It was 2015, and Sophia Amoruso had just released her much anticipated book, #Girlboss.
I bought it the day it came out, and devoured it in the space of 24 hours. I already knew much of Sophia’s inspirational story, but I was eager for any more golden nuggets I could find and use in my own life.
At the time, I was working as a fashion buyer for a well-known UK high street company, while side-hustling with a fashion startup. But I was hungry for more. The only problem was, I wasn’t sure what I really wanted.
Did I want to stay in fashion and set up my own label?
Did I want to move fields, and work in fashion journalism?
Or did I want to completely change my career, and do something wildly different?
What I knew for sure was I wanted to be my own boss. I wanted to be like Sophia. I wanted to be a girlboss. At least, I thought I did.
In 2016, I started working as a freelance writer while still working my full time job in fashion. And at the end of the year, I made the decision to quit, and go all chips in on my writing.
All of a sudden, I was running my own business, calling all the shots, and designing my schedule. I was in charge of how much money I made, and there was no ceiling, with the added bonus of no one’s ass I had to kiss; not that I ever chose to play office politics anyway.
I set up my workspace, albeit in my bedroom. I bought a beautiful day planner, hung a vision board on my wall, invested in my own website, and a back supportive chair from IKEA.
And I did what many other women in my shoes do – I proudly called myself a girlboss. Unaware of what I was actually saying.
But I need to make something clear: I cannot, and will not, slate Sophia or her book. She is a powerful badass, who single-handedly built a fashion empire from the ground up. I haven’t read her book since then, but at the time, it was exactly what I needed to read, because it was so empowering. She made me believe that I could do what she did. I guess that’s what every great book does. And I’m sure her intentions were good when she decided to title her debut book, #girlboss.
But recently, I’ve become aware of just how damaging terms like girlboss and bossbabe and bossbitch are for women.
Because we don’t call any man a boyboss. He’s a boss. We don’t call a black man a blackboss. He’s a boss. We don’t call a gay man a gayboss. He’s – you guessed it – a boss.
The term girlboss takes me back to the time when I heard my dad refer to a female doctor as a lady-doctor. I don’t know whether this was something that only happened in Asian countries like India and Sri Lanka (where he was born and grew up), but regardless, I find it extremely offensive. Why is it that she wasn’t just considered a doctor like all her male peers?
I’ve now been running my own business for the past four years. Although it’s still in its early stages, it has required copious amounts of work, time, and energy from me to get to where I am today. I’ve had to make a lot of sacrifices, I’ve had to be tenacious, and sometimes this has meant there has been a mountain of pressure weighing heavily on my twenty-something shoulders.
And I’m very aware of the fact that not everyone could do what I’ve done. For starters, not everyone would want to, and not everyone who wants to necessarily would or could. So to label me as a girlboss belittles everything I’ve achieved. It puts my gender above all else – above my work ethic, my drive, and my success. And it implies that the word boss is inherently masculine, and applies solely to men.
I used to proudly call myself a girlboss, but now I know better. Because the language we choose to use matters. It matters greatly, especially to both the girls and the boys of the next generation.
A term like girlboss teaches girls that their only possibility of success in business is becoming a girlboss; while it teaches boys that they can be and do anything they dream of. We’re continuing to feed and pass on gender inequality, despite our best intentions to do the total opposite.
And we are better than this. We can do better than this. We need to do better than this.
Women have come so far over the past 70 years when it comes to our rights. There are more women than ever in political positions of power. More women starting and leading businesses than ever before. More women are speaking out about the harassment, violence and assault they’ve experienced at the hands of men. And more and more women are re-discovering their confidence, their self-worth, and are waking up to their power. But we’re not done climbing the mountain yet.
Let’s leave terms like girlboss in the past where they belong. Because your gender does not overshadow your talent or your success. Call yourself what you truly are: A leader.