The Girlboss was born in the 2010s as a foil to the heteronormative male CEO. This feminist icon is confident, independent, assertive, goal-oriented, and empowering. She is not afraid of occupying traditionally male spaces; she is who we should all strive to be.
Sophia Amoruso, founder of Nasty Gal, popularised this moniker. When asked if she identified as a feminist in an interview with Elle, she agreed but admitted a dislike for that term. She described it as ‘heavy’ but was unsure why it felt that way. This is the Feminist Paradox.
Amoruso proposed that ‘Girlboss’ could be a new word for feminism. Since then, the word has broadened into an ethos, a new-age way of life for every woman alike. Like many things on the internet, the term has undergone such irreparable memeification that it now lies dead somewhere as a caricature of female empowerment. The semi-satirical creation of the phrase ‘Gaslight. Gatekeep. Girlboss‘, derived from ‘Live. Laugh. Love.’, adduces the pejorative reputation the term has garnered.
I have many qualms with the Girlboss movement. In fact, the infantilising neologism only distracts from the severe implications of girl bossing. Maybe Amoruso hesitated to align herself with feminists simply because she wasn’t one.
There are many different tenets to the Girlboss, though all of them circle back to neoliberalism. Frankly, the capitalist innovation to commodify female empowerment (successfully) is much more ludicrous than surprising.
Professor Sarah Banet-Weiser coined the phrase ‘economies of visibility’ to describe this phenomenon where ‘markets for girls exist alongside, much more malicious markets in girls.’ This effect is evidenced by the proliferation of Girlboss manuals, schemes, and listicles teaching us the art of girlbossing while feigning it as feminism and an investment in the self. These manuals (capitalism) try to convince us that we can girlboss our way out of systemic inequalities if we try hard enough.
Another canon of Girlbossing is choice feminism. Perhaps the most distorted by capitalism, choice feminism is where women are encouraged to exercise any agency they have, as their ability to do so is inherently feminist and, therefore, justified. This is the most detrimental consequence of the Girlboss: where the true evil of individualism manifests but is overlooked due to its facade of female empowerment.
Choice feminism is profoundly tone-deaf, considering we are in the 21st century. It assumes all women can access the same opportunities, ignoring socioeconomic constraints. It is undoubtedly why most of the Girlbosses we know are white, middle-class and often educated. Hence, a Girlboss title often comes with a slew of workplace allegations as their ventures require maximum exploitation of those at the intersections of society.
Yet, they are never chastised or cancelled because we demand some semblance of female representation; any will do.
Case in point no matter its trivialism:
I support women’s rights but more importantly I support women’s wrongs ❤️ this page is a safe space for evil women ❤️❤️❤️— ducky 🐥 (@hoeybug) December 14, 2021
The Controversial Girlboss
- In 2015, Nasty Gal was allegedly sued for wrongful termination of four pregnant women after they had taken maternity leave.
- In 2020, Jen Gotch, mental health advocate and founder of Ban.do was accused of perpetuating a toxic work culture and casual racism through an anonymous account posting statements by ex-employees. Ban.do sell kitsch items with uplifting comments to ‘make life a little brighter’. Nothing like a sip from my happy-to-be-here cup to start a 9-5. She has since stepped down from her position, deleted her Instagram profile and dropped off the face of the internet.
- Also, in 2020, the founder of the Wing, a women’s-only workspace and social club, resigned after an employee walkout occurred protesting an alleged failure to address the racist behaviours and poor treatment of its members.
- Sheryl Sandberg, American tech phenom and author of girlboss bible ‘Lean In’, exclaimed women are set back by ‘internal obstacles’ and reinforce the gender stereotypes imposed on us when we don’t ‘lean in’ to opportunities. In 2022, after a turbulent few years as Facebook COO, involving data breaches and allegedly inciting political extremism, she stepped down after being scapegoated by Zuckerberg. The only ‘internal obstacle’ Sheryl Sandberg wouldn’t see coming.
Note: Girlbossing is not limited to white women as it is not race exclusive. Instead, the white woman’s hegemonic status in the Global West makes it easier for them to attain the Girlboss position.
No End to Profiteering
The Girlboss iconography has extended beyond the business world to convicted criminals like Anna Delvey and Elizabeth Holmes. And in all such realms, the girl boss has no fall from grace. Despite Nasty Gal alledgedly operating like a sweatshop, Netflix opted for a comedic retelling of the story with Amoruso as the executive producer! As expected, there were no mentions of the indiscretions in this series.
More recently, we saw Anna Delvey emerge as the latest representative of the Girlboss – again, with Netflix at the forefront. The company allegedly paid the convicted fraudster $320,000 for the rights to adapt her story into a series. I haven’t watched the series, so I won’t comment. But Netflix proclaimed it a didactic retelling that ‘dispels the girl boss myth that women can have it all.’
Respectfully, the fat cheque and her newfound career as an artist say otherwise. Delvey now sells the art she created during her incarceration, many revolving around glorifying and romanticising her conviction. Most are self-portraits, where she is cloaked in luxurious gowns and depicted as if she were an Ocean’s 8 accomplice.
The bottom of the page is ornamented with Delvey’s lame attempt at prison script exclaiming ‘No Regrets‘.
The Girlboss Is A Sham
It is all a big sham. The girlboss, I mean. Not only has it been detrimental on a socioeconomic level, with a practice built upon capitalistic exploitation of the marginalised. It promotes a culture of individualism within women and society. Creating a hyper-individualistic, morally absent, dog-eat-dog world.
Anna Delvey scammed her friends, and she is rewarded with an upcoming reality show called Delvey’s Dinner Club. A show where she redeems herself. Her house arrest limits the show’s premise, so she is obviously stuck having dinners with ‘esteemed guests’ in her $4,250/pm apartment – catered to by a private chef! And dearest Delvey will face the ‘uphill battle’ of proving herself to be more than a con artist because, apparently, criminal convictions are meant to be ‘really ruinous’.
REMINDER: At the heart of girlbossing is individual gain and capital profit; it does not symbolise feminist success!
Do you, as a feminist, not feel ridiculed? Or does your feminism, somehow, look different to mine?
Misty Lamb is a contributing writer at SSEDITORIAL who imparts a fresh perspective contemplating fashion and its place in the modern world.