Elle India just unveiled their new August cover, featuring whom they describe as “Bawse Lady Anushka Sharma”. On the cover, Sharma is seen with short hair slicked back, wearing a pantsuit and posing with her ankle resting on her knee. Meaning they’ve done everything they can to style her in a way that looks stereotypically masculine, because you know, how else can you be a bawse?
— ELLE India (@ELLEINDIA) August 7, 2017
Anushka Sharma’s magazine cover is hardly the first of its kind, by the way: An August 2016 cover of India Today Woman featured Kangana Ranaut styled similarly, in a black suit, with her heels resting on the office desk she sits behind. A Times of India Hello! magazine cover saw “influential Indian national” Priyanka Chopra in a suit, posing in a dark leather chair. Don’t get me wrong: I’m all for breaking down gender binaries, androgynous dressing, women wearing whatever they want, all of that, but it’s no coincidence that every time a woman is supposed to be seen as powerful, she’s slicked into a suit and some traditionally masculine setting. This trend doesn’t seem at all to be about tearing down the gendered boundaries of fashion, but more about establishing gendered boundaries on how we understand power and success.
Don’t you think it shows a pretty glaring poverty of thought if the only way we can think to imagine female power and success is by showing women dressed in clothes that are stereotypically male? What does that mean about how we understand power?
We’ve also seen the term “girl boss” all over the place recently, from Lilly Singh’s book How to be a Bawse to to Nicole Lapin’s Boss Bitch to Netflix’s now-cancelled show Girlboss. It feels indicative of a pretty weird trend: one that sells some kind of faux-feminism to women under the guise of being empowering, but all it really seems to do is encourage women to adopt the imagery, stereotypes and life-choices of corporate machismo.
This idea is dangerous for a couple of reasons. For one, the term “girl boss” is hopelessly insulting, even without superfluous Ws. The nauseating usage of “girl” instead of “woman” just makes the term flippant and cutesy more than any kind of empowering, plus, it’s pretty insulting that the words woman (or girl) and boss are apparently mutually exclusive.
This idea of the “girl boss” also posits being a successful capitalist as the ultimate end-game for women, ignoring volumes of feminist scholarship that suggests that capitalism may be “incompatible with feminist visions of economic and social justice”. This trend of lauding women, including the likes of Ivanka Trump, for being “bosses”, and also making the term “boss” an inherently masculine one, only leads to a culture where we tell women that being stereotypically masculine and capitalistically successful is the real dream.
This idea also trickles down into other seemingly unconnected but harmful trends. We’re living in a time where women are increasingly encouraged to become the bosses of spaces traditionally dominated by men, which is all well and good, but they’re simultaneously told they must excel in the spaces that are traditionally designated to be “feminine” too. You must have seen the nauseating Mother’s Day or jewellery ads: you know, the ones that show heavily pregnant women at work in a shiny corporate office, telling you that you too, can be the best kind of women and “have it all”?