Why I'm still a #girlboss

(even though I hated the book and see Sophia’s hypocrisy)

Well, with a blog called msMBA, I feel like I have no choice but to chime in on the recent articles regarding the hypocrisy of trending tags such as #girlboss, #sheEO, and the overall problem of gendered language. So, sit back folks, I’m talking diversity.

First, let me say that I read #girlboss by Sophia Amoruso a few years ago for a leadership class which happened to be a part of the program where I earned my MS to be msMBA. And, like any good grad student, I hated it and tore it to shreds. Because this is not a review of the book (or Netflix series, which against my better judgment am slowly making my way through) I’m not going into great detail about why I found it to be so awful. There have been plenty of book reviews, and if you really want to know my own reasons for not embracing it, e-mail and ask.

That said, over the years I’ve embraced the use of #girlboss and the like on social media. Sometimes it’s been tongue-in-cheek after decorating my new office with an absurd amount of robins-egg blue accents, sometimes after completely rocking an assignment or when I received a promotion. Most often these hashtags are used by myself and others serve as a call out to a community experiencing similar moments.

But what about the hypocrisy of Nasty Gal, ModCloth, or *insert company/brand led by a woman*?

All I’m going to say is, for our purposes, we’re talking about hashtags that create a sense of community and fellowship. And, as far as I know, these companies are not making money from people using the standard fem-centric hashtags. So, if you don’t support one individual or the company policies, then you have the choice to take your money elsewhere. I, for one, never spent a dime on the Nasty Gal site. Once I learned of the happenings at ModCloth, actively made the decision to spend my money elsewhere. 

Yes, it really sucks that some of the most recent examples of well-known female entrepreneurs aren’t exactly holding the brightest of torches when it comes to authenticity and consistency.

But, it’s important to remember that the broader conversation has made its way to the masses, which consists of hundreds of thousands strong women figuring out what this new accessibility and visibility means. This brings us to the whole conversation around the hashtags and the argument that the use of such gendered language makes these wrong or regressive.

In a recent Guardian article, Arwa Mahdawi, referring to #girlboss, writes “It doesn’t tear down the sexism encoded in language, it reinforces it.”  This assumption paints such a broad brushstroke, it’s hard to begin listing why it’s lazy social justice at best.

Before we go any further, I must note, I fully appreciate the gender spectrum and understand the need for non-gendered language. What I also understand is that gendered language is widely embraced by individuals who identify as cis and trans, on both sides of the spectrum. So, yes, there is a huge need for gender neutral language to be more common. There are also innumerable calls for common (dare I say, trending) gendered language to break stereotypes and serve as a form of identity reclamation.

Additionally, to say that the playing field, not just in corporate culture but society overall, is even, that we have no need to acknowledge gender differences, is to ignore millions of experiences that have come from interactions filtered by either explicit or implicit biases.

I’m not going to go into all of the research that shows women face an uphill battle when pursuing leadership roles, a simple Google search will bring those facts to light. I will however note that by trying to neutralize the conversation, we start to silence those who have fought for a voice.

Of course we’re going to see far-leaning, blatant, and sometimes less-than-productive forms of conversation. In terms of timelines, women holding modern leadership roles is a relatively new occurrence. Not only are we learning how to do the business leadership thing (often while trying to navigate still managing the family), we’re learning how to talk about it and interact with others who are a a part of the story.

Yeah, it’s going to be messy.

Sometimes things said channel frustrations from years of managing someone else’s stuff (e.g. mansplaining). And sometimes, it’s in those messy, ugly, frustrating moments that we grow, learn something about the “other”, or create our own community.

So, for now, as I continue my own journey of building my own business and kicking ass in Startupland, I’ll use those gendered, cheeky hashtags to connect with other awesome women through their times of success and challenging days. We’re all just trying to figure this whole thing out.