Oprah Winfrey

Last fall, I was meeting some female business owners for work drinks — Rony from Catbird, Lanie from Lovely Bride and Jacq from State Bags. As I was sending out the confirmation email, I wrote “Girl Bosses,” as the subject heading. And it looked ridiculous. These women are brilliant and run big brands with teams of employees. They’re decidedly women, not girls. I quickly deleted it.

So, the other day, I was curious to read a blog post titled Be a boss, not a #girlboss. The author, Anna Jordan, argued that the term “girl boss” is patronizing and sets women up in opposition to men.

The author’s husband, who runs a consulting firm, would jokingly call himself “Boy Boss” when he accomplished something at work. “But that self-declaration rings as a little silly, doesn’t it?” she pointed out. Here’s what she had to say:

My husband is a boy — but no one would ever call him a boy because he’s almost 33 years old — so actually he’s a man who runs his own business. No one is sitting around thinking this is nice or remarkable. He is simply the boss.

“Girl Boss” is not the phrase we should tout if we want to be powerful or successful. Female-run businesses are not adorable. Women don’t need to justify their abilities and intellect by making it cute.

In her book, We Should All Be Feminists, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie writes, “We teach girls to shrink themselves, to make themselves smaller. We say to girls, you can have ambition, but not too much. You should aim to be successful, but not too successful.” Today, we are telling girls — and adult women — that they can be the #Girlboss, but they can’t be “the boss.”

At first, I wondered if she was taking it too seriously. I mean, on the flip side, maybe the term “girl boss” is taking ownership of it, and rejoicing in being female, and creating a cool, empowering club of smart women that we are all invited to join? Emily Weiss (CEO of Glossier), Leandra Mendine (Founder of Man Repeller) and Maggie Winter (CEO of AYR) call themselves girl bosses. Sophia Amoruso wrote the book.

But the more I think about it, the more I find the term “girl boss” grating. It seems fine until you try it with any number of women. Is Oprah a girl boss? Is Hillary a girl boss? Is Sheryl Sandberg a girl boss? Is Tina Fey a girl boss? Is Ruth Bader Ginsburg a girl boss? It sounds absurd.

Ruth Bader Ginsburg

Thoughts? I’m so curious to hear what you think… (Loved this eulogy for “girl boss.”)

P.S. 15 career tips from smart women, and 10 lessons I’ve learned in my career.