what this girlboss or She-E-O thing does. It puts women in business being successful into a socially acceptable box to the patriarchy that wants it to be small, less than, and inferior because women are supposed to be small, less than, and inferior. Get the fuck out of here.
So, no more qualifying being a boss. I’m not a girlboss; I’m a fucking boss. And if someone DMs me about a business opportunity and calls me “babe,” I am not responding.
“Girlboss” is Exploitative
This one is super, super important. This idea of girlboss feminism says, “if I can do it, you can do it too,” without acknowledging all of the levels of privilege that contribute to someone’s success and all of these systems of oppression that actively fight against it for others.
In reality, not everyone in this idealistic view of business gets to be the girlboss – only a few. These people who have built this vision have done so on the backs of everybody else, just like any other “guy boss” has. They’ve used the same exploitation of capitalism, and that’s not empowering for anyone beneath them; that’s not real feminism. It teaches us that to be leaders as women, we have to do it using the same oppressive tactics that many men have used, but we have to do it in pink and in heels.
Real equality and freedom aren’t women doing the same as men to win their game. Instead, it’s creating our own systems where we can do what we want and still be successful.
Real feminism elevates the whole community, not just the bosses at the top, who then exploit the community beneath them.
It Doesn’t Create Meaningful Change (Not Even Close)
Girlboss feminism elevates these outliers who have to use the same oppressive, sexist, patriarchal tactics to get ahead of other women versus elevating women as a community. It’s all focused on being the boss, not raising the tide.
This is part of my complicated relationship with capitalism, where you have owners who benefit from the work of workers (this is something we’ll really get into another time — let me know what you want to hear about that). Girlboss feminism tells itself it’s “female empowerment” when it really only elevates a select few.
Here’s the thing, I’m not saying that you can’t be proud to be a woman in business or that you can’t wear pink and be happy about it, that you can’t have pretty posts that are also inspiring. Instead, that we need to be more critical of oppression dressed up as empowerment so that we can actually find ways to create meaningful, inclusive change that drives women as a whole forward. I don’t have all the answers, but it starts with recognizing what’s actually happening, being aware, and being critical of it so we can create changes every day in the little actions we take.
For more on that, check out my video, 7 Ways to Make Social Impact with Your Business. This is an ongoing concept that’s really, really important to me, and there’s more to come.
Until next time, stay badass.