Education
Let’s Stop Calling Grown Women ‘Girls’
Jessie Wootton
How language gives power to the girlboss movement and harms women-identifying people.

I can’t tell you how many times I’ve used the phrase “yes girl!” or “she’s a f*cking girlboss.” 

Seems harmless, right?

Nope.

I got schooled last week when chatting with a friend. She was telling me about how she had landed a huge partnership deal, and I wanted to celebrate her win.

Go off Rach, you’re such a girlboss! 

She stared at me. 

No, I’m not Jess. I haven’t been a girl for ten years. 

…well, shit.

I was using the term girlboss in what I thought was an endearing way. Can you relate?

It never crossed my mind that it would piss anyone off. I had nothing but good intentions, but intentions and impact are different — and I wanted to understand the impact of my words.

As I started to dig into what girlboss really represents, I realized that it’s more than just a word: it has the potential to demean someone’s authority, and take away their power. Language is powerful that way. 


Let me explain.


The definition of ‘girl’ is “a female child.” Referring to women as ‘girls’ equates us to children

Ah, that’s why Rachael was so pissed. 

As children, we’re taught that girls aren’t as strong as boys. Have you ever seen She’s the Man? One of the most popular quotes from the movie is “Girls can’t beat boys. It’s as simple as that.” Gross. 

Unfortunately, we didn’t leave these gender roles behind in 2006. 

Even as we grow, society tells us over and over again that women aren’t as strong, smart, or qualified as men. By continuing to use the term girl to describe women, we perpetuate the ingrained belief that we are not as {insert any positive adjective ever} as men. We’re allowing ourselves to be continually infantilized by identifying as “girls”. 

Now, when you hear the word ‘founder’ or ‘CEO’ what comes to mind?

For me, the vision is one of a man; a default we've been conditioned to believe is the true representation of power. This is why there’s no masculine equivalent for girlboss — men don’t need one.

Just search the word ‘CEO’ on Google, where 80% of the image results are white men. 

The truth of the matter is that you just wouldn't call one of your men coworkers a boy. “Yeah, I worked on a project with a boy in the office today,” said no one ever. Using the term ‘girl’ or ‘girls’ ensures that women and men aren’t set up on an even playing field. 

The girlboss movement encourages women to take back their authority, and, at the surface, its intentions are good. But remember, intention and impact are different — when these terms stop serving us, we have to let them go.

Who knew that this pink, frilly illusion of feminism held so much power? 

But before we get into all of that heavy stuff, let’s explore why we shouldn’t be calling women ‘girls’ at all. Then we can get into all of the nitty gritty details of why girlboss culture sucks. 


Why We Need To Grow Out of Girl Boss Feminism


1. It Begins With Language

The root issue with girlboss culture begins with language. The term ‘girls’ hurts any and all women-identifying people. Period. 

I despise when people refer to children as ‘dramatic’. Especially young girls. I am a class-A example of someone who won’t speak her mind as an adult because I was called a drama queen one too many times as a kid.

You may be thinking, okay Jessie, but I don’t carry that trauma. But many others do. 

How we’re defined as children translates to how we carry ourselves as adults. 

Language plays a crucial part in how we view ourselves. How we’re described and seen by others matters. So why would we use language that perpetuates negative stereotypes to describe ourselves and others?

Language is power. How we define ourselves is incredibly important in establishing our authority. So please, ladies, gentlemen, non-binary friends… Let’s stop calling women-identifying people something that they’re not. 


2. Perpetuation Of Racist And Classist Ideals (OUF)

What the girlboss movement originally set out to do doesn’t reflect what it has come to represent. Movements can take on their own persona, and unfortunately, this one came to represent a racist and classist illusion of feminism. 

When I think of a girlboss, I imagine a white woman. She’s blonde, thin, clad in skinny jeans and a white t-shirt, with a black blazer to top it off. She’s known for her hefty salary and for not playing nice in the sandbox. 

This is the problem: girlboss culture is encouraging women to perpetuate the same toxic behaviours of male corporate executives.

The movement was supposed to create a seat for us at the table. But the problem is with the table itself.

The girlboss movement doesn’t uplift other women, like so many are led to believe. At its peak, women were still adopting the same toxic behaviours of their predecessors: white men in corporate C-Suite positions. There was a rise in accusations of unfair labour practices and discrimination from many women-led companies. And these leaders were women who fit the cookie cutter image of the girlboss. 

The movement began to create an image of success that was only accessible for white, upper class women. It began to uphold classist and racist ideals of success. 

The movement disguised itself as a white knight, coming to save the day and create space for women in executive positions. But under the shiny, glittering disguise was an unanticipated, sinister threat: encouraging women to tear each other down in order to climb the corporate ladder, when we should be encouraging each other to break the rules. 


3. Choosing Our Own Definitions

I am a woman, and the language that I use holds power. 

I don’t need to put the word ‘girl’ before boss, nor does anyone else. I certainly will not be referring to anyone else as a girlboss. From here on out, it’s just boss. 

Because the continued use of this language eternalizes both the term ‘girlboss’ and the questionable movement behind it.

Just yesterday, I saw a woman on TikTok explain how she wants to change her title to Grbs. for Girlboss, instead of Mrs., or Miss. Don't get me wrong, I have absolutely no problem with ditching archaic titles (I’m with her there). But I do think it’s important to understand the gravity of our words before we use them.

If we continue to make space for this movement, we're also making space for its harmful narrative.

It’s time to dismantle it. 

Doing so begins here: with learning, and with recognizing that this illusion of feminism is a monster in and of itself. Today, I’m working to phase ‘girl’ out of my vocabulary unless I’m using it to describe, y'know, a child.

I know better, so I will do better. 

I hope you do too.

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