Introducing “gaslight, gatekeep, girlboss” — the newest version of “live, laugh, love.” The phrase, which was curated on Tumblr, has been popularized on Twitter and may be the hottest meme for Gen Z. But these terms go further than simply being a meme; they can be serious problems, especially when it comes to social issues.
Gaslighting is when “one person forces another to question their reality,” according to an article by Claire Jack of Psychology Today. Through “emotional bullying and manipulative techniques,” it’s difficult to see gaslighting and understand that it’s happening. Jack argues that while it mostly “takes place behind closed doors,” gaslighting can also be used “in the public arena” to keep the marginalized weak.
Following the death of George Floyd, the issue of Confederate monuments was and still is commonly argued about. Jack states that by keeping these monuments up, it communicates that “a black person whose ancestors died on the ships coming from Africa or who were forced into slavery, that [their] experience is less important” to those arguing for southern history.
Jack identifies that those opposing the removal of the monuments use the same tactics as gaslighters, asking questions such as “Why are you so upset about something which happened hundreds of years ago?” and “Why are you so emotional and overreacting?” to change the reality that slavery and systemic racism still affects the lives of Black Americans today.
As described by Sand Ownsnett’s article on Bectu, gatekeeping is defined as “when someone takes it upon themselves to decide who does or does not have access or rights to a community or identity.” Ownsnett explains the harm gatekeeping has on the LGBTQ community, as individuals “set limits and requirements” for who can be part of the community. Harmful phrases such as “‘You don’t *look* trans’” described in Ownsnett’s article are demoralizing, especially during Pride Month. While having certain prejudices may be natural, we should all make an effort to change problematic thinking.
With feminism becoming more and more popular on social media, “girlboss” can be seen on mugs, shirts and Instagram bios. Sophia Amoruso, who created the term, defined it as “someone who has big dreams and is willing to work hard for them.” While it may seem to initially be a call to women to become entrepreneurs, like Amoruso herself, several girl bosses have resigned from being CEOs of their companies.
In Hillary Hoffower’s article on Insider, she states that the “girlbosses began to fall like dominoes amid allegations of toxic work cultures that perpetuated racism.” The pattern is simple: These girl bosses’ companies come across as progressive but are only inclusive and curated toward white women, not women of color. The creation of a strong in-group almost always comes with the creation of a strong out-group.
Man Repeller, a fashion blog started by Leandra Medine, focused on “how women can dress for themselves, not for men,” Hoffower stated. Medine went on to cover brands such as Reformation that helped brand the “cool girl” style — withHoffower also mentioning Ban.do and Refinery29, all run by girl bosses, who made their names through the “cool girl” label. Their popularity through feminism led to their economic successes, yet these girl bosses lacked a drive for diversity.
In June 2020, the Black Lives Matter movement was at its peak after the death of George Floyd. While protests around the U.S. continued, the call-out of companies did too. Former employees of Refinery29 stated that CEO “Barberich made a number of editorial decisions that had the effect of diminishing minority and especially black women” by rejecting “women who were either black or plus-size” for photos.
Man Repeller was also called out for the “lack of diversity and treatment of former Black and POC employees,” according to Ana Colón’s article on Fashionista. Ban.do’s CEO, Jen Gotch, followed after being accused of using a mocking accent and other white women in the company making derogatory comments and soon after Reformation. It’s clear that their version of feminism was never meant to include women of color.
Although many might chuckle at the “gaslight, gatekeep, girlboss” memes on their Twitter feed — or even cringe at their co-worker's “girlboss” mug — one should know the implications and what kind of culture these ideas can create.
Julia Cheng is a freshman media arts and design major. Contact Julia at firstname.lastname@example.org.