It aims to create a niche for women who have the ability to “do it all”. But not everyone has this opportunity.
When I entered the world of work, my goal was to become a “girl boss”. I had read the stories, clinging gently to Sophia Amoroso’s description of a boss shattering stereotypes, shattering the glass ceiling, and making room for women in the workforce. Printed on cute pink t-shirts and bright emblazoned notebooks, “boss bitch”, “girl boss”, “she-eo” – the terms all created a cookie-cutter success image that most people could not follow. They added glitter and sparkles and the word “girl” to inherently highlight something that was meant to define a strong, independent woman. It was then that I finally understood why female feminism is so problematic, especially in a place like Pakistan.
Pakistan is ranked 153rd out of 156 on the Global Gender Equality Index and in a society like this, our reality is a far cry from the do-it-all feminism, no matter the consequences, practiced abroad. That’s not to say that women don’t thrive, create and empower themselves – my point leans more towards the idea that in a country with a rigid patriarchal system and an appalling disregard for women’s rights, women don’t have the freedom to just frame them. There are so many other factors to consider; from understanding the very landscape of capitalism in the country, to fighting for respect in the workplace to finding your own unique voice.
Girlbossification strives to create a niche for women who can – specifically, women who have the ability to “do it all”. And not everyone can. Not everyone can give their world to their work, everyone has a different priority, so preach “if they can do it, why can’t I?” is inherently imperfect in its nature and not at all intersectional. Girlboss feminism sells the American dream – it’s a privileged white woman who can have it all and when you come from Pakistan and yearn for respect and the freedom to occupy your body, that narrative can be both toxic and harmful.
The problem with capitalism is the system and when workers continue to be exploited it goes against the fundamental tenets of feminism which calls for gender and structural equality. Apart from the term’s connection to capitalism, it also ignores many social issues. Fighting one oppressive system just for another is not the way to go – if you get your power out of ignorance of inequality, that power is problematic. Is girlboss feminism changing the system or is it just a crack in the patriarchal contours that we have to live up to in order to be both good and good Pakistani women?
The boss is not the average woman and she is surely not the average Pakistani woman. It is important to consider marginalized groups within our own country. Gender is fluid and justice must take this into account if we are ever to work for a feminist future. Girlboss feminism is not expansive, it is not inclusive – it diminishes the struggles of femininity without considering the real nuance of this discourse. It promotes the culture of restlessness, overwork and prioritization of career over everything else. And in doing so, it overlooks the plight of women of color, who have their own struggles that have not been factored into this empty narrative.
When you live in a society like ours, the most important thing is choice – a woman can choose to have a career and be a mother. She can choose to stay home. She can choose to be an entrepreneur. But these ideals should never be imposed on him. She should never feel like she’s not doing “enough”, because enough is different for each individual. There is already a deep imbalance when there is a different expectation of women journalists, when women in positions of power are either ‘othered’ or turned into villains. When a Pakistani woman devotes more time to her work, she is labeled as a bad mother and when she spends too much time working from home and not physically enough in the workplace, she is labeled as someone who does not doesn’t take his job seriously enough. But we need to understand that these standards were created to be unfair – they don’t even consider other marginalized communities. The final years of the pandemic sparked the downfall of girlbossification and now it’s not about who can do it all, but how much you choose to do and how much you want to give.
To exist within a workforce that primarily values male work over female work has always been toxic. I saw it when I was working at an international newspaper and the senior editor (a woman) was turned down for a promotion over a man. I saw it when I was teaching in a high school and they called me “beti(small) but the men were called “sir”. It also went much deeper than that – a veteran teacher allegedly said she didn’t like hiring young single women because they might get married, get pregnant and eventually leave. Women are asked about their marital status as soon as they enter the labor market, which is both inappropriate and completely irrelevant. On my first day as a teacher at a local school, an older teacher came up to me and asked, “Miss or Mrs? I remember a colleague being told that she shouldn’t take too many courses because she had dependent children.
Girlboss feminism expands on the narrative that a woman can juggle all the duties and balance everything effectively, but in Pakistan, where borders don’t seem to exist and the expectations placed on women are increasingly insurmountable – this ideology will not suffice. Rest is an integral part of our evolution and since we are currently living “The Great Resignation”, it is all the more important to note how the culture of agitation has no place in a life of reflection, of growth and greater peace.
I see it with women who aren’t allowed to work at all and it can lead to the argument that having this conversation is the very first step, an acknowledgment that yes, in fact, girlboss feminism is flawed, but how can we move forward from this? Can women solve the problems that exist in a capitalist society? Can we change the very fabric of it all? Girlboss feminism imposes the responsibility on us to solve this structural problem when it is almost impossible to do so.
This year’s Aurat march follows the theme of Asal Insaf (real justice). A culture of care is essential in the workplace in Pakistan and the manifesto stresses the importance of rest when it comes to work. There is a certain burden placed on us that makes us value work more than anything and that can be closely linked to girlbossification and the notion of “doing everything” without rest. We deserve rest, we deserve it and adding fuel to the fire of the hustle culture is not helping anyone. As women, we have already started to carve out a place for ourselves in the workforce, but ignoring issues of race, ethnicity, gender and religion is not the right way to go.
We have set unhealthy standards for women – yes, women can do whatever they want, but in their own way. Having a woman in a position of power is not enough, it starts from scratch.
Problematic systems were meant to be broken, and girlboss feminism is one of those systems. The boss got where she was because she found her way through sexist and capitalist structures. Because if it wasn’t a man’s game, the term would simply have been boss. There shouldn’t be any infantilization of women in power – of course, standing up for yourself is key to getting where you want to go, but the root of the problem remains the same no matter who is in charge. It emphasizes the individual versus society as a whole and in honor of this year’s Aurat Walk, I Walk for the People. I walk to give value to all forms of work. I march for an intersectional feminist future worthy of all.