In This Episode:
- Why gendered leadership titles are problematic
- Examples of female leadership in the media
- How to change the perception of female leadership
Words are powerful; they send a message about how we want to be perceived. When we describe ourselves as girl bosses, lady bosses, fempreneurs, mompreneurs, SHEEO and other such gendered leadership titles, it sends a rather negative message about female leadership. For one, it implies that we are doing really well “for a girl.” Is female leadership such a strange or unnatural thing that we need to qualify it with such gendered terms? In this episode, Meaghan Lamm tells us why such titles are problematic, how female leadership is usually viewed by patriarchal society and how it is portrayed by the media. It is time to change our perception of female leadership. Ungendering leadership titles is a good place to start.
Listen to the podcast here:
You Are Not A Girl Boss
Words are powerful, which is why when women described themselves as girl bosses, lady bosses, fempreneurs, mompreneurs and my least favorite, SHEEO, my eye starts twitching. What we say about ourselves and how we describe our roles in leadership matters.
We’re going to talk about how these words are holding us back and how we can release them into the ether to step into our power. Let’s get started.
When I first started my online business in 2015, I didn’t really know what to call myself. Actually, I don’t think I bothered spending much time figuring it out.
I was just plodding along, doing bloggy VA things, learning shit and making my clients happy. That was my ultimate goal. Especially, when I switched over from, “I’m just doing this until I can get a real job,” into, “I’m going to do this all the time.”
There’s a lot of stuff that I didn’t even know I needed to think about until I pivoted away from serving bloggers and into serving online coaches and course creators in late 2016. I made the pivot in late 2016. I didn’t know I needed to worry about how I marketed myself or my mindset or my money mindset.
I didn’t know that I needed a business entity or contracts like, “Seriously?” Let’s just not even think about the number of clients I served without a contract. I definitely didn’t know that I needed a title.
Around 2016 and 2017-ish, I think a book came out with a title, Girl Boss. The word to describe yourself as a girl boss was really popular. You saw it in stock images and marketing language and Facebook groups.
There were women who either identifying with the word personally or using it in order to pump each other up. Using it in their marketing or in their groups or whatever.
I used it a few times definitely reluctantly, because even in my baby feminism days, words like girl boss and mompreneur always made me roll my eyes. I couldn’t really quite put a finger on why I found them so irritating, but I did.
The words we use send a message about how we want to be perceived, right? That’s just copywriting and marketing 101. You want to use the words that evoke the thoughts and the feelings that you want people interacting with your brand to have.
If you like these words, I’m not here to tell you to never use them again. I’m not going to be that person, but I do want to have a conversation about what words like girl boss and mompreneur and SHEEO say about women in business.
Women have hard enough time getting leadership roles, earning respect in leadership roles and then keeping leadership roles.
Women who succeed in leadership roles like getting raises promotions, making their company more profitable, etc., are usually viewed as difficult to work with or bossy or bitchy. Even if they’re doing the job the same as a man would in the same position, they’re still viewed that way.
An online business, traditional business, corporate, whatever, there’s a wage gap that still exists. There’s a wage gap that exists in corporate and there is a wage gap that exists when we’re working for ourselves, even when we’re setting our own price points.
Even outside of that, there are obviously still plenty of sexism inherent in capitalism. Let’s look at teaching for instance, because that’s on my mind with everyone getting ready to go back to school.
Being a teacher used to be a male dominated profession until the invention of public schooling. It used to be when you needed a teacher, you’re probably really rich.
Unless it was a governess who was also taking care of you, you were probably being legitimately schooled by a male teacher in sciences and philosophy and things like that. Governesses were teaching you needle point and maybe some basic Math and romance languages.
Once we created public education in the mid-1800 or so, suddenly we needed a lot of teachers and we didn’t want to pay a lot of money for them.
Then you have this slow shift of teachers becoming female. It went from a predominantly male profession to teachers being female because they needed a lot of labor and they needed it cheaply.
Teaching remains a largely female dominated field, especially in the public-school grades because teachers aren’t paid very much. They made this shift in the beginning anyway because they knew that they could pay women less than they could pay men for doing the exact same job. Hello, wage gap.
That’s all the way back to the 1800. We haven’t made it better since 1800 whatever. The language we use to describe different roles is starting to slowly ungender itself as society evolves.
We have the wage gap problem that exists in a different way, but like just the language that we use around it has slowly started to ungender itself.
Now, it’s more common to hear somebody call themselves or someone else, a firefighter instead of a fireman. I see specifically women elected to Congress who identify themselves as a Congressperson rather than a Congresswoman.
I can’t say that I’ve seen any Congressmen do this, but I have seen several Congresswomen identify as Congresspeople instead of Congresswoman. Then you have words like chairperson and salesperson. These words were slowly getting to the point where we’re just like naturally ungendering things.When we qualify leadership titles with feminine words, what we're really doing is amending titles like “boss” and 'CEO' with exceptions. Click To Tweet
It begs the question, “Why do we have to identify ourselves as women in our titles?” It’s not like it makes the job fancier or more glamorous or more interesting if we had to hatch a feminine descriptor to it first.
To be clear, men do not go around calling themselves boy boss or dadpreneur. That’s definitely not a thing that is happening. Some people argue that adding these female signifiers is about reclaiming these words and redefining what a CEO looks like.
When we qualify these titles with feminine words, what we’re really doing is amending titles like entrepreneur and boss and CEO with exceptions. We’re modifying and restricting it. Do we really need to gender traditionally male roles in order to redefine them?
We live in a society that is riddled with the belief that doing things like a girl is bad. Check out my Fem-vertising episode, which talks about the always campaign like a girl. It’s great. If we live in a society where doing things like a girl is bad, why do we want to qualify that we’re not a CEO, we’re a SHEEO?
It’s like we’re saying that starting a business from nothing and making hundreds of thousands of dollars a year and employing half a dozen other fantastic women means we’re pretty awesome for a girl. Honestly, that’s a message I would like to eradicate from this Earth and from the online space please.
Just imagine if you wanted to go hire a lawyer and your choices were a lawyer or a girl lawyer, which one would you pick? That’s like a ludicrous thing. No one’s like, “I’m going to go for the girl lawyer.”
If you search female boss on Google, I want you to do this but also just prepare yourselves because you’ll find articles like, “Why women don’t want a female boss? How to work for a female boss?”
In case working for someone who identifies as a woman was rocket science for men, there’s a whole article out there for you. My least favorite that I found in searching was, “Why workers resent feedback from female bosses?”
All these articles are filled with assumptions about what having a female boss is like or horror stories of past female bosses who if I had to hazard to guess, were probably assholes because they were trying to keep up with men. Maybe they just came across as assholes because they acted like male bosses.
When women act like male bosses, they’re labeled mean and unfair, or maybe they were assholes, I don’t know. There are a lot of assumptions made about female bosses and we make them typically because of what we see in the media.
For example, if you’ve ever seen the movie, The Proposal, with Sandra Bullock and Ryan Reynolds. In that movie, Sandra Bullock forces her assistant, Ryan Reynolds, that she already treats like shit, of course she’s already horrible to him, to marry her because she didn’t bother renewing her work visa.
This is supposed to be a romantic comedy. They ended up going to where he lives in some remote place in Alaska and she falls in love with him, of course. She’s totally a bitch, she’s very demanding, she’s horrible to him, she’s always making him do things he doesn’t want to do. She treats him like crap.
If we do a throwback to the ‘80s or ‘90s, in Working Girl, Sigourney Weaver encourages her secretary to tell her all of her ideas and makes it sound like they’re going to be partners or whatever, and then steals them all and passes them off as her own.
It’s also like that backstabbing woman job that we see a lot. I’m not saying that there aren’t truly horrible female bosses out there. Obviously, this is not an absolute statement that all female bosses are the best people you’ve ever met in your whole life.
We know that the insufferable Miranda Priestly from The Devil Wears Prada is based off of a real person, but even in my most favorite show of all time, that does such a great job on social issues. Especially, as the world has become so much more openly political.
It was political before, but now I think we’re all talking about it. The strong female characters often deal with not being taken seriously as their male counterparts or being seen as overbearing or even mean if they’re really strict.
Shonda Rhimes is brilliant. This has done to highlight the disparity, not as necessarily a stereotype because you have Miranda Bailey if you watched the show. I’m not done with my Grey’s Anatomy reference yet.
If you watch the show, Miranda Bailey is a take no shit hard-ass. She is especially in the early seasons contrasted with Preston Burke. They’re both hard asses. Everybody looks at Preston Burke like he’s a genius. He’s this amazingly gifted surgeon and he’s an asshole.
Everybody sees him as a genius. Whereas Miranda Bailey, who’s one of my favorite characters, they call her “The Nazi” for several seasons. She wasn’t any bossier or any stricter than any of the other attendings were at the hospital, but they still call her “The Nazi” for quite a while.
They do eventually knock that off and they don’t call her “The Nazi” anymore once they get new interns. It was so stark. I have a friend who’s re-watching the show, which is what made me think of it.
It’s just such a stark contrast between how women are often portrayed and how men are often portrayed. You have the example of male bosses in TV and movies. They tend to be much more well-rounded than female bosses.
You have an array of different kinds of male bosses. They can be hard asses or father figures or idiots. They can be nice guys. They can be incompetent. They can be money hungry, whatever it is. By and large, women get to be angry, bitchy, backstabbing, assholes.
I’m not saying there aren’t some bitchy female bosses out there, but this is a problem in our society because what happens is we tend to view female bosses negatively almost by default because we’ve been conditioned that way.Rather than qualify our titles, let's show up as CEOs, bosses and entrepreneurs, and dismantle the idea that these roles are only for men. Click To Tweet
The goal here should not be to qualify ourselves as girl bosses or mompreneurs or boss babes. The goal should be to rewire the reaction to hearing the word CEO and thinking, “Man, that’s really what we’re talking about here.”
When you think the CEO of a company or the head of a company by default, even if you’re a strong feminist like I am, your first thought is probably, “I wonder what his name is.” That’s just societal conditioning. That doesn’t necessarily mean you’re a bad feminist or anything like that.
It’s just that’s the first thought that pops into your head because that’s the way you’ve been conditioned to think about these roles.
We don’t need a feminine qualifier in front of that to tell everybody that, “She’s actually a female CEO.” We just need to override the societal conditioning that the first thought you have when you think CEO is man.
Also, we are more than the feminine qualifier we put in front of the very real and amazing leaders that we are. Rather than qualify our titles, let’s show up as CEOs, bosses and entrepreneurs, and dismantle the idea that these roles are only for men.
You are an entrepreneur, you’re a boss. No other qualifying words are required. That’s it for me today. Bye, all.