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Gaslight, gatekeep, girlboss: A funny meme or a valid criticism of toxic women in leadership

Coined by Sheryl Sandberg and Sophia Amaruso, the term girlboss was meant to symbolise the ascension of women to leadership positions. Picture: Pixabay.com

Coined by Sheryl Sandberg and Sophia Amaruso, the term girlboss was meant to symbolise the ascension of women to leadership positions. Picture: Pixabay.com

Published May 18, 2022

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Long before Amber Heard took to the stand to detail how her ex-husband Johnny Depp allegedly abused her, the world was already vilifying women in power.

The ‘Gaslight, Gatekeep, Girlboss’ meme and hashtag - doing rounds on social media since 2018 - portrays the women boss as a villain of the 21st Century, no better than the male boss she was set to replace with a touch of feminine softness.

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Instead, it seems the girlboss has stepped right into the shoes of the male boss, and taken on many of the corporate toxic behaviours she was meant to eliminate.

But before we take it too seriously, we are warned that the Gaslight, Gatekeep and Girlboss meme and hashtag is just a parody on the ‘Live, Love Laugh’ meme and hashtag that gets people’s eyes rolling.

One analysis says it is a collection of overused words people hate. Gaslight (overused), Gatekeep (apparently also overused), and Girlboss (used to death).

When scientist Richard Dawkins coined the term ‘meme’ in his 1976 book, The Selfish Gene, he could have never anticipated how the word would come to dominate today’s means of communication, and social commentary.

Meanwhile, the girlboss term was coined by Sheryl Sandberg and Sophia Amaruso, and was meant to symbolise the ascension of women to leadership positions.

So, is it purely satirical or does it genuinely highlight a growing pessimism in the #girlboss ethos?

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With men still occupying significantly more leadership positions (being bosses) than women, is the girlboss criticism valid? Is it harmful, or simply a humorous take on the pitfalls of this phenomenon?

Social and cultural commentator Khensani Mohlatlole says the girlboss is the direct result of feminism, along with the perception of the democracy that has come with the internet, and online culture.

“There is still an aspect of sincerity to the concept, with women genuinely wanting to fight patriarchal notions of ineptitude and things like the gender wage pay gap but it has been bastardised by capitalism,” says Mohlatlole.

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She says that girlbosses are not revolutionary but can still perpetuate the same behaviour and tactics as the men they are supposed to oppose.

“The girlboss figure has become about performative activism and hustle culture, while hiding behind a pink banner, and appearing as liberation for women.”

While this cynicism is common online, as Mohlatlole says, there is still some sincerity to the term. Perhaps, however, we drop the girl before boss, the term for women in leadership, after all, is just that, a boss.

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So the catch phrase is, in a sense redundant.

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