Anne T. Donahue on the Problem with "Girlboss" & "Boss Babe"

Let’s not hang our life mantras on exclusionary terminology

I love a nickname. I love wordplay and coined terms, and I love them because I am fun and nobody will ever make me think otherwise.

In fact, I am so fun that I made time to watch and like Girlboss on Netflix because not every show has to be Mad Men, and most male leads on TV are as insufferable as the fictionalized version of Nasty Gal’s Sophia. Television doesn’t always need to be meaningful, and it doesn’t always need to be prestigious. It’s allowed to be just fun or fine or even just okay. I marathoned Girlboss while eating applesauce, and I regret nothing about those several hours except the memories of everything I wore between 2007 and 2008, when the series takes place.

But we all know that Girlboss is less a TV show than it is a type of movement. Since the book #Girlboss (the memoir by Nasty Gal founder Sophia Amoruso) was published back in 2015, women who work (so: most women) have been targeted with “girlboss” marketing. It’s become important to know that “girlbosses” wear certain types of lipstick, and to be made aware that they can thrive in particular office spaces. And then there are“Boss Babe(s),” the nickname that stems from the lifestyle brand that “teaches ambitious and millennial business-minded women how to take full responsibility over their lives and put happiness first.” Sure.

[Editor’s note: In full disclosure, FLARE has used the term “boss babe” in the past—but we recently stopped doing so after lots of feedback and discussion.]

The thing is, yes: these movements and nicknames can be a means of stoking ambition. And there should be points awarded to the fact that the actual Boss Babe™ organization subscribes to the idea of women helping women, as opposed to competing with one another. The thing is, each of these ideals still thrive on capitalism, and as soon as feminism becomes aligned with a system designed to help a very small part of the population, we’ve got a problem. And then we’ve got an even bigger one when you remember that to hang one’s life mantra on gender-centric terminology is exclusionary, too. (Are these movements ensuring that trans women’s experiences are also taken into account? And what about non-binary people? Do they not get to feel powerful?)

Which I know can feel like a tall order if the boss babe/girlboss/She-EO ethos is working for you—or even if you’re just someone who just wants a cute Kate Spade planner with a work-centric saying. (Because look: who doesn’t.) But when feminism is so closely linked to business—and therefore to capitalism—it sends a message that to be a woman in business is a feminist action. And while being a boss connotes that women can do anything, it’s important to remember that there are still millions of women who can’t. And that’s where actual feminism comes into play: a.k.a. the messy, political, disruptive force that doesn’t come with a catchy saying, but is the reason why women are bosses at all.

Plus, women are allowed to be entrepreneurs or bosses or managers or CEOs without those titles and choices necessitating a slogan. Especially since men are those things all the time, and have yet to begin describing themselves with the addition of hashtags. (At least I hope not—if I’m wrong, no one correct me because I don’t want to know.) And while branding and nicknames can absolutely make a movement trendy, they also serve to create divides—namely when we describe someone as a “She-EO” not a CEO, an actual professional title.

So I swear that I’m fun. I promise I still like coined terms and wordplay and nicknames if they’re not terrible. But it is 2017, and I think we’re ready to stop categorizing ambition or professional goals as an extension of feminism. Yes, the 2015 #Girlboss boost was great and I’ll never fully dismiss something that gets young women into the game and their brains through the door, but we’ve had enough years to recognize how money-making doesn’t tend to translate into equality. (Hell, we’ve had four months of a Trump presidency.)

We don’t need marketing to remind us that we’re women, nor do we need job titles peppered with gendered pronouns. We can wear whatever lipsticks we want or decorate our offices however we see fit. My planner says, “I AM VERY BUSY.” I bought it because it is large and came with stickers. But a girlboss I am not.

More from Anne:
Hey Kim Kardashian: Materialism Isn’t Your Problem—Apathy Is 
Ivanka Got Booed and Anne T. Donahue Is Here for It
Anne T. Donahue on the Pepsi Implosion: Where’s Kendall’s Apology?

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