This is why ‘Girl Boss’ Instagram feminists piss you off so much
Hint: It’s not sexism
I have always had an issue with Florence Given and Grace Beverley, and I’ve never been able to put my finger on the reason why. I initially thought it was jealousy or deep-rooted female competition instincts (read: internalised sexism), and I hate how quickly society likes to tear successful women down, so I kept my mouth shut, unfollowed, and forgot about it. Then a while later I refollowed, forgetting my initial qualms because I have a memory like a fish, and saw these women making absolute STACKS on the gram. Promoting books, businesses, clothing brands. They are doing soooooo well. They are #securingthebag and want you to know about it. They are #selfmade. Except, they’re not.
Initially, all you want to say is ‘good for her!’ and move on with your life, self-fulfilled and proud of your fellow woman. You don’t want the social media insecurity bug to crawl into your brain through your eyes, as it so easily does. But it’s impossible. And you feel ashamed for disliking powerful women, especially because you know it just makes you look like a bad feminist who doesn’t like proud ladies bringing home the bacon. You want to like them so badly, but why does their online presence make your skin itch? Why do you start to feel like you should already have released a book and a gym wear line and be getting hundreds of likes and thousands of followers on the daily?
Let me introduce to you here a synonym for successful, a word we often use for these Girl Boss types, which is more accurate: Fortunate.
The reason you struggle with this insecurity is not that you hate women. You are allowed to criticise women. It’s because there is a reality to these Girl Bosses which we, and they, do not acknowledge. They are not just like you. They are incredibly privileged. You’re comparing yourself to someone as if you’re on a level playing field when… you’re not. And even if you too are middle class, white and conventionally attractive, you don’t have their platform. So yes, you may not have released a book yet or bought your own flat by the age of 21, but these women have cultivated their success and wealth as a result of the platform they have. A platform which was built for them, which they are perfect for. Platforms that naturally lean towards promoting skinny white wealthy cis women and beauty standards which make us think we all like them for them.
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They are feminists or “girl bosses” who can operate via a system of grid photos, because they are hot and trendy and their messages can be condensed into very small, flat concepts. Posts. Just like how Prime Ministers are often great orators with good hair (…typically, the current one doesn’t exactly help me with this example), girl boss feminists are conventionally attractive white women that people like to watch. But we wouldn’t select a Prime Minister based on how fit he was, and we wouldn’t measure ourselves against the Prime Minister because – well – he’s the head of the country. And because we’re more aware of how privileged PMs tend to be. We know their education, we know their previous careers and we know they took time to build themselves up to this position. We can check their privilege for them, we don’t rely on them to do it for us.
The problem with Girl Boss influencers is that they’re in the public eye enough to influence you but they’re not in the public eye enough for you to be able to objectively assess their privilege or what helped them get to the place they’re in now. They don’t have a Wikipedia page or appear on Question Time to get grilled by Fiona Bruce. They’re also young. It’s very easy to measure yourself up against a woman in a picture who’s the same age as you or younger, posting stories to Instagram, which go straight to your phone, of her doing what we all do. Taking a mirror selfie of her in her flat (which she owns), sharing some feminist/mental health infographics (followed by an update on her new merchandise which is out today!!!), dancing around in her beautifully curated home around stacks of books and merch and #GirlBoss things. It is half relatable, half aspirational. It is the perfect recipe for toxic comparison, and it isn’t fair. Because they aren’t trying to level the playing field, they’re benefitting from it.
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The lack of transparency on social media and the ability to curate your online persona has allowed these people to thrive. They talk about checking their privilege all the time, because currently saying those words is essentially taken as doing something when you’ve done nothing at all. And because of who they are and what they stand for – powerful women, feminism, equality, etc – it feels wrong to criticise them like you would a traditional influencer. But the Girl Bosses never lay out their cards for how they got to this point to begin with.
We do not know who Girl Boss feminists are mates with, who their parents are (usually), how they got so big. We can’t see the steps up and hand outs and doors being opened for them because they are presenting it as grind culture. And we see them as self-made, because it is helpful for them to act like they are. They act as if they are better than traditional influencers when the same systems that promote those people got these women their platforms too.
It very easily leads to feelings of malaise and insecurity because you are holding yourself to the standards of someone much more famous than you, who presents themselves as the same as you. The sooner we realise that once you hit 10k followers, you have a platform and a privilege and a responsibility that comes with that, the sooner we might be able to make peace with influencers. But for now, when they move through the social media world posing as if they are one of us – but better! – following them will always bring out negativity. Even the ones who promote positivity and social issues you care about. Being an activist doesn’t erase privilege. So the next time you see them promoting their success or their book tour or their new slogan tee and leggings, and it makes you feel that shifting feeling of self comparison, just unfollow them. Chances are, you won’t even notice they’re gone.