From talk shows to altruistic articles, concern has been voiced for young girls and young women alike (think: 20-something) of the ppp-pppppressssureee to emerge day in and day out as Superwoman or Supergirl. This expectations have succeeded our thoughts and dreams for as long as anyone can try to remember. The desire to have it all and be it all becomes even more blurred by the peanut gallery commentary of chauvinistic competitors, catty peers, media outlets that preach for more displays of self-love and acceptance yet only to give that same audience a laundry list of how to be pretty, keep a man, and be seductive and play nice (promoting further double standards) which is then followed by the general up and down expectations of the world we live in. As more women are publicly achieving monumental strides in business with General Motors promoting their first female CEO, Beyonce named as the World’s Most Influential figure by TIME, and America anticipates its first female president, we’ve come a long way from aspirations of housewife duties and looking pretty for others, but what are young women being told today of what to do about their career goals and balancing life around it? Can you play nice and be respected at the same damn time?
Beauty giant, the drugstore favorite CoverGirl has a new empowering campaign in which their slogan is the simple yet direct (hashtag) #GirlsCan. #GirlsCan joins a chorus line of other previously declared new rules to live by that are often conceived by curious observers of societal ideals and their periodically foolish suggestions of what is and isn’t beautiful. Similarly, city officials in New York City’s Girl’s Project hung cheerful “I’m A Girl” posters on their MTA trains and buses about little girls and confidence from within, while DJ and model Beverly Bond’s organization Black Girls Rock has increased momentum in honoring women of color that reject stereotypes and the status quo, and of course there’s the long-standing union of the all-American Girl Scouts that still stand despite a crumbling culture that continues to be in awe of misbehaving girls making history.
As reports from time to time continue to remind us of unequal pay and The Atlantic even published a piece on the confidence gap between men and women, speaking of the Girl Scouts, in collaboration with them, Sheryl Sandberg of LeanIn.org birthed her own campaign of #BanBossy. She even got high-profile female celebrities like Beyonce, Jennifer Garner and politician Condoleeza Rice to star in a commercial for it, but despite the star power #BanBossy was met with some surprisingly skeptical reactions. From mainly women who were the core audience for the commercial anyway, they found the slogan to be of actual disservice to the larger picture of a born again women’s movement. Others even felt that when it came to gender and civil rights, they were bigger problems to overcome than focusing on words. The purpose of #BanBossy was to help infiltrate a sense of women not being labelled as “bossy” when really, they were just in charge or in control (as much as one can humanly be) of the roads and choices placed in front of them. Like, why is a girl “bossy” is she knows what she wants or has something to say?
I actually found the inspiration behind Sandberg’s banner to be great. Personally, it brought to mind Yahoo!’s President and CEO Marissa Mayer, who is regularly the lightning rod of theories and conversations when it comes to the topic of women in business in recent memory. But…I too had some reservations. Even with its convincing commercial featuring multiple famous women who’ve done great for themselves and even I myself like, in telling me to ban the word “bossy” for fellow headstrong women everywhere,it came across as irritable. The commercial appeared more frustrating than hopeful. Like the same emotion that they were trying to put away, they were responding with and I wasn’t entirely moved. #BanBossy didn’t feel complete.
Interestingly, about two years ago, Nicki Minaj, during her own MTV special, briefly spoke on the issues of men being called a boss when the head of a business or household while women are called, well, other names and in particular, that other b-word we’re just all so familiar with. There is a ragged history of the word “bossy” in connection to women, there’s no denying that, but it’s also not the core of women’s rights and equality.
In regarding hip-hop music and culture, “boss” has been heavily adopted into the language with both male and female rappers using it towards highlighting a higher version and display of self-love and respect. Rick Ross raps about being a boss (“bawse”) all the time, and then female rappers of today like Minaj and before her like Lil’ Kim kicked it up multiple notches by calling themselves a “boss ass bitch” or “boss bitch”. In the struggle again to be that evanescent figure of a Superwoman, female rappers have amalgamated two extremely aggressive words and created a napalm dictionary that re-determines, defies and challenges the place and aura modern day women, many of whom are fans of said female rappers. It is a language that is meant to be spoken with an edge of curt to the bigots, but with a under layer of hopeful longevity and mutual homage in the long run.
So while I recognized Sandberg’s attempt to shatter walls, it was CoverGirl’s #GirlsCan that really gave an immediate sense of hope, self-love, and inspiration that truly transferred as tangible goals. Like the #BanBossy commercial, it was packed with famous faces from entertainment, but what stood out the most was not their presence but a clear sense of breaking down impossible to I’m possible. Like those many Instagram posts we see with catchy quotes of inspiration and keep ya head up tales, #GirlsCan expressed just that with its notion of believing you could, so you should. I really liked the commercial, and the campaign as a whole was levels above in being truly aspirational. How did I ever think that impossible was ever allowed? I really did feel more capable and apologetic about my hopes and dreams through #GirlsCan than I did by the more darker #BanBossy because it passed along the reality that while Rome wasn’t built in a day, it was built through progress, as is the same with loving and believing in yourself. I will say however, through hashtags alone, both campaigns represent their feelings very vividly.
To be beautiful, smart, charming, quick, content, at-ease, and downright likable at all times is like the foundation to why the notion of why “Pretty Hurts” stings so badly, as 2014’s Most Influential Person has sang about. Of course those listed attributes are terrific to have, but did anyone ever stop to think of how non-effortless it is to be your prom queen? Can I be all of those things on my own without overt assimilation? Madonna eulogized it best, and I’ll always use these lyrics as a reference. When she sang to the world “do you know, what it feels like for a girl…”, her statement could not have been more apt.