The Problem With “Girl Boss”

We need to retire the terms “girl boss” and “boss babe” asap.

If you’re like me, hearing the terms “girl boss” and “boss babe” make you cringe. When we use gendered and infantilizing language to describe a concept that isn’t inherently gendered (like boss), we contribute to a greater problem – Sexism.

Consider for a moment how ridiculous it would sound hearing Michelle Obama or Beyonce calling themselves girl bosses. Powerful, grown, highly successful women.

The term was popularized in 2014 in a book by Sophia Amaruso (who, in 2022, tweeted a plea to stop using #GirlBoss). It was intended to embody feminism and empowerment, showing that women can do everything that men can do – Be self-made, be CEOs, be business owners. But it was highly misguided because of the issues inherent with gendered language. A Boss is a boss, regardless of gender, and calling oneself a girl only serves to play into gender stereotypes and oppression, and suggests that women’s successes are an anomaly to be admired. Normalizing women’s success should be the objective.

“We intuitively understand that using a different word for women in male-dominated fields suggests that these women are aberrations – exceptions that prove the rule… Using gendered language such as ‘girlboss’ and ‘guyliner’ risks reinforcing the myth that women and men are wildly different creatures, suited to different jobs. It can exacerbate the stereotypical thinking that comes so naturally to us, leading people to overestimate the real differences between genders” – Stav Atir, University of Wisconsin-Madison.

We, as women, also tend to soften the blow of our perceived threat to men by using “cute” language, like the word babe, to describe ourselves. Perhaps we’re less intimidating to the men we’re playing ball with when we call ourselves babes or girls. Importantly, we’re also creating opportunities to not be taken seriously.

Now let’s consider “Boy Boss.” Haven’t heard of that term? That’s because it doesn’t exist as a cultural phenomenon. If we wouldn’t use certain vernacular to describe a man, then it’s likely also inappropriate and highly problematic to use it when describing women. We live in a culture where male is normative. Men exist as bosses without the need to specify their gender. Likewise, we also do not need to specify gender to describe a person who is successful and also a woman.

Women’s History Month (and any time, really) is an excellent time to consider our perceptions, held-stereotypes, and contributions to furthering equity and equality.

It’s time to bury #GirlBoss for good.

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