I have always shuddered at the use of the term “girls” to describe a group of grown women. Even as a teenager when my friends and I were actually girls, I would cringe at the word. As I’ve got older and words like “girl boss” have proliferated within pop culture, I’ve noticed I’ve experienced the same visceral reaction, without really understanding why. It was only this year, swiping through another #spon story about Galentines’ day (give me strength) that I finally understood my objection. These terms infantilise women in a way that is both patronising and, frankly, a bit gross.
A quick poll of the GLAMOUR offices and it seems I’m not the only one with these views. ‘SheEO’ was arguably the worst offender with some declaring the term made them feel “physically sick”. ‘Girl boss’ wasn’t far behind, with everyone finding it derogatory and mildly offensive.
“Unfortunately, terms like ‘girl boss’ can highlight that women are not who we may expect to see occupy these positions and it makes their difference more apparent,” explains Kate Sang, Professor of Gender and Employment Studies at Heriot Watt University. “Often women working in male dominated industries just want to be the architect or the engineer, not the female engineer. So, these terms can actually be divisive and highlight how women in these jobs are out of place.”
This hasn’t always been the case, of course. In 2015, Sophia Amoruso, founder of online retailer Nasty Gal, released her best-selling book, simply titled Girl Boss to worldwide acclaim. “When the term Girl Boss originally started, it stood for something, but as society and feminism gets more nuanced, we’re moving away from these tropes,” says Chloe Laws, founder of FGRLS Club. “The girl boss movement was centred around privileged, white women and that’s just not inclusive enough. We are striving for intersectional feminism now.”
But before you scrap the word ‘girl’ from your vocabulary, it seems it’s not so much the word itself but the associated language that’s the problem. “Prefacing engineer, architects, doctor with ‘female’ or ‘lady’ is jarring and makes it clear that they are seen to be a woman first, and professional second,” explains Professor Sang. “My research suggests that most women in jobs which are not typically associated with women just want to be seen as a professional first, rather than a woman first.” So, next time someone refers to you as a girlboss, a SheEO, or a boss bitch, feel free to politely correct them. It’s just ‘boss’, thanks.