Like a boss.
Confession: I really hate the term "girl boss."
In case you're not familiar with the term and/or its origins, the phrase was made popular a couple of years ago with the publication of #GIRLBOSS, the "runaway New York Times best seller" by Sophia Amoruso. Next confession: I have never read this book, and I probably never will. I know from the magical World Wide Web that Amoruso is the founder of the Nasty Gal clothing line. Not being particularly into fashion, or this type of "advice from the stars" nonfiction that's become so popular, I can't offer much commentary on the merits of Nasty Gal or the book. I merely understand Amoruso to be a successful lady in the fashion industry who wrote a book with a catchy, cute hashtag for a title that has since been appropriated by tons and tons and tons of mostly-white, reasonably well-off women around the country.
I realize that sounded judgy. Sadly, it's just the reality of the landscape when it comes to hashtag girl boss-dom.
Truthfully, I don't mean to judge you, oh ladies who love the phrase "girl boss" or #girlboss or whatever we're doing with it. It's not you I'm rolling my eyes at, but I am rolling my eyes. And you're probably wondering why. Maybe you consider yourself a feminist, like me, and so you're confused as to why I'm not into celebrating the strength and success of women. I am very much into those things. I'm just not interested in making women, our hard work or our successes cute or hashtag-able. I'm tired of cute. Women are bad-ass.
I know, I know. I'm being nitpicky. This kind of stuff used to drive me nuts, before I got to whatever stage of woke-ness I'm currently in. Spoiler alert: I get schooled by people far more woke than me all the time. But I'm learning to notice these nuances that can make a big difference in what something means, or communicates to the world.
Here's the deal. As clever and sassy as it sounds, "girl boss" is diminutive. It's meant to be empowering, but what it is, in fact, is adorable. It makes light of the impossibly hard work of being female. The phrase not only implies that success for women is as easy and natural as slipping on a pair of great heels; what's more, it perpetuates the status quo. The world is still a battlefield in which men and women are in constant competition, and on uneven ground. We don't just have to prove ourselves; we have to fight for our basic human rights, every day of our lives. Calling successful, powerful women "girl boss" is condescending. Being a woman in charge is anything but adorable. It's a damn triumph.
We didn't get these still-not-equally-paying-but-increasingly-cool jobs and lifestyles with the flick of a wrist. All over the world, for centuries, women have rolled up their sleeves/hitched up their thirty pounds of clothing/trudged barefoot over rocks/insert horrible circumstance and struggle here, working tirelessly to improve their lives, and ours. We didn't ease on up to the bar and order a drink. We had to elbow every single dude from the subway to the saloon out of our goddamn way and say, MAKE ROOM FOR ME, ASSHOLE. There is nothing cute about that.
Women have been fighting for a seat at the table - not even the head of the table, just a friggin' seat - since the beginning of time. So now that we've arrived, why are we throwing ourselves such a modest party? We're not girl bosses. We're fucking bosses. Plain and simple. And it gets even better: you don't have to be famous or run a massive corporation to be a fucking boss.
Take, for instance, my friend Kimberly, who, after 14 years of workin' for the man, gave corporate America the middle finger, walked confidently away from a well-paying job and said, NOPE. I got this. I can do it on my own. She runs her own graphic design business as well as a line of sassy and sweet stationery celebrating strength, friendship, love and hard work. There's no way I would ever call Kimberly a girl. She's a woman, and she makes. shit. happen.*
Or how about my other friend Kimberly, who has NEVER worked for the man, but started her own creative consulting company, and then partnered up to co-found an artist management group, and is now opening her very own indoor cycling studio alongside one of her best friends, who is an entrepreneur and a single mother of two kids. Badass. Both of them. I know.
AND THOSE ARE JUST THE KIMBERLYS IN MY LIFE! You should see what all the others are doing.
Both of my friends named Kimberly have referred to themselves as girl bosses. (Hi, ladies!) I'm not throwing shade. If it works for them, okay. It's working for a lot of people, but I'm gonna keep calling them bosses.
In a post for The Broadcast a few months ago, writer Anna Jordan made me want to stand up and cheer. Her piece on boss vs. girlboss so perfectly summed up the thoughts I hadn't been able to articulate, and also some I hadn't fully considered. Just a few paragraphs:
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.
“Girl Boss” 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.”
(Side note: Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie is my new favorite writer. Start with Americanah, thank me later.)
I want to be clear: my aversion to "girl boss" and other precious names for what is ultimately a rebellion among women in the work force staking their rightful claim as men's clear and deserving equals should not suggest that I don't think it's important to acknowledge female success. Even though it is right and normal that women should take their places among the world's most powerful leaders, until it is the norm, until no one cares what kind of outfit Hillary Clinton wears to work, or whether or not Kristen Stewart smiles at the paparazzi, it's important for women to celebrate other women, and also to support and raise up other women. That's just part of shine theory, that we are made better when we surround ourselves with amazing women, and in turn, we better others with our alliances.
We're living in a very exciting and, frankly, terrifying time for women. Women have fought tooth and nail to achieve and succeed at higher levels than our mothers and grandmothers could ever have dreamed of reaching. But even as we are poised to (probably/most likely/dear God, help us if we don't) elect our first female president, a bad day at the polls and a healthy aversion to a strong, powerful female in pants could bring a dangerous, bigoted, xenophobic demagogue to the White House. We're not there yet, ladies.
This is not a post about Hillary Clinton, but her candidacy is relevant because no woman has made such a successful pass at the presidency. Not once, but twice! And as much as we may want to believe that gender isn't an ingredient in the vitriol so many feel but few can explain when it comes to the former First Lady, history is going to show that it most certainly is. (Was? Hmph.)
Gender shouldn't matter, and bless the younger, more inclusive generation for believing we're on the cusp of it actually ceasing to matter. But how quickly they - and all of us - forget that, a mere forty years ago, as a single woman, you couldn't even legally purchase birth control across most of the nation. No matter how much we want to believe otherwise, there are still a lot of people out there who are hella uncomfortable with the idea of women in charge. And equal is too close to "in charge" for comfort.
Would you call Hillary Clinton a hashtag girl boss? Never. She's a fucking boss. Period, full stop. Just like Oprah Winfrey and Ellen Degeneres, Elizabeth Warren and Wendy Davis, Beyonce and the Dixie Chicks, Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Sonia Sotomayor, and all the other women who are working their asses off and fighting like hell so that one day, we won't have to be called girl bosses, but instead, we'll be recognized as the bosses we have always been.
* Photo credit Kimberly Witchey / Phenix / Paper Goods for the Sweet & Sassy