Image: Flickr
Image: Flickr

Thatcherism: girlbossing since the 1970s?

“Girlboss, gatekeep, gaslight.”  

The seemingly simple phrase has taken over the Internet, spreading over every social media platform, from Instagram to TikTok. We all seem to understand the meaning behind the apparently straightforward slogan, which raises many questions. What even is an accurate representation of a ‘girlboss’? Are we using this term in an ignorant manner? I wonder if this title might have originated from the ‘Iron Lady’: Margaret Thatcher. In some ways, she arguably normalised female success in British politics. I question if a ‘girlboss’ truly reflects women’s empowerment. On further analysis, I feel like it goes against the core principles of feminism. Let’s dig deeper into the true complexities of ‘girlbossing’, starting with Margaret Thatcher before investigating the connotations and criticisms of the term in modern society.

In my opinion, Thatcher holds the title of a feminist icon without deserving it – a ‘girlboss’

In 2013, late-night host Eric André invited singer Melanie Brown onto his talk show and asked her an innocent question: “Do you think Margaret Thatcher had girl power?”

Brown, without needing to think and without hesitation, confidently replied: “Yes, of course.”

He followed up: “Do you think she effectively utilised girl power by funnelling money into illegal paramilitary death squads in Northern Ireland?”

The singer was clearly caught off guard, too stunned to speak, and simply responded: “I don’t know about that.”

Margaret Thatcher was Britain’s first female prime minister. Yet, she left a complex legacy. She broke a number of gender barriers, but she simultaneously garnered an unfavourable reputation as she disregarded women’s rights, sparked the rise of British nationalism, and shunned labour groups. In my opinion, Thatcher holds the title of a feminist icon without deserving it – a ‘girlboss’. She is seen by many as someone of the ‘wrong’ gender from the ‘wrong’ class who overcame invincible barriers and positioned herself at the top of the political hierarchy. Nevertheless, her role can be seen as an evident example of a more nuanced issue. Due to the lack of representation of women in a male-dominated society, political and personal views are often simply overlooked for the sake of putting strong women in power. The women who, instead of advocating for other women, defend questionable ideologies and anti-feminist policies, such as Thatcher, are portrayed as feminist messiahs.

The first female prime minister of the UK was able to garner that title, but during her tenure, she disempowered women everywhere. Is she still the original ‘girlboss’? Unfortunately, from the perspective of many, the answer to that question is still a resounding yes. This is true especially because a popular definition of the term, as the Michigan Daily reports, is “to make something or someone appear as a feminist idol or inspiration for profit, despite the numerous flaws of the person.” To understand the crucial point that I am trying to make, the key word to highlight here is “appear”. ‘Girlbossing’ these days is perceived as being all about appearing to rise above the patriarchy. It provides this illusion of an invincible woman in power without actually shining a light on the real issues women face in the workplace and society. This popular under- standing of the term is why, at its core, the concept of a ‘girlboss’ cannot coexist with the principles of feminism. Instead, it should be seen as a form of toxic ‘empowerment’ that is slowing down the fight for gender equality.

The modern-day ‘girlboss’ doesn’t need to be empowered anymore. Her existence wrongly implies that all the progress that needs to be made in order to achieve gender equality has already been made. By loudly asserting how empowered she is while smashing the patriarchy and taking matters into her own hands, the ‘girlboss’ neglects that most of her peers are still battling mi- sogyny. There have been many prominent examples of ‘girlbosses’ who have climbed the corporate ladder and credited their achievements to being a woman. This leads many to wrongly think that gender equality has been established successfully. However, this couldn’t be further from the truth. These ‘girlbosses’ are among the few who have managed to climb the corporate ladder despite being women. To date, women, especially those in positions of power, are victims of misogynist backlash and face more scrutiny than their male counterparts. The gender wage gap is still very much a thing. According to the Guardian, the gender wage gap stands at 9.4% in 2023 in the UK.

True feminism should work to uplift women. There is no one quintessential type of strong women

As a woman, serving these distressing facts on a silver platter, although meaningful, does still not feel sufficient when trying to convey what it truly means to be discarded mainly based on one’s gender. I have seen how women underestimate their own abilities. Discrimination and misogynistic behaviour have been normalised and internalised in daily life and the workplace. Therefore, the development of concepts such as ‘confidence culture’, the umbrella category under which the ‘girlboss’ movement falls into, comes as no surprise. However, these movements neither address nor aim to fix systematic inequalities. They encourage women to change themselves to fit into the existing capitalist society instead of challenging the status quo. In other words, aspire to become a ‘girlboss’ by working on yourself instead of changing society’s misogynist attitude.

We mustn’t let trends like the self-entitled ‘girlboss’ detract from the importance of the pertinent and prevailing need of the feminist movement. We, as a society on the whole, not just women, are responsible for reinventing the meaning of a ‘girlboss’. I believe a true ‘girlboss’ should uplift others whilst fighting against the system and not other women.

I hope this article has informed and inspired others to realise the importance of understanding the deeper meaning behind the seemingly empowering ‘girlboss’ wave. True feminism should work to uplift women. There is no one quintessential type of strong woman. Some strong women are try-ing to break the glass ceiling in the corporate world, while others are embodying more traditionally feminine jobs. As a collective, we shouldn’t glorify Thatcher as the feminist aspiration for all. As women, our self-worth shouldn’t be bound to the romanticised image of a ‘girlboss’, which revolves around individual success and sugarcoating it as feminism. Rather, we should have the freedom to choose our very own meaning of empowerment.


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