Dismantling the ‘girlboss’ in the mirror

Reflecting on the negative impact of idolizing strong women

April Wang, Copy Editor

I remember the first time I watched “Mulan,” I was enamored with Mulan’s countless shows of strength and skill. I saw her as the epitome of a strong Chinese woman, and thought to myself that she was who I wanted to be. I was so inspired, in fact, that I kept a mental list of every single female character I came across: Raven from Teen Titans, Merida, Hermione, even Esther from the Bible (which is kind of funnily pathetic now that I think of it, but hey, I was a devoted church kid, and who wouldn’t want a whole chapter in the book of God named after them?). I wanted to be that woman, who was always reaching above her station and doing the unexpected. 

I wanted to stand out. I wanted to be remembered for being a woman. And so, I held them up as a reference sheet throughout my childhood, thinking to myself, “I’m going to grow up and prove everyone wrong about what they think of little girls!” 

Of course, being the classic introvert I am, I didn’t exactly stand out socially, so to speak. But I threw myself out into the world, choosing the most challenging classes and taking the hardest way out on every task. And looking at myself, struggling without any help, I thought, “Good.”

In my head, I fantasized a story of a girl who worked hard her whole life, who would be one of the few girls who took AP Physics C and AP Calc BC, who stood on her own without needing people to support her, who would become an executive at a big tech company, who would wear crisp tailored pantsuits with a mind of steel and slap down anyone who even dared to scoff at her.

But the more I tried to be that idolized version of a woman, the more holes started appearing in my imagined story. In recent years, I started hearing the term “girlboss” more, used as a staple of feminist memes.  It started out as a term for empowerment, and later a joke made for toxic white feminism, but the more I saw it, the more it felt like people had turned it into something worthy of praise.

“I’m not going to do my APUSH notes. Girlboss!”

“I’m going to study until 3 a.m. for this test. Girlboss!”

“I hate having to deal with stupid people. Girlboss!”

I certainly didn’t feel like one.

It wasn’t these specific situations that made me hate the word “girlboss,” but rather the reminder that everything I did felt like it had to be a “girlboss” moment. Suddenly, my identity of being a girl had become the key adjective in describing me. I felt pressure to be an exceptional woman, to represent and to fight.

It was devastating, when I started high school, to realize this pressure I had built up didn’t satisfy me. I didn’t want to do STEM. I didn’t want to be famous, I didn’t want to be a struggling feminist in a man’s world. And then what? If I can’t be a standout woman, if I can’t be “girlboss,” then am I really making the most of my identity? Or am I just a disappointment?

It can be a really toxic mindset, to always want to be that strong independent rebellious woman. When they say a strong woman doesn’t need a man to define them, it’s just not true. Because when simply being a woman, being ‘not a man,’ is all there is to someone, it reduces the worth of women to how much they stand out among men.

I’m understanding now that I don’t want to be a “girlboss.” I just want to be me. 

To quote a line from “Mulan,” the greatest honor is to just be a daughter. Not the savior of China, not the sole woman to be part of the council, not someone defined by their fame or fortune but by who they are. The reflection of who I am, of who I want to be, is me.