Why Are We Celebrating “Girlbosses”?

… Girlboss
… Boss babe
… Mompreneur
… Boss lady

Gag me with a spoon. Seriously, what in the world is happening right now.

As someone who can say she is both a CEO and a woman, I have to tell you these terms get my back up instantaneously. And even more interestingly, when I tell people this, they look surprised. In my opinion, it is the worst kind of pseudo-feminist, condescending, pat on the head kind of language, and it makes me yell profanities in my office (just ask the MediaStyle team).

It’s a worldwide movement of false-feminism, girlpower, pinkification of entrepreneurship that is all the rage these days. But if you dig in, much of this movement seems to be co-opted by corporations trying to use fake feminism for wider appeal and additional profit. My Facebook feed is trying to sell me a “Feminist AF” shirt right now, to go along with that GRRLPOWER belt I saw a few months back.

We need to look beyond the female founders and CEOs of these businesses. Who are their employees? Are they compensated properly? Are these companies walking the walk of supportive, inclusive workplaces? What are their parental leave and sick day policies? Are their products actually serving women’s needs? As Bitch Media put it in their great piece on Thinx, the period underwear company,

“Beyond the fact that a thing cannot be feminist (feminism is a lens and a goal, not a shoe), plenty of women have been the faces of businesses, products, and ideas that actively undermine feminist values and serve intrinsically sexist and disempowering agendas since the beginning of time.”

Feminism is about more than just having a woman in a position of power — it’s about making changes (at whatever level you can) that make things more equal for all women. Of course, women in leadership positions may be better-positioned to make these changes because of their lived experience, but we shouldn’t blindly assume that their presence is automatically feminist.

But so that isn’t just an angry rant, I should add that I was privileged to attend the World Changing Women’s Summit this year. To say I was hesitant at first would be an understatement. I was worried this would be more of the same condescending, mind-numbing pablum that is rampant in the “women in business” industry.

But I was so wrong. At this conference I found 200+ C-suite women from businesses that are trying to make the world a better place. And they mean it. From hard-hitting, informative panels on diversity and bias to creating greater impact in the world, I spent the time having in-depth, real conversations with other women in business talking about how we can collectively work to fix all of the things in the world that seem overwhelming right now.

So instead of just celebrating girlbosses, let’s start celebrating the business leaders that are doing innovative and exciting things that make the world better for people. Let’s champion a living wage, pay equity, parental leave, health and wellness benefits, and equity and inclusion in the workplace. These are all things that will help women to succeed in business, which will hopefully lead to greater retention, and more women working their way to leadership positions.

Caitlin Kealey is MediaStyle’s CEO.

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