The wins and woes of being a successful woman

What is a ‘girlboss?’


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Morgana Carroll, News Editor

From Lois Lane of ‘Superman’ fame, to the First Lady of the Black Press Ethel Payne, to Ruth Bader Ginsburg, people love to see a woman winning. But, is this “girlboss culture” reflected in the real world? 

Michele Denbeste is the provost and vice president for academic and student life at CWU. Despite having such an esteemed position, DenBeste said she doesn’t consider herself a leader, and concedes it is because of how society has made her think about women and leadership. 

“I know that because of how we think of women …  When I thought about leadership, I think I thought about men and leadership, and that wasn’t anyone’s fault,” DenBeste said. “It was just what I absorbed.”  

The American Association of University Women explains that this is because of old stereotypes that still permeate.Men being in leadership positions for so long has caused traits that a leader typically has to now be viewed as masculine, and these traits are viewed less favorably in women.

The origins of the term ‘girlboss’

According to BBC, the term girlboss can be used to describe a woman who is making her way up the corporate ladder in a male dominated industry; this means literally any facet of the business world. According to Forbes women held 38% of entry level management positions in 2021. 

The term girlboss was first used in the 2017 Netflix original series “Girlboss”, where Sophia Amoruso, the owner of an online clothing store, is writing her titular memoir about her experiences and women’s empowerment. 

BBC also said that the media has typically depicted the “girlboss” as a cold woman who wants nothing more than to climb the corporate ladder to success. This can be traced back as far as the ‘80s, which BBC notes as the root of women breaking into business roles in the second wave of feminism; during this time, people used the term “pantsuit feminism” in the same manner we call it “girlbossing” today. 

According to the U.S. Department of Labor (DOL), in the 1920s women made up 20% of the workforce, and now women make up 47% of the workforce. DOL said that this number increased dramatically due to the increase in women in the workforce during WWII and first and second wave feminism in the 1970s and 1980s. 

How would you define success?

DenBeste defined success as being able to spend each day working toward the things you want to accomplish. 

“Professional success is being able to do the things that I really enjoy and being able to work with a good team and … being able to build a life around it in the kind of ways that one would like,” DenBeste said. 

DenBeste said she feels as though the bar for womens’ success is higher than mens’. 

“I think that women who are, to my mind, very successful have to do something to be successful,” DenBeste said. “How you have to invent something new and that is success, [not] to me, but to the world.” 

Ruth Erdman is a professor in women’s gender and sexuality studies. Erdman said she thinks success is the ability to be one’s truest self. 

“Success is being the person you feel you really are, the person you were meant to be, and fulfilling your individual potential to the best of your ability,” Erdman said. 

What is a woman?

“For me, it’s just growing into who you want to be,” Denbest said. “And I think gender-wise anyone should be able to do that. Man or woman or using they pronouns. Deciding the gender you were born in isn’t the right one for you, that should all be a part of who we are.”

Denbeste said that sometimes society can make it hard to express oones femininity in the way they feel is right for them. She recounts a time in her childhood where this happened.

“It was hard for me to say when I was a girl,” DenBeste said. “I often strained against social convention. I was a child who loved to read… I always loved learning…None of those were seen by my family or friends as being girly, or I was constantly being told to read less books.”

Erdman’s definition of a woman is straightforward.

“A woman is anyone who identifies as a woman, who knows herself to be a woman, and who aspires to live her life as a woman,” Erdman said. “Anyone identifying and living as a woman is likely to experience the joys and trials of womanhood.”

Women in the professional world

According to Erdman, there is a double standard between men and women in the world of business.

“Very often in the professional world, a man with a natural aptitude for taking charge and moving things forward is a ‘leader,’ while a woman with the same traits is a ‘bitch,’” Erdman said. 

Erdman said that transgendered women can experience this juxtaposition in real time. 

“Transwomen experience this very directly,” Erdman said. “The respect and compliance they commanded while presenting to the world as ‘male’ evaporates when they transition and show themselves to the world as women. Their status and authority have suddenly been pulled out from under them.”

Erdman said the double standard and tendency for women to be seen as naturally lower in corporate rank has become more nuanced, but is definitely still present. 

“The double standards are less blatant than they used to be,” Erdman said. “But they’re not gone. Now they’re likelier to take the form of missed promotions, microaggressions and unflattering portrayals in the media.”

DenBeste said that she thinks that due to a double standard in the workplace she has to approach situations differently. 

“I feel like I can’t necessarily do those [tasks] in the same way as if I were a man,” DenBeste said. “Like coming into a room and demanding that X Y and Z happen. It’s not going to go over well.”

DenBeste said that she has to approach work situations slowly and relationally instead of “guns blazing,” but in the end she prefers to do things that way anyway.

Dean of Graduate Studies Yoshiko Takahashi recounted a time where a student of hers had to make a hard decision that to her felt like a double standard.

“She said that getting a Ph.D. meant that she had to give up having a family,” Takahashi said. “It was hard to convince her that she does not need to sacrifice her personal life to pursue a Ph.D. But at the same time, I wonder how many male students would think that way.”

Takahashi said that she feels women often have to accomplish more and take on a heavier workload to be recognized professionally.

“I feel that women, especially women of color, have the pressure of invisible barriers that are often not recognized in the workplace,” Takahashi said. “For example, women of color in higher education often take on more service work, such as joining committees and mentoring students and junior faculty with the same ethnicity.”