Why I don’t want to be a ‘Girl Boss’ 

Chances are, if you’ve given your social media newsfeeds even a cursory glance over the last year, you’ll have noticed terms like ‘girl boss’, ‘boss babe’ and ‘boss bitch’ pop up from time to time. On the surface these expressions seem to describe a woman who is confident, successful and empowered by her feminity. One could intimate from these neologisms that they are clearly meant to be a positive expression; celebrating women and inspiring them to achieve their full potential. I don’t agree. I think these terms are problematic and quite honestly, a little silly. Let me explain why. 

When I was a child in the late ’80s/early ’90s in Ireland my general practioner was male. That, of course, is not unusual and his gender was never something I even thought about. After all, my mother was a nurse and going to the doctor was such a rarity, I barely knew his name. On one occasion however, I have a distinct memory of being brought to a different doctor. My parents seemed to be making quite a big deal of the fact that this was a different doctor (I assume my usual GP was on holidays) and chatted about it to me for the entire journey. 

So what was so special about this doctor? Well, she was a Lady Doctor. Yes, that’s what my parents actually called her. Not to make her seem more appealing to me, not to make her sound as if she was some kind of aristocratic and elegant doctor, but to distinguish her from the actual doctors (you know, the ones with penises). They made such a big deal of this that I was actually expecting her to have fairy wings and a wand. She did not. She was just like my other doctor, a scary person in a white coat poking me with needles and talking over my head to my mother. My parents seemed amazed by the fact that she seemed just as competent as her male counterpart. They couldn’t have been overly-impressed, however, as I was back with my male GP for my next visit, lamenting the fact that he didn’t have a cool prefix before his title. 

You must understand that my parents were born into and grew up in a society where it was highly unusual for women to have such high-status jobs. Doctors, barristers, judges, politicians, guards and principals were men. Women were cashiers, nurses, clerks and even teachers but they rarely held positions of authority. Until recently, the Irish language had a word to distinguish female police officers from their male counterparts (they were called a ‘Bean-Garda’* meaning ‘woman guard’). Many people still use this term, and not to cause offence, I might add. 

But times have changed. In most western societies, you will find female lawyers, doctors, judges, detectives, principals, politicians, CEOs and entrepreneurs. Of course, there is still progress to be made, but we have come a long way. Wouldn’t it be wonderful if everyone who walked into an office and saw a female employer did not make assumptions or prejudge her abilities because of her gender? We shouldn’t have to differentiate ability based on someone’s gender. Whether you’re male or female, the only thing that should matter is whether you have the ability to do your job competently. 

Judge ability not gender. 

This is why terms like ‘girl boss’ are problematic. We should be aiming to normalise the idea of women in positions of authority instead of distinguishing them as an anomaly by using these terms. In an impressionable young girl’s mind, there should be no difference between a male or female boss. Both should be equally unremarkable. The word ‘boss’ should have no gender-specific connotations. A young child should see any kind of authoritative position as achieveable no matter what their gender. 

We must also consider the somewhat unflattering stereotype that these terms represent. Let’s face it, ‘boss bitch’ sounds at least vaguely aggressive. Why are females in positions of power often perceived or depicted as shrill, truculent, combative and quarrelsome? When a man is competitive in business, he is audacious and determined. When this applies to a woman, she is selfish and cold. I personally dislike the term ‘boss bitch’ because to me, it sounds arrogant and puerile. You wouldn’t use the term ‘boss-prick’ or some variant to describe a man in position of power (unless, you know, you really didn’t like your boss). It would be seen as a pejorative term. It would also be deemed superfluous, as there has never really been a trend of distinguishing male employers. 

I know it’s important to celebrate female empowerment. It’s important that we are aware of our progress as women. But expressions like ‘boss babe’ don’t propel us forward. They trivialise and devalue female empowerment. These are terms you would print on a slogan t-shirt or a wine glass. Let’s face it, a CEO of a company is unlikely to have ‘Boss Bitch’ written on the door to her office. These expressions seem to serve a decorative function; something you can post in a glitter font on Instagram to show how confident you are. But they don’t serve a real-world function. Let your ability do the talking, not some expression that only serves to depreciate your worth. 

*Pronounced ‘ban’ 

The Woman I am Not

“What did you do at the weekend Jane?”

I am surrounded by five women I work with, all eating kale salads or spreading avocado on crackers. I suddenly feel that my chicken and stuffing sandwich on white bread with a side of crisps looks embarrassingly out of place. I hesitate. Should I tell them that my boyfriend and I watched the 2000 WWF Royal Rumble while eating kebabs? Given that the majority of them probably spent their Saturday attending their bikram yoga classes, I choose to lie:

“Erm, I went on a cycle.” I had doubted that they would have been as enthused about The Rock’s victory that year as I had been. I sat there, frustrated with myself. Why lie? Was the truth really so embarrassing? I knew the issue I had wasn’t with the women surrounding me, it was with myself. Over the past few months, I had started to feel… abnormal. These women were everything I had envisaged I would be as a woman in my thirties: they knew the difference between a Malbec and a Merlot, they had children whom they took to ballet, they were all slim, fit and attractive and had an air of maturity about them that was slightly intimidating. Don’t get me wrong; they treated me very well. It wasn’t anything they consciously did that made me feel uncomfortable in their presence. I guess it was what they didn’t do.

Compared to them, I felt like a silly, immature little girl who would never have life figured out. I spend my free time playing PlayStation games, watching horror movies and rugby, eating Nutella out of a jar, teaching my cats The Macarena and sending decidedly ridiculous Snapchats to my friends. Maturity wasn’t the issue, however. Besides all evidence to the contrary, I am actually pretty mature….

Well, okay… I know when to be mature. So that wasn’t what bothered me. The issue was what these women represented to me. They represented an ideal of feminism I felt so alienated from. They reminded me that I was quite far away from being the graceful, high-heel wearing, hummus-eating, almond milk-drinking lady I had once envisioned I would magically become. They reminded me of the woman I am not; the woman I would never be.

I don’t bake. I don’t have children. I hold babies like I’m about to drop kick them for three points. I drink to get tipsy, not because I notice the citrus aroma in whatever white wine I’m drinking. I watch wrestling, reality TV and violent films. I don’t know how to sew. I can’t wear high heels. I don’t enjoy looking at photographs of babies, weddings or curtains. I DON’T KNOW WHAT A TRACKER MORTGAGE IS.

I get in touch with my inner glamour goddess every now and again, but sometimes I need to clean the dog crap in my garden Marilyn.

You’re probably thinking, so what? Aren’t all of the above antiquated stereotypes about women’s interests anyway? Perhaps. But it was difficult to sit amongst these women, day in, day out and not feel so uncomfortable in myself. Whether I liked it or not, these were their interests. Which, of course, they were entitled to. They weren’t the anomaly, I was. I know that I’m not better than these women, and they’re not better than me. I actually liked them very much and they showed me nothing but respect and kindness. It was just that I was so so different to them. But why?

I suppose I can’t really answer that. I know everyone is different, but I was like a black sheep in a sea of pink flamingos*. As time moved on, I begin to accept myself for who I am, and who I am not. Just like they’re not wrong for their personal tastes, I’m not wrong for mine. Okay, so I would prefer to see Stone Cold Steve Austin perform a stunner than look through a book of carpet samples. Each to their own, right? They might appear more traditionally feminine than I do, but so what? We’re all women. Our differences need to be celebrated. They nurture us. They teach us. I cannot be someone I’m not. Why would I force myself to eat avocado or learn how to sew when I just don’t want to. That doesn’t make me any less of a woman.

And what exactly is femininity anyway? It doesn’t necessarily mean pink stilettos and prosecco. I can look to all the wonderful qualities these women at work (and all the women in my life) possess. They are nurturing, they have empathy, they are sensitive and gentle. They are strong. And while I won’t be hitting up the nail salon with any of them anytime soon, I appreciate why they like the things they do. They make them feel happy. Just like Wrestlemania makes me feel happy. 

I do love being a woman. I also love a hell of a lot of random crap: makeup, Jurassic Park movies, owl ornaments, cats, UFC, poetry, flowers, anything involving Hannibal Lecter… I can be a woman and like all of these things. There’s no set of rules that we have to abide by. It’s not like you turn thirteen and have to level up to the next woman level by passing a cross-stitching exam.

Anyway, labels can confine us. They often present us with barriers and prevent our growth. In the traditional sense, no, I’m not very feminine. That’s okay, it would be a little stifling to be defined so easily. In today’s world, gender roles are not as clearly defined. We are being restricted by them less and less. I am as feminine as I am masculine in many ways. Except when it comes to dealing with spiders. Don’t come near me with that shit.

So yeah, I’m going to continue watching Storage Wars with my terribly chipped nail polish and my Seth Rogen donkey laugh. Sure, there isn’t going to be a Disney princess based on me (unless Disney suddenly envisage their princesses with terrible hand-eye coordination and a penchant for leggings) but did Snow White ever knee-slide across a floor while managing not to spill two pints of cider?

Didn’t think so.

*Gives you time to mentally picture that. Enjoy.