Used more than 22 million times on Instagram, “GirlBoss” is a pervasive term. It pops up everywhere from glassware to pet collars, and has spawned related neologisms like “SHE-E-O,” “Mompreneur” and “Chickpreneur.”
These also appear in the drinks business, where gender inequity abounds. Alcohol marketing frequently employs pink and glittering packaging, and low-calorie or fruity flavored sips to appeal to female consumers. Meanwhile, according to studies by McKinsey & Company and the LeanIn.Org foundation, women hold just 16% of executive-level positions in the U.S. food and beverage manufacturing industry and 22% of vice president-level roles.
So, do terms like “GirlBoss” empower underrepresented female drinks professionals? Or are they a misstep for those who seek egalitarianism? Industry members are divided.
Toronto restaurateur Jen Agg, whose establishments include Bar Vendetta, Grey Gardens, Cocktail Bar and Le Swan, vehemently opposes these labels.
“I shudder at all these infantilizing terms that presume the baseline is always male, which unfortunately, even now in the year 2020, it usually is,” she says.
Agg believes this kind of language reinforces male-dominated social constructs, and traps women in their framework.
“White liberal feminism so often works for the patriarchy instead of against it, keeping women in their places and making sure to be diminishing with cutesy titles that, in every way, remove power,” she says.
Chaunci King is CEO of Royalty Spirits, which includes Miru Vodka and Rex Whiskey. She finds terms like “GirlBoss” and “Mompreneur” belittling.
“As a Black female business owner in a male-dominant industry, I fight for equality, and these gender-centered titles further downgrade my role as a business owner and entrepreneur,” says King.
She’d rather be respected for her work.
“Being in the spirits industry is about being strong, confident and smart,” says King. “These terms are a stark reminder of the inequality we face in this country, the double standards and the injustices that women in business contend with.”
Fran Caradonna, CEO of Schlafly Beer, understands the power and beauty of being a female CEO, but believes these terms actually trivialize female accomplishments.
“I get that female CEOs, entrepreneurs and bosses might still be considered ‘rare,’ but I don’t think the most important quality of our leaders is their gender,” says Caradonna.
To focus primarily on gender underplays the critical skills that women-identifying leaders have, she says.
For many, “GirlBoss” is especially loaded.
“In my opinion, the ‘girl’ label may further signal inexperience and fragility,” says Caradonna. “And while it may be said that the philosophy of ‘girl power’ is inherently important, we should instead support young women and teach them to own their power and overcome false gender barriers.”
“I don’t think the most important quality of our leaders is their gender.” —Fran Caradonna
Denizens Brewing Co-owner and Chief Brand Officer Julie Verratti feels these terms make it seem “surprising” or “unexpected” that a woman could be in an ownership role. Instead, she says, we should normalize such achievements.
“It’s wonderful when women in entrepreneurial roles can be highlighted and championed,” says Verratti. “We absolutely need more of that. But we can do a better job to keep the spotlight on their accomplishments, rather than try to use catchy headlines and labels that ultimately are a disservice to how women should be acknowledged and represented.”
Not everyone opposes the “GirlBoss” movement. Beny Ashburn is the self-titled “The Dope CEO” and cofounder of Los Angeles-based beer company Crowns & Hops. She endorses these types of terms.
“If you choose to lead with your gender or cultural background, then it is 100% your prerogative and freedom to do so, especially if it makes you feel good and authentically portrays who you are as a person,” she says.
She was intentional about calling herself “The Dope CEO,” a title that she feels brings her culture to the forefront.
“It’s not necessarily my gender, but that I’m a Black woman in the craft brewery business—a rarity—and the color of my skin is what people will see first,” she says. “It encapsulates all that I am, how I choose to identify and present myself to the world.”
“Gender is so fluid these days, so honestly, I believe we’re beyond identifying ourselves with this restrictive binary of either ‘male’ or ‘female.’ ” —Beny Ashburn
While terms like “GirlBoss” are divisive, Ashburn says that no one should judge or impose their views on people who want to adopt gendered labels.
“Whatever words we decide to use as women for these titles, remember that it’s an incredibly personal choice, for whatever reasons they chose to represent themselves as ‘GirlBoss,’ we should honor that,” she says.
Language and society constantly evolve, so these terms lie on a continuum of identity politics and cultural mores.
“Gender is so fluid these days, so honestly, I believe we’re beyond identifying ourselves with this restrictive binary of either ‘male’ or ‘female,’” says Ashburn.
However, Ashburn says that if someone wants to control their own narrative, “and if that means you want to call yourself a ‘Mompreneur’ to accomplish this, then that’s what you’re choosing to do. It’s as simple as that.”
The crucial issues: Who is empowered to use these labels? And who gets to decide whether they are good or bad?
“You have to ask yourself, is the woman opting to call herself this, or is the man giving her this label? If the latter, then I can understand that it is more likely an issue of asserting power and dominance over someone else,” Ashburn says.
“There’s a big difference between the woman claiming her title and proudly owning it for herself versus someone else calling her that to use against her as a form of exclusion and repression.”