There’s No Such Thing as a GirlBoss


+ + December 1, 2016

Girlboss. This is a term I’ve seen absolutely everywhere the last few years. It makes sense to see it in the blogging world as bloggers tend to be quite entrepreneurial. We’re all here building our own little empires. Still, it’s a term that’s always irked me a bit. Why GIRL boss. Why not just the boss? If we must provide a qualifier, why not Boss Lady over the diminutive “girl?”

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Admittedly, while all these thoughts were floating around, I hadn’t actually read the book #Girlboss by Sophia Amoruso. And, in fact, not being much of a fashionista myself, I’d never really heard of its author or her business, Nasty Gal. So before I could write this post I thought I should do some research. And with recent job changes, I was in the mood for career motivation in general, so I also picked up Aliza Licht’s Leave Your Mark.

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I tried to go into #Girlboss with an open mind, but a few pages in the author suggested that perhaps North America was post-feminism and my eyes rolled so far back into my head that I saw the meaning of life and the universe. I was also immediately struck by the idea that the term GirlBoss could be replaced by any other term and it wouldn’t really matter. I imagined the author writing the entire manuscript referring to the audience as BloopidyBloops and then whacking a find and replace over the whole thing. That is to say that none of this seemed specifically female-centric. And that’s completely fine, since I’m not a huge fan of the gendered term in general! But all it made me think was that the title of the book is purely for marketing purposes.

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The book itself was an interesting tale of a young woman making it in the world of e-commerce (although I read it just as news of Nasty Gal’s bankruptcy filing came out, which cast a bit of a dull light on the whole thing). But I don’t see how it’s apparently becoming this source of inspirational career advice for young women. If you want to work specifically at Nasty Gal, it’s probably a good resource for knowing the ins and outs of the (now former) chairwoman of the company. But while I’m certainly not raking in millions, I have been at this career thing for a solid 5 years, and there wasn’t anything that even stood out to me as something I would have needed to know as a fresh graduate.

On the other side of the coin, there’s Leave Your Mark, which I’m just going to say right off the bat, I thought was brilliant. It was funny, well written, with Devil Wears Prada-esque vibes at times and a treasure trove of relevant career advice for both newbies and some of us who are entering our intermediate years.

This was a book that contained fun anecdotal advice in a similar way to #GirlBoss, but also had the facts to back it up. Throughout the book are lists of tips and tricks that you can apply right at this moment to help advance your career. While #GirlBoss felt so specific to a niche business, Leave Your Mark was easily applied to my own situation, even though I don’t work in fashion PR.

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And it delivers its message without mentioning gender at all.

Now I’ve heard many arguments about how the term GirlBoss is reclaiming a feminine word to empower, but I just don’t see it. And, obviously, I realize that I’m writing this post about a million years after the book has reached global success, so everything I’ve said has definitely been said before. One of my favourite articles on the topic is this one by Anna Jordan.

Even after doing my research, I still think the term GirlBoss needs some work. Try applying it to any other career that is seen to be male-dominated and successful. GirlSurgeon. GirlLawyer. GirlEngineer. “Hello, I’m Aisling, GirlWebDesigner.” If these make you cringe, why wouldn’t GirlBoss?

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My recommendation is this: if you’re looking for career advice and motivation, put aside those pink paperbacks, and pick up Leave Your Mark. Approach your career from a strategic point that doesn’t even consider your gender to be a contributing factor, whether good or bad.

By all means, be a Girl. Be Yourself. And if you’re bossin’ it, be the Boss.

Thanks for reading! Let me know what you think in the comments below.

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  • This post made me so happy, because the term ‘Girlboss’ annoys me so much. It’s somewhere between ‘mompreneur’ and ‘brexiteer’ on my list of hates.

    • Jem

      Mumpreneur can get to fuck, too.

  • Yeah I agree with you – I don’t see why we need to put a caveat on it. Have you read Lean In?

    • I haven’t, but it’s on my list!

  • Totally agree with you. The term is really patronizing. I don’t think we should live in a “gender-blind” world because obviously women face a lot of career-related obstacles that men don’t (and especially in some industries), but I think we can discuss that without cutesy, condescending little catchphrases. Interesting to hear that the book wasn’t great, either. I kind of figured it wouldn’t be because all the people I’ve seen praising it aren’t exactly people I look up to for feminist insight, haha.

  • Stevie Love

    I agree with you, and this is one of those things I have become far more sensitive to after starting my transition. It reminds me for some reason of T.D. Jakes, the queer-hating evangelical minister that so many people look up to, and his book “Woman. Thou Art Loosed.”

    Well, uhm, thanks? I wasn’t aware I needed loosening, I’ve always thought I was free to be my own person. Also, where does a man-any man- get the idea that we need his input? I mean, men are just as capable of being teachers and writers and creators as we are, but, they don’t get any say in how to be a woman.

    I say all that to say, “girlboss” smacks of the patriarchy, because it reduces us and diminishes our power, and it’s even worse because I am pretty sure women invented the whole “girlboss” thing. So we are participating in our own oppression when we use “girlboss.” I know I won’t be using it anymore. I also know I will be purchasing and reading “Make Your Mark!” It sounds wonderful.

  • Jem

    Yessss so much bloody yes. I was going to write a post on this last night but decided to wait til I was sober.

    As a woman who is her own boss, it’s patronising and irritating and reduces my success to some fucking cutesy hobby world and if anyone ever calls me a girlboss I shall stab them in the eyes with pencils.

  • I don’t think I’ve come across the term before, but it’s already made me screw my face up in disgust. Ugh

  • I feel exactly the same about the term #girlboss. I haven’t read the book but the title really put me off it!

    Emma | EMMAMATTHEWS.CO.UK