A few years ago, like so many other female entrepreneurs, I read Sophia Amoruso’s book “Girlboss”. It was a refreshing view of female founders and while I found some parts about founding and running a business a bit superficial, I appreciated to learn more about her story, experiences and struggles. Amoruso soon turned “Girlboss” into a movement – a podcast, website and conferences. Even Netflix jumped on the bandwagon and turned her story into a show. Years later, #girlboss keeps trending (at the date of publishing this Postcard, it has been used over 26 million times). “Girlboss” has far exceeded Amoruso’s book and platform (which she has sold by the way). The term is on notebooks, phone cases and T-shirts (a lot of them probably made by women under questionable circumstances, but, hey, we want to empower women).
I admit that after reading the book, I also felt empowered. I read it in 2016 and I could relate to many of the struggles and experiences mentioned in the book. For the first time, a woman spoke about her experience as a founder – there had been other books and articles before, but Amoruso was accessible and seemed more open. It also got the ball rolling: many more female founders followed and talked more openly about their experiences.
Unfortunately, with any development or movement, there is a flipside. One of the Girlboss-flipsides is that it is also used in ways which are not related to running a business as a woman at all. As an example, I just searched for the hashtag on Instagram, the first result was a speech by Indian actress Priyanka Chopra talking about empowerment. This was the only post relating to female empowerment in the 15 most recent posts. Wait for the rest:
A meme of a woman smoking a cigarette saying “I have no friends but at least I’m hot and mysterious”.
A (wannabe-)influencer in an extremely short and tight pink ruched dress posing with a doll and pursing her lips.
An article of a publication called “Glitzsl*t” (I did not even want to have that word on my website) with the main picture being a half-naked woman posing among bags.
An inspirational quote “Choosing peace over drama and distance over disrespect is top tier self-care.”
And last but not least, another article: “Become addicted to These 9 Habits, and You’ll Become Unrecognizable by May 2023” with a “before and after”-picture of one woman’s transformation.
All of those are clearly on point with #girlboss, what do you think?
This quick search just showed that obviously the interpretation of the term varies and that the Girlboss movement has been diluted down. The posts I saw under the hashtag did not reflect who I am as a founder, or as a woman. It illustrates how the movement has developed. According to Amoruso, she chose the title “Girlboss” for her book, because it polarised when she published it in 2014; many people associated it with an aggressive alpha-woman who nobody wants to work for. But with her book, she showed that the term stands for something positive. With her story, she wanted to empower other women and encourage them to start their own businesses.
Fast forward to today, what is left? Instead of finding useful advice via the hashtag, women get beauty advice. How is this different from reading women’s magazines “empowering” us with diet advice, how we can finally find a man or how we avoid toxic relationships with our girlfriends. Because this is obviously what a real girlboss cares about. I find it interesting that whatever we try to achieve as women, it always comes back as some twisted advice about beauty, men or girlfriends. And just to make it clear: All these posts I saw on Instagram were published by women (!) – they were not “forced onto us” by men. This is how women display themselves (in cute ruched dresses looking like young girls), give each other advice (“don’t be toxic” – because this is what we are) and basically tell each other that we are never enough because why would we need “9 Habits making us unrecognisable by May 2023”?
Even though I identified as a “girlboss” myself at first, I started asking myself if we really needed a term to describe what female founders are doing? In the long-run, I would like to be identified as a founder. Fullstop. I want to see as many women as founders as there are men. Then there is no need to single it out. Unfortunately, we are far from that. Last week, a friend of mine who also works in tech told me that they want to hire more women in the company but they really struggle. And when I thought about women I could recommend for the positions, I only had a few contacts. Even today, the tech scene is vastly dominated by men. And also when you look at the statistics of European Union about female-owned businesses, only 14.8% of start-ups in the EU are founded by women. (Side note: It is difficult to determine what the European Union defined as “start-up” as it was not disclosed in the data. There was no indication if this only involved tech (as the term “start-up” is often used for new businesses in the tech-space only) or if it is applied in a wider sense. Furthermore, the article is vague about the date of the data. However, the point I try to make here is that 14.8% is a very small number.) Female entrepreneurs are still a minority. Hence, in general, I do think that the initial intent of the “Girlboss”-movement was valid. It drew attention to the topic, in a way made the topic “sexy” for the media and, hence, started discussions.
But does a “sexy” term or a hashtag really help? While “girlboss” might feel empowering at first sight, when I thought about it, I actually felt it can also achieve the opposite. Have you ever heard a man calling himself a “boyboss”? Of course not. And all the other variations of the girlboss term – such as “bossbabe” – are nothing I would call myself. Babe?! Really?! It is almost as bad as constantly calling other women “queen”. I know, it probably comes from a good place, but when I look at it, I think we make ourselves look ridiculous. We need a “cute” term to empower ourselves. Why not just focus on what we do, what we achieve and celebrate that. Instead of posting a selfie in a sexy pose with #bossbabe.
There are so many amazing and inspiring stories of women out there. Instead of labelling ourselves, let’s share our stories and support each other. That will achieve more than a selfie in a ruched dress and pursed lips. (You can find quite a few interviews with very inspiring women here.)
However you would like to call or label yourself, the most important thing is to never forget that you can do it. You are you, and you are enough – never stop believing in yourself.