perpetuating a problem: Let’s talk #GIRLBOSS #BOSSBABE and #LADYBOSS

Pictured: a woman working to ship orders. She (me) is not a babe, girl or lady. She is a business owner.

Pictured: a woman working to ship orders. She (me) is not a babe, girl or lady. She is a business owner.

When I hear these words or see these hashtags I cringe and take a step away. Although I used these words many moons ago, I finally stopped subscribing to the idea that my work and position needed an infantilized or gendered label, especially in a society that continues to discount and trivialize us, our bodies and our work.

The path of female entrepreneurship isn’t always easy, supported or clear cut; and sure different from our male counterparts. My own Maven Made journey has forced me to deconstruct societal and conditioned childhood pressures of being kind, likable, sweet and agreeable. It has reopened the door to my long battle with body image and self-criticism. I have navigated comments from my family and customers (ahem, all men) about running my own business that wouldn’t even be a conversation if I was male. I have swam in feelings of imposter syndrome, but through it all I’ve become more alive and confident. Starting, running and maintaining a business has been one of the most powerful things I’ve ever done because it serves as the most tangible visual representation of how hard work, steering challenging decisions, taking risks (and not taking some) and setting boundaries has created something that has provided me with a pretty amazing life. A privileged life I don’t take for granted.

So, it’s baffling why women are using this type of minimizing language to describe our serious, real and powerful work in this world. Could you imagine if we started coining male business owners Boy Boss? They would lose their minds.

The ascension to our positions, businesses and work is admirable, rigorous and should be honored! I am not discounting our glory, especially in a world where white cisgender men have always been in the driver’s seat. In fact, let’s use this as an example - I’ve worked for these type of men, and honestly without their raw representation of misogyny and sexism, I might not have started my business. I remember a particular boss having a scowling expression on his face whenever he talked about women in high powered positions. His expression and discounting comments stuck with me, representing a disrespect for women in the working world. Sexism is still alive and thriving, and when we use the term “girl”, “lady” or “babe” to coin our representation in the working world, we feed it. It fact, we don’t only feed into sexism, but it encourages the normalization of language which pushes physical attractiveness (babe), objectification, marginalization and trivialization of women.

Some of you might be thinking I’m taking it too seriously or saying to yourself “what’s the big deal? it’s just a cute phrase”. Let’s me be clear,

I don’t want to be cute.
My business identity doesn’t need to be gendered.
Using the term “babe” in my business is completely unnecessary and gross.
I certainly don’t need to slap a label on anything I do.
And no, I don’t hate men, other women, having fun, or celebrating my business.

Because my sole feelings are my opinion, here are some real words shared when I posted this topic:

“I cringe at #girlboss because in the South, male attorneys or judges have a habit of referring to you as girl or little lady and I get that pit-in-your-stomach feeling every time.”

“I internally struggle with this all the time! I’m a lady who also happens to be in charge of my business. But I see no reason to bring gender into my career status, ESPECIALLY with the term #girlboss. I’m 31, not a little girl”

“As a person in an upper management/leadership role I am a boss but happily but clearly correct anyone who tries to gender my position. It is inherently minimizing, whether its intended or not. I actually left the “boss babes” group because I am just uncomfortable aligning myself with that language.”

“And even along the same lines, when women are upfront/direct, they’re a bitch but when men do it, they’re just “doing their job””.

“We find words that aren’t as intimidating and by intimidating I mean equal. Be the boss.”

“The idea that it’s making leadership and intellect “cute” resonates so much with me - branded pillows, mugs and wall handing that say “girl boss” or “hustle” in pink and sparkles feels like…kids dress up.”

Words matter, they establish our presence in the world, they set an instant tone, shape our subconscious opinion or prejudice, create an expectation and words have the power to blaze a different path for the future (just think how these terms set the bar for listening children). After bringing up this conversation on Instagram, I had a few women ask me what the other solution or wording should be. The need to conjure and slap on a feminized label that divides us from titles like owner, manager and boss is part of the problem. Their responses made me realize there’s still a lack of independent empowerment, self-reliant thinking and security with women. At the end of the day, the boss babe, boss bitch, lady boss, girl boss phenomena is capitalizing and perpetuating inequality and the dependence of “belonging”; quite the opposite of empowering. It is time to claim our power, do our work and enjoy our evolution and ditch overcompensating our worth with girly hashtags, office swag and putting ourselves through fluffy one dimensional networking events**. We are better than that. Our success, equality and empowerment should come from our work, our products and in our actions - no label, hashtag or clever wording needed for our rise and reclamation.

*I say this because I believe race, white supremacy, tokenization and optical allyship plays a big role in the girl boss, boss babe movement, but that’s a deep topic for another time.

**To the women reading this who run these types of groups, events and conferences who question what I’m talking about, here are some real topics I would urge you to consider: being part of gentrification as a shop owner, letting a business partner go, juggling parenthood with your business, getting out of debt, the process of a business loan, small business taxes 101, establishing boundaries, growing your business beyond your city, using your platform to talk about real issues, dealing with copycats, intersectional feminism - just to name a few. There is lots of work to be done in this arena, and I certainly don’t have the answers of what that work is because it’s not something I created, my calling or responsibility.