The women’s empowerment space is an interesting space. On the one hand it attempts to boost women’s confidence and claims to be about women standing in their power.
On the other, there’s so much unacknowledged patriarchal conditioning there that it actually serves to entrench inequality and disempowerment just as often as it attempts to liberate women from it.
#girlboss is a prime example.
#girlboss is not empowering for women.
For girls? Absolutely.
But you’re not a girl. You’re a woman. Which means if you’re going to hashtag yourself, and feel the need to include a gender marker in order to connect with other women, let’s at least go with #womanboss.
Calling yourself ‘girl’ when you’re a woman is a nod to the long time infantilisation of women. It’s a tool that’s been used by the patriarchy to keep women submissive.
It sounds empowering because the word ‘boss’ is in it. But when it’s coupled with ‘girl’, it signals a discomfort with power. A knowing that we don’t really belong. An awareness that there’s a disconnect between the ways women are conditioned to show up in the world and the way a ‘boss’ is supposed to show up in the world.
#girlboss is a (largely unconscious) strategy used to assert power without being threatening to the men in the room.
I understand why that feels necessary at times. I get that the world doesn’t encourage you to assert your full authority. And that it often punishes you when you do. But here’s what calling yourself #girlboss does; it infantilises every other woman who tries to be taken seriously by her male colleagues. It signals to them that they should feel comfortable treating her like a girl because really, she’s not a CEO or a serious player in their industry. She’s just a #girlboss playing with her little hobby in between getting her hair and nails done.
Have you ever heard a white man speak to a black man and call him ‘boy’?
Here’s what’s sitting behind that; disrespect and an attempt to diminish. Giving an adult the moniker of a child is shorthand for saying; ‘We’re not equals. You’re less than me. Know your place. I refuse to acknowledge you as an adult.’
Here’s the difference between the way black men respond to that moniker and the way women respond to the same diminishment. Black men haven’t taken the label on board and said, ‘Yes let’s create a hashtag #boyboss. That’ll show them!’ They don’t do that because they know that calling them ‘boy’ is a racist attempt to strip them of their manhood and they have more self respect than to allow that to happen.
When women can’t claim their womanhood we have a problem.
When you feel uncomfortable about declaring your status as an adult who expects to engage with men an equal footing with men, we have a problem.
When women signal to each other that they should be called ‘girls’, there’s a problem.
So, next time you teach the world how to treat you – which you do with every label you adopt for yourself – consider carefully whether you’re honouring yourself in the process or whether you’re playing the good girl. You know her. She lives inside of us all, placating the powerful and smiling while she’s patted on the head for her good work.
And when you’re ready to break down the patriarchal conditioning that keeps women thinking they’re empowered when in fact, they’re perpetuating a system that’s designed to keep you small, come on over and become a member of the School of Visibility. We’d love to help you shift from #girlboss to #womaninherpower.