MY BODY, MY VOICE: Don’t Call Me A Boss Lady

And don’t try to sell me anything in pink

Barbara Ann Lutrell

Trigger warning: I hate the word “shero.” I’ve been feeling this way for a while now, but have been afraid to admit it because it is a controversial opinion in the world of feminist activism and reproductive rights.

Shero is defined by Merriam-Webster as “a woman regarded as a hero.” A lady hero. I cringe every time I hear it.

And it’s not just shero. Lately, I have been noticing a lot of common words and phrases being altered to specify that they’re for women. You know what I’m talking about. We’ve all seen “boss lady” scrawled across a mug or sweatshirt in rose gold calligraphy. Or seen a reference to someone making “herstory” — like “history,” but for ladies. The other day, someone even referenced “freshwoman year” instead of “freshman year.”

Come on, y’all. I’m all for girl power, but are these plays on words necessary? Aren’t people worthy of being called a shero or a boss lady just as worthy of being a hero and a boss? Why the qualifiers? And if they’re making herstory, surely they’re making regular history?

Hearing Harriett Tubman, Marie Curie, or Rosa Parks described as “sheroes” seems to cheapen their contributions. They are some of the greatest heroes of humankind, and they should be recognized as such.

Of course, women are still woefully underrepresented in history books and in modern society, so I understand the impulse. There is no doubt that women — and all marginalized people — have been intentionally and strategically robbed of our power and excluded from the conversation, and the English language reflects that bias. I’m just not convinced “lady boss” is much of an improvement.

Just this week, Forbes released its list of “America’s 100 Most Innovative Leaders.” The list included 99 men and precisely one woman: Barbara Rentler, CEO of Ross Stores. This list made it all the way from concept to publication and NO ONE noticed the disparity. Reactions from the public were swift, including a scathing letter from 57 innovative, female CEOs, demanding that Forbes correct their mistake. Forbes was also quick to respond, saying, “We blew it.” But how is it possible to blow it so royally? Predictably, the group of people responsible for compiling the list were all men, much like the selection committees for so many other important decisions. The world is full of powerful women who are changing the way we think, work, and live, but until they’re recognized as the leaders they are, they’ll just be lady bosses, relegated to their own special categories.

Maybe part of the reason I’m so annoyed is these words — like the linguistic version of pink power tools — remind me of some very special lady products being marketed to women.

A couple years ago, I got a new bicycle and I was in the market for a helmet. But when I went to a local bike shop to see what was available, I tried on the women’s helmets and they were all too small. So I assumed I’d have to size up to a men’s helmet. Much to my surprise, there were no men’s helmets. There were only unisex helmets, which came in multiple sizes, and women’s helmets, which came in one size: women’s. The implication being that there are regular helmets, which come in a variety of sizes (just like human skulls), and there are women’s helmets, which come in standard woman size (which is apparently quite petite). I was shocked. I looked for distinctions between the two helmet categories. The women’s helmets came in more pastel colors, but I could find no other difference. There weren’t more accommodations for a ponytail or stereotypically female hairstyles. There weren’t any convenient helmet pockets for tampons or other obviously female needs. They were just one-size-fits-female helmets, with some pink, teal, and white decorations, marketed for women. It was too much to wrap my oversized head around.

But this is a common theme for women’s products — producing more expensive versions of the men’s products with a woman-specific label. I am convinced that women’s razors are just lesser versions of men’s razors on more curvaceous, brightly colored handles. Like it’s harder for us to grip (maybe because of our tiny hands), and we’ll never notice that the razors were dull from the start (probably because of our tiny brains). And we all remember a few years ago, when Bic came out with a new line of pens “for her.” They were regular pens in pink and purple, sold at a much higher price point. Just what we’ve always wanted!

The latest version of this is Hasbro’s newest game: Ms. Monopoly. In it, female players receive $1,900 at the beginning of the game, compared with $1,500 for male players. And we get $240 each time we pass “Go” on the board, while male players get just $200.

Aside from the nauseating name, this game misses the entire point of the feminist movement. Regular Monopoly is already the future we envision. One where women can earn the same as men, have equal opportunities, and can move throughout the world without being hindered by our gender. Special helmets, razors, pens, games, and words won’t fix the problem.

Merriam-Webster defines “hero” as “a person who is admired or idealized for courage, outstanding achievements, or noble qualities.” That word gets a whole definition. So why are we creating special descriptors for women’s greatness when we’re more than worthy of the originals?

This is not a call to throw out your “boss lady” tote bag, or trash your expensive razor. It’s just a reminder that you have earned the real words and you deserve the real thing, just as much as the next guy. No distinction necessary.