How the use of gender-specific identifiers can be counterintuitive to female empowerment.
I must begin this post by first and foremost acknowledging that this is a new and ever-evolving conversation that has been on my mind as of late. I am in no way an expert, but will be speaking on my experience and look forward to engaging with you on yours.
As a long time proud user of terms like "boss babe" and "girl boss", I've always equated this language to female empowerment and unity within our community. In using these terms to describe myself and other strong women around me, I used this language to symbolize women whom I viewed as resilient, motivated and ambitious. You know like, "look at her, she's going places, she's such a boss babe" or "wow, she's such a girl boss, I want to be like her some day". This is how we've become familiar with this language. It's a badge of honour with the female community.
Additionally, to me, these terms came with it a shared experience that women have in navigating their lives—whether it be their careers, personal relationships, family life or finances. A shared experience that necessitates being ambitious, resilient and strategic. All things that I truly admire and aspire to be.
However, in recent months, I have been having more conversations about the use of these words/phrases. How it's primarily and almost exclusively used by women and more importantly, how this language is intuitively divisive. Whether it be "shero" or "herstory" or "female leaders", we are adding or modifying language to include ourselves.
My first thought: well if we've learned anything throughout the course of history, it's that we, as women, do indeed need to create spaces for ourselves. However, in reflecting deeper, I realize that my use of terms like "boss babe" or "girl boss" or "female leader" also communicate that I may not see myself as just a boss or a leader. That I somehow cannot be a boss or leader full stop—without further explanation (read: less than). Rather, I feel the need to cushion this term to make it more palatable to those around me. Like somehow, by adding the term "babe" or "girl" or "female" this softens the assertion and makes it more socially acceptable.
I also realize these terms bring with it a sense of unity. A shared experience and journey amongst women that we can relate to and seek comfort in collectively. Not to mention, we (as women) love creating fun, catchy titles for things, which I am more than guilty of. However, in an effort to make the "boss" experience more understandable and attainable, we somehow have demarcated ourselves from men who consider themselves bosses—just bosses, no prefixes or suffixes needed. We've created a league for ourselves that sets us on a different and distinct playing field from those whom simply identify as bosses, leaders and heroes (aka men). In focusing on uniting as women in this shared journey, we've somehow along the way created a glass ceiling for ourselves. One that we don't even realize that we've created and often don't even see.
So while I'm not here to preach about cancelling these terms, I am here to shed light on the power of language. If we, as women, would like to be viewed as comparables to our male counterparts, then we've got to begin with how we identify ourselves and the language that we use. Let's not box ourselves in and reduce our successes/accomplishments by saying we're leaders or bosses but only within our female league. It's time we call ourselves what we are. We are bosses, we are leaders and we are heroes.
In formulating my thoughts and better understanding my use of language, I would like to make a conscious effort to minimize (if not eliminate) the use of these gender-specific identifiers in my everyday language. Again, I am not cancelling these terms or saying I'll completely omit them from my vocabulary completely, but I urge my fellow women to reconsider the message they're conveying to others and themselves when using this language that has now become so customary. We have the power to control our narratives, so let's use it wisely. Language matters!