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Retiring 'Boss Babe': Feminism in a Social Media Age

Updated: Mar 16, 2021

Another year, another International Women’s Day. And yet here we are, in 2021, with the top rated definition of ‘boss babe’ as [1]:

While Urban Dictionary doesn’t ever stand as a credible source, it does hold insight into the social and colloquial dynamics of the times. As many social media feeds were filled with admiring posts of women smiling while conquering fields and leading business, there was a nagging feeling in the back of our minds that something was missing.

It’s worth noting that whenever a woman is successful, her femininity must always be cheapened or reduced from her identity. Take, for example, one of the early millennial “Boss Babes” -- Sophia Amoruso, more known as being the founder of the clothing brand Nasty Gal. In only one Wikipedia search, tag-lines of “the Cinderella of Tech” and one of Forbes’ “Sexiest CEOs” are quickly associated with her image and her brand.

So, what perpetuates this box that constrains women to their physical attributes when they showcase their ambitions? Why, in this example, must a woman’s commercial success be akin to being a Disney princess as if it’s some form of fantasy? We surely don’t see male CEOs being compared to Prince Charming.

Fairytales aside, like many holidays in the 21st century, this one began to feel like a commodity. It’s almost as if a woman’s success is so unobtainable, that it’s starting to be compared to what fairy tales are made of. Why is it so shocking, or unrealistic, when a woman executes a clear ambition of hers that men have done over and over again? We started thinking about the role social media plays in perpetuating this fairytale portrayal of women’s success.

Feminism in a Social Media Age

We have all heard the phrase “doing it for the ‘gram”, but where do we draw the line? With International Women’s Day behind us, and after having some time to evaluate the content that was posted, we were left wanting more.

Scrolling through post after post on Instagram filled with glittering smiles and requests to share and repost, International Women’s Day felt like it centered around the likes, follows, reposts, retweets, and shares, rather than raising awareness against bias and taking action for equality.[2] What about amplifying the voices of marginalized women and drawing attention to those women making strides in male dominated sectors?

For us at The Pine Perspective, we wanted to open up the discussion to ‘raise the roof’, to reach for an unlimited sky, to strive to ensure rights extend to all women. The work is not done. Instagram posts celebrating women are lovely, but after posting and admiring those victories, let’s be reinvigorated and continue the work of amplifying women’s voices and experiences until women’s rights extends fully to trans women, disabled women, all women of color, and all women in male-dominated fields.

In fairness, social media is self-promotional by nature, and there is nothing wrong with using the platform to promote the work and businesses we are proud of. But in regard to being able to highlight both the celebration and the continual struggle women face in our fight for equality, it begs the question of whether Instagram is the right forum for hosting this content. Will young women only see the finish line and our celebrations and not the grit and determination behind those smiles? Will we falsely believe the fight for equality has been won rather than continue to advocate for more?

The surface level nature of instagram fails to draw attention to the struggle behind the scenes of the success. As women, we have a tendency to portray ourselves very cautiously. Aware that around every post, criticism awaits. Be it the double standard women face in standards of professionalism, qualifications, or personal work life balance, we have learned from a young age that our every image is subject to public scrutiny. But on social media, we have the power to craft our image. In general, this means pushing our insecurities and struggles to the back-burner and putting on our best smile for the ‘gram. Thus, instagram alone cannot fully represent both the true gift and the very real struggles of being a woman in modern society.

Like it or not, social media is here to stay. And with great power, comes great responsibility. To hold onto our internal locus of control - let’s focus on the individual responsibility we hold as social media users. While there’s every single reason to post that graduation snap or that classic black-and-white selfie, there is also room to think about how each of us as individuals can use the social media space to lift voices and provide megaphones for both struggles and successes. Life is messy, not a clean and curated instagram square. So, how can we use a 2D platform such as instagram to its full potential?

Mutual Empowerment & Squad Goals

Let’s start by looking around us. There is immense power in having a group of women to support us during moments of both success and disappointment. In a way, that was the start of TPP in the first place. The 5 of us found comfort in each other as we sought to adapt to the disruptions in our academic journeys and were looking for ways to utilize our degrees to help address the needs this pandemic raised.

Independence does not mean isolation.We can still be independent and rely emotionally on friends and family. We can still be strong and fall back on loved ones. It’s okay to be vulnerable and share lived experiences with others. In fact, it’s absolutely necessary.

So this brings us to the importance of relationship building versus networking. Especially as young professionals seeking connections in our fields, we should not forget to tend to the heart as we grow the mind. How are we supposed to help empower each other when we don’t know the struggles of our friends, peers, and co-workers? For the sake of our mental health, let’s try and move away from notions of siloing each other in environments that are inherently collaborative.

Creating those relationships is definitely not an easy task, and we hold more questions than answers. But one thing is certain, there is power in numbers and there is strength in vulnerability. Find your group of women who will take the likes and comments into the real world. Seek spaces where people are sharing their stories and, when the time comes, be willing to share yours (struggles and all). As the next generation of professionals, we hold the influence to redefine our reality.

International Women’s Day is a celebration of the progress made thus far, but also serves as a reminder of the progress that can still be made. And as social media plays a greater role in our everyday lives, consider how these spaces can be utilized to ensure that this reality is actually realistic.

What are your thoughts? We at The Pine Perspective are true to our name and are always searching for more perspectives. Send us a message and/or follow us on instagram @thepineperspective to engage in this discussion with us.

Primary Authors:

Divya Chawla, Monica Nguyen, Arushi Krishnan, Shruthi Patchava, Minda Liu

M.P.H. | Dartmouth College

  1. Urban dictionary. "Boss Babe". Accessed on 14 March 2021.

  2. International Women's Day. Accessed 14 March 2021.

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