The Girl boss era : motivation and empowerment or pressure and frustration?

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Being a mother, a stay at home woman or a good wife… There are a good number of narratives that have, throughout time, been forced on women regarding the way they were supposed to live their life “career-wise” and especially in the way they were supposed to thrive and feel fulfilled. And there’s a new one in town : ladies, we’ve just entered the Girlboss era where ustensiles and vacuums have become irrelevant and laptops, planners essential. For those who are not familiar with the concept, a Girlboss isn’t just a woman succeeding in her corporate career : she is a self made woman who, through hard work and many sacrifices has managed to create her own business, is her own boss and possibly somebody else's. It’s all over pop culture : the TV series Girlboss on Netflix, tells the story of how Sophia Amoruso founded the worldwide clothing marketplace Nasty Gal, thus promoting female entrepreneurship (and the series, as well as the eponymous book actually gave its name to the overall movement). Music stars like Beyonce or more recently Cardi B created and still nourish the myth of the creative, never not working, independent woman for whom making money isn’t enough anymore - they need to own their business in order to affirm their power as women. And we couldn’t talk about the Girl Boss era without mentioning Emily Weiss, who at barely 30, became the CEO of her worldwide successful company Glossier and spreads the Girl boss spirit on her social accounts on a daily basis.

A way to empower the queens

The whole movement is, at first glance, very empowering as it appears as this final push telling women that they can do whatever they want to, they just need to go for it. What used to be seen as a daunting and scary thing a few years ago is now within the reach of everyone, if you’re willing to work hard and stay focus on your goals. Or so it seems.

It makes total sense : work and the money that goes with it, are power in the world we evolve in - and that power has for long been denied to women. The Girl Boss movement is the way the digital world has found to spread the good word, to tell a new tale that doesn’t involve the necessity or intervention of any man in the construction of any women’s empire.

 

What motivates me is to show all the little girls out there that every dream is achievable no matter their current circumstances. That's in the end what matters most - not letting anything stop you from going after your dream, even if it might not work out.” Martina (@withfairflair)

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“I’m am LIVING for this #girlboss movement! I think it’s amazing that women are working to achieve their wildest dreams and shattering glass ceilings.“ Selina (@recloseted)

 

This Girl Boss movement was of course in a way, built as a response to the fact that for so long, men were the only ones considered capable and worthy of creating businesses. Hence the word Girl which is here to remind who and what this is all about. However, the term itself is maybe to be reworked in order to give it the power that it aims to represent : maybe by using the word “Girl” instead of “Woman”, we are ourselves discrediting something that was initially designed to empower us.

 

I wouldn’t want anyone in a professional environment to refer to the grown-up woman I am as a girl, so why would I use that term to describe myself?  Besides, would anyone ever call a male entrepreneur a “boy boss”?” Janina (@ecoethicalfashionista)

 

a movement that find its roots in a social media feast promoting ambition as the new currency


Regarding the inspiration sources, Instagram does a great job with the variety of the accounts that, through quotes and video posts, nourish our collective imagination - thus becoming the new motivation coaches of the 21st century. @Girlboss, @Bossbabe @thewomenwave... To count all of the accounts dedicated to promoting female entrepreneurship would takes hours - that’s if we manage to spot them all. They of course aim to motivate women to develop their company and business through inspiring content that promotes productivity, financial management and self confidence. Some of them also showcase diversity in role models, self-indulgence and sorority - which are a major part of the Girl Boss state of mind. Or so it should be.

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On the other hand, some of these accounts, despite how cool their tips for success may  be, can also appear as a source of pressure. What was initially meant as a way to find motivation is for some, becoming a daily reminder of how more you should be doing, how harder you should be trying and ultimately the reason why you should quit.

“Do this, act that way, go in that direction”. This imperious way of talking to women sounds quite familiar and is, as much frustrating. To add, these accounts’ content is obviously aimed at women who, as entrepreneurs are allegedly the “creative type” : meaning the type of person that need to go in their own direction. With quotes telling you what to do , how to act in order to be successful - maybe - it’s all becoming overwhelming and doesn’t leave room for self expression.


Sometimes, going through their actual content isn’t even necessary : the problem begins in their bio.

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“Built for ambitious women”. What does that even mean ? That sentence is at once creating a separation amongst women : those who are ambitious, and those who aren’t (meaning those who “don’t even have it in them”, meaning, “the losers”). To add, these accounts sometimes give the impression that ambition is to be directly linked to career and business, therefore giving success the preconceived definition that our men centric world initially forged. What about the ambition to be more self confident, or to bring up your children the best way possible? These are not to be put aside.

That constant promotion of success, pushing us to seek independence and power through ambition, as motivational as it can appear, is also the source of negative feelings. We all are partial to a bit of motivational content as long as it is done in a way that doesn’t encourage guilt and doesn’t make you feel like you’re not doing enough to succeed - in whatever field. However, these social media accounts tend to follow that drift, ending up creating two categories within a movement that’s supposed to empower women as a group : on one side the women who can do it, on the other those who can’t.

Oorja, decided to unfollow a few “Girl boss” social pages last year, as she sometimes felt like within this movement to some extent, “her productivity defined her worth”.

 

The last few years on social media have seen several tides of motivational narrative ebb and flow, from the overwhelmingly excited 'building your empire' to a recent mental health focused shift where 'align' replaced 'hustle.On one hand, I'm all for positive, female-centric motivation, but on another it made me feel like I'm never 'hustling' enough. I've always wondered - is the girl boss era basically promoting a capitalist culture where grinding work and perpetual exhaustion is something flaunt-worthy, under the guise of women empowerment?'” Oorja (@oorja.revivestyle)

 

ME, MYSELF & I

Sophia Amoruso defines being a Girl Boss as ”someone who has big dreams and is willing to work hard for them. So being a Girl Boss is really about being the boss of your own life. You don't have to be the boss of anyone else to be a Girl Boss”. Leading to a major critique that could be made : the whole thing can appear as a very self centered phenomenon supporting the idea that success is a solo journey that doesn’t require the intervention of anyone else but yourself. “Look at my success, look how hard I’ve worked and how much I’ve done to succeed, do as I did”. It’s almost become a lifestyle of its own which makes the whole movement look a bit superficial and enlightens a lack of substance. Especially on social media where it sometimes looks like a contest about who will look the busiest, whose to-do list will be the longest. Therefore promoting a pretty selfish way of succeeding : by yourself, for yourself, in order to impress.

Women empowering women

But it’s should be seen as a new way for women to support each other on several levels. First, to inspire each other as the simple fact of seeing other women succeeding is a great way to find motivation in order to do so yourself if that’s something you want and were too scared, or not confident enough for. The second way that women can support each other is by employing other women, supporting women’s work through the development of their businesses. That’s something that is well showcased in the TV series: Sophia is very protective of her business at first and doesn’t want to share it with anyone, even her best friend who helped her develop it. She ends up employing her, thus acknowledging her need for help and the value of another women’s work.

 

“My favourite quote to live by is “empowered women empower women” and that’s all there is to it. We should support each other, root for each other and cheer each other on.” Selina

“Not all of us are a mother but I have to say as the mother of a baby girl, I definitely felt I had to show her anything is possible.So really, being a girl boss can have to do with your own satisfaction but it's more about sharing, trying to be an example for all the girl bosses who have not given themselves the right to become one yet.” Aline (@museandmarlowe)

 

… Yet pushing another model

But isn’t this movement to a certain extent promoting yet another model of what women should yearn for in order to feel fulfilled? Can it become a source of guilt for women who are just happy with the life they have, working in a corporate environment, being a stay at home mum or even none of these things? Is this Girl Boss era creating frustration and defining different “types” of women based on their ambition and dreams? Shouldn’t we instead try and re-define the very notion of ambition in order for every women to feel included with their own vision of it?

 

“I imagine a girl boss in any role she wishes to embody - a conventional job worker, a blogger, an entrepreneur, a housewife or somebody with various side hustles going on. Her work style is passionately sincere, she takes care of her mental and physical health, and recognizes that if she needs that Netflix binge, odd day off or tech disconnect on Monday morning, she goes and gets it unapologetically.” Oorja.

 

.. that has to be differentiated from feminism

To add, it seems like people are massively starting to confuse the Girl Boss movement with feminism. If being your own boss can be seen as a way (among others) to find independence and power even, it shouldn’t be a prerequisite to feminism and female empowerment.

by Jessica Ayinda, with the participation of Aline, Oorja, Martina, Selina and Janina

 

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