In defense of #girlboss
I recently read an article that denounced the term #girlboss. This struck me because I’m a fan of Sophia Amoruso, the founder of Nasty Gal (who coined the term), have tagged #girlboss in many social media posts, and even have the “Girl Boss” desk plate sitting on my desk. The article prompted me to question myself as a feminist. Am I minimizing women leaders and contributing to a sexist culture by using the term #girlboss? Am I wrong to feel inspiration and empowerment from a term that was deemed by the article as “another way for women to be made subordinate”? My views on feminism have evolved over time, and continue to evolve as I grow as an individual. While I am not afraid to admit my fault, I just don’t agree that #girlboss is problematic and I’d like to defend what the term means to me.
Growing up in Missouri, I didn’t have access to the most fashion-forward or counter-culture shopping as a teenager. None of the stores at the local malls sold anything I felt would let me express who I was. I remember using my paychecks from my first job at 15 years old to shop online at American Apparel, a store that I was excited about at the time for being different. When I stumbled across a site called “shopnastygal.com”, I immediately felt connected. The clothes, the girls in the clothes, that was who I wanted to be, and I was hooked. I think for about 4 or 5 years, I exclusively shopped at Nasty Gal. People would ask me where I got my clothes, my shoes, and my bags and I would smile proudly and tell them they were from “Nasty Gal”. While some people, mostly my grandmother, were slightly horrified by the name of the store, I would follow up by explaining it’s the fastest growing online retailer in the country and that the CEO Sophia Amoruso was featured in Forbes magazine. The culture and community Sophia Amoruso cultivated with Nasty Gal was the first place I really felt like I fit in. To no one’s surprise, I pre-ordered Amoruso’s book #GIRLBOSS and have been using the hashtag on social media ever since.
However, the term means a lot more to me than simply being loyal to a brand and a woman I admire. To me, being a #girlboss maximizes (not minimizes, per the article) what it means to be a boss. According to the Washington Post in June 2015, the number of Fortune 500 companies led by women was only at 5%, so it’s safe to say that traditionally, the word “boss” may insinuate male gender. I’m not saying it’s right but that doesn’t change the fact that when you Google Image search “CEO”, you will see rows of men, mostly white, in suits. I have read a lot of good intentioned articles that basically advise women to change who they are in order to be respected, get promoted, and be a “boss”. I’m told to speak more assertively, never say “sorry”, stop saying words like “just”, and a million other crazy tactics that are supposed to help women succeed. When in reality, regardless of all the silly advice, the odds are simply just stacked against women in our society. I can mimic the mannerisms of successful and powerful men and try to get the same results but historically that just hasn’t worked for women. And why should it? Who is to say what makes a man successful will be the same thing that will make a woman successful? (Side note: women who do exhibit these “male” qualities are disliked and seen negatively, studies show. I’ve yet to read an article that simply advises women to be themselves and work hard, and I definitely haven’t seen many articles that suggest steps men can take to stop being biased towards women. That’s what #girlboss is to me. My guide, my example of a woman who is so unapologetically female, who doesn’t follow the “rules” and “strategies” women are supposed to follow in order to succeed, but somehow still did.
There are a lot of situations I deal with, being a software engineer, that my male counterparts will never have to deal with. Some are inherent, like if I choose to have a child, my experience will differ than a man’s simply because of biology. There are also a lot of well documented injustices and biases towards marginalized groups in the tech industry, and even at 23 years old, I’ve already had a fair share of equally cringe-worthy and maddening experiences that just wouldn’t happen to a man. As frustrating as coding can be at times, navigating an industry that could be considered a “boy’s club”, is more tiring and more draining. I willingly chose a career in an industry where once again, I struggle to fit in or feel at home in the community. Rare is it that I attend a meeting where another woman is in attendance and it’s intimidating for me as a young engineer who wants to make a difference. How will people perceive me if I ask a question that was obvious to everyone else? Will my mistakes be attributed to my gender? How many people have questioned whether I earned my position or if the standards were lowered because I’m a woman? I try my best not to focus on questions like these, but sometimes the doubts creep into my mind and sometimes my doubts are reinforced by the people around me. From where I stand, every woman I see who succeeds in this industry is successful in spite of an industry that is currently designed for men, mostly white, to succeed.
The article also mentions the idea that if women call themselves “sluts and whores” it only makes it okay for other people to call women that. This concept is a popular topic of debate in our society, and I think in a way, I agree with both sides. Although men don’t think it’s okay to call me those names because they’ve heard women calling themselves those names. The insulting and sexist names women are called came first, and it can feel powerful to take back those words and turn them into something positive. Similar to Always’ “Like a Girl” campaign, #girlboss refutes the idea that “girl” is synonymous with lesser. #Girlboss in my world means you’ve worked harder, been more resilient and made it into the spaces traditionally reserved for men. If #girlboss doesn’t resonate with you, that’s okay too, but I refuse to feel guilty or be shamed into condemning the term. I will keep my Girl Boss desk plate, keep being a #girlboss, keep being inspired by #girlbosses and hopefully one day even inspire more women to be #girlbosses.
Donate to the #girlboss foundation, which gives grants to women entrepreneurs here.
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