Why the term "girl boss" is not as empowering as you think

By Mia Barnes
The infamous #GirlBoss may be an unnecessary evil in the feminist narrative. How could a hashtag further divide genders when it was meant to empower?

Since 2014, girls have been putting #GirlBoss in social media captions and wearing them on mass-produced T-shirts and coffee mugs. You’ve seen female solopreneurs and CEOs touting the title — a stand against sexist discrimination and male-dominated workplaces. However, embracing the girl boss persona might have had a counterintuitive impact on women’s mental health and intersectional feminism than the hashtag first insinuated.

Why girl bosses are toxic

The girl boss image was cut from the same cloth as the hustle and bustle of a modern male CEO. Girl bosses promoted a hustle culture, prioritising work over all else, including mental health, sleep and relationships, and expect people to praise them. 

Usually, the female CEOs in these photos were privileged, white women, eliminating representation from a concept that was supposed to embrace it. With intersectional feminism as the new gold standard, ignoring the omissions of diverse women in power is impossible.

Plus, it insinuated a gender-specific qualifier was necessary for them to prove their value in non-gendered roles. Embedding empowerment using language that separates people is inherently paradoxical. Humanity should collaborate to create a truly unbiased, discrimination-free workplace that eliminates the false necessity to oppose genders at all.

Why it might be necessary

It’s easy to ponder the necessity of terms like girl boss and ask, “Why can’t women just be good at their jobs and earn the respect they deserve?” Unfortunately, the status quo designed positions of power and promotion paths to favour men and masculine qualities. Corporate expectations are embedded in these requirements without them being a part of the job description. 

Cultural conditioning like this takes years of conscious attention to overcome. What better way to make the masses face this issue than by incorporating a viral hashtag into business slang?

Some argue the term is a necessary evil for progress. It brought the concept to the business world’s attention, despite the degrading kickback it receives now for continuing to devalue women’s accomplishments. As the adage goes — all publicity is good publicity in the end. It had to be in the public eye and hit the headlines to spark discourse. Additionally, some women genuinely identify and feel empowered by the term, so it isn’t useless. However, women have reached a point to move the intention behind the hashtag to the next phase.

Why women should try something else

Being a model boss doesn’t have gendered qualifications. Being a just leader, empathetic communicator and swift decision-maker are genderless prerequisites. Why is the term necessary to elevate women and force men to perceive them differently?

Instead, women should collaborate to improve their leadership skills and resilience. This must happen in conjunction to stay motivated in environments built to oppress. First, women in workplaces should strive to remove competitive, hustle culture-style behaviours from the persona to create healthy, compelling habits that shine as a leadership example. Instead of replicating the male CEO expectation, intersectional feminism should reimagine it with more realistic, gender-nonconforming benchmarks.

Additionally, women should practice mindfulness to achieve balance in life. Calling it work-life balance insinuates everything in life should be balanced by work — when it should be the other way around. To persevere against gender disparities in workplace power positions, women can:

  • Visit your doctor to discuss stress management and other health issues stemming from workplace oppression
  • Prioritise happiness over everything
  • Find a support system for women to discuss emotional and practical hurdles without judgment
  • Practice breathwork, meditation or yoga to recenter yourself

Going beyond girl boss

You don’t have to call yourself a girl boss to encapsulate what the idea should have been. Countless workplaces and positions of power nudge women to fail and dismiss intersectionality. Instead of creating the girl boss as a copy of what society envisions as male success, women must make new standards to avoid toxic, competitive mentalities influenced by patriarchal assumptions.


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