Does anyone else feel a bit of second-hand embarrassment or have to stomach down cringe whenever someone tosses around the term ‘#Girlboss’ like a buzzword? Or the quirky term ‘SHee-O’? I’m nitpicking, but it’s with good reason, and I’m either ambivalent or in plain disagreement with the #Girlboss culture that seems to haunts every space.

My first brush with #Girlboss culture would have to be when I bought Lilly Singh’s ‘How To Be A Bawse’ from a local bookstore after spending a weekend binging her YouTube videos. This was 2017. I was warming up to Lilly after keeping her at arm’s length as I didn’t enjoy her brand of comedy. But, because the tide was turning, I wanted to be a believer. I tried to think that her messaging was just what this NRI girl living in the Gulf needed. I also developed a fascination with #Girlboss culture (the Instagram quotes and posts were wearing me down), and I long struggled with the ideology.

Was I too judgmental? What was wrong with using the term ‘#Girlboss’?

Let me explain.

When NastyGal founder Sophia Amoruso birthed the term ‘#Girlboss’ in 2014, she started a movement for white feminists and feminist-adjacent women everywhere. You know, those people that subscribed to Sheryl Sandberg’s Lean In approach. Amoruso made feminism quirky; it was all glitter, good vibes, and packaged in Instagram-ready quotes for social media that focused on the hustle. There was not much substance to the quotes. Everything asked women to keep their chin up and be fierce without being “too much.” It also belonged to a brand of toxic positivity that I absolutely loathe. There was no nuance, and there was no intersectionality. No understanding that the culture preached and put forward as the gospel was a breeding place for toxic work environments and attitudes.

My problem with the term “#Girlboss” is that, right from the get-go, you’re creating a mold for women who want to be leaders in a market where men are the default. You’re forcing them to be softer and asking them to cut away parts of their feminity that contribute to adding more empathy and innovation to the workplace.

It is problematic that we have merchandise pushing #Girlboss ideology without getting into basic feminism tenets.  You don’t post photos of Tim Cook on Instagram and call him a #Boyboss and talk about what an inspiration he is for balancing his personal life with family life. Why should women be forced to package their life stories into easy-to-digest fodder?

Is Don Draper writing this narrative?

We often forget that the progress women made to be in the workplace was recent. As an Indian woman who lives a relatively comfortable life, I’m learning how to present myself and my feminism to the world around me: a world that often humors me for my beliefs. I suppose it’s easy to believe a marketable form of feminism, where you highlight all the validation, praise, and office husbands/wife culture without getting into the ugly (sexual harassment, gender discrimination, wage gap, etc.). No one wants to be confronted with reality, but here we are.

I want to think that we’re in a time where our feminism needs to be loud, inclusive, and do more for all the women being shut out from white and elitist spaces.

Intersectionality needs to be the backbone that supports our culture–we need to call out organizations that famously claim to be inclusive and demand to see their racial and gender breakdowns. Can companies who post International Women’s Day updates or tag #HeforShe show us what’s really happening behind the curtain? How many women do you actually have sitting at the table, and how many of those women are BIPOC?

What’s the point of being a #Girlboss when you’re contributing to superficial diversity like that present at The Wing?

Let’s stop celebrating inspirational memes and posts that ask for the bare minimum. Let’s stop giving kudos to cishet women who drink from feminist lite Kool-Aid and skirt around actually using the word ‘feminist.’ If we are expected to #LeanIn, let’s do the heavy lifting by creating workspaces that are representative of the world we wish to live in. Demand equal pay scales for employees being hired, create a transparent hiring initiative, include women in your leadership teams,  and work towards getting rid of toxic work culture environments, especially from workplaces that claim to be the new normal and “inclusive.” Hold people, women, and the management accountable to their founding ethos.

Most of all, let’s leave #Girlboss culture in the past, please.

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  • Sharanya Paulraj

    Sharanya Paulraj is a third culture Gulf kid who aspires to be a writer and filmmaker. Sharanya loves taking photos, chatting about pop culture, memes and engaging in America's Next Top Model discourse. In an alternate universe, she ended up going to Area 51 to Naruto run and went viral.