“You’re not a girlboss, you’re a boss.”
My partner was looking at me in the way he always does — with a healthy mixture of terror and admiration. “You don’t need the term ‘girl’ to qualify your boss-ness.”
We stopped using the term ‘girlboss’ once the fall of the girlboss came to a head.
Here’s the question: why do we need to say that we’re girls to then acknowledge that we’re bosses? Furthermore, why did we need to say that we’re bosses? Why is this something we have to constantly assure ourselves of? When was the last time you’ve heard someone say “girlboss” unironically? Hint: I doubt you have.
The Beginning of the Girlboss
The world has no shortage of girlbosses. Christene Barberich was the Editor-in-Chief and co-founder of Refinery29, Leandra Medine Cohen was the founder of Man Repeller, and currently, “a record number of 23 women are running Global 500” companies. Roz Brewer is the former Walmart and Starbucks executive and is now the CEO of Walgreens Boots Alliance, Thasunda Brown Duckett is the CEO of TIAA, Karen Lynch is the CEO of CVS Health, and the list goes on.
Our society is not deprived of girlbosses. There are so many because it’s relatively easy to become one. Alex Abad-Santos, a writer for Vox, says, “The…narrative surrounding [girlbosses’] companies’ origins was pretty similar: A woman, or a group of women, has an idea for a company that fulfills a need for young women especially; funding is difficult to find…but is eventually secured; a unique company is created, one that is an extension of the founders’ backstories and forged by their struggles.”
Her description highlights that the way of the girlboss, though “relatively easy” for women of ample means, is impossible for most women. In order to become a girlboss in today’s society, you more than likely need to come from privilege and money. Being a girlboss isn’t about working your way up from the bottom; it’s about gatekeeping, grinding, and hustling the “girlboss” title away from anyone else.
The Rise of the Girlboss
At the beginning of the #girlbossrevolution, the word carried meaning. Women made some serious strides in the workplace. Refinery 29, XO Jane, Cosmopolitan, and Hillary Clinton were some of the first women to wear the #girlboss emblem, and they did it with pride.
Sophia Amoruso first used the term girlboss in her book #GIRLBOSS. Amoruso is the now-infamous founder of Nasty Gal who filed for bankruptcy in 2016. As soon as Amoruso’s book was published, she stepped down from Nasty Gal. One source said that Amoruso’s pivot form Nasty Gal to a #girlboss was made complete once her book was printed. When Amoruso stepped down, the customer service, the product, the originality — everything that made Nasty Gal a website for all women to express themselves disappeared and has resulted in a website that constantly has 70% sales on everything.
The girlboss movement continued to grow after the #MeToo movement. Women began to see that they needed to be the ones at the helm of companies to fix the problems of sexism and harassment in the workplace. Certainly, no woman would abuse another woman the way a man would, right? Sadly, that wasn’t the case. Stein writes, “The women who leaned into their ambition and founded their own companies were not necessarily any more virtuous, ethical, or respectful than their male counterparts. Though unlikely to be serial sexual predators like Harvey Weinstein, girlbosses could abuse their power in the workplace, too.” Even if that woman is the CEO of Make-a-Wish, of all things.
The term “girlboss” was declared dead in 2020. Amoruso wasn’t the first or last girlboss to fall from her title. If you Google “woman steps down,” you’ll get a plethora of girlbosses who had to step down as SHE-E-O’s.
One main problem with the girlboss is people’s perception of her. People often see women in charge as maternal figures, and they assume women bosses will be like mother hens to their employees. Shockingly, that’s not the case in most “girlboss” workplaces. So when your #girlboss is mean to you, snaps at you, and calls you out, the betrayal seems to hurt more. We expect men to treat us badly, but when it’s our own kind it stings much more.
What’s in a Name?
Why is the term “girlboss”? Shouldn’t the majority of women who have worked their way up in life be…women? Does #womanboss not work as well as #girlboss? Vox reports that the term in and of itself is sexist. “When you look at the actual word ‘girlboss,’ there may be some internalized sexism,” says Alexandra Solomon, a professor who specializes in gender and gender roles at Northwestern University. “Research shows that as women get older, and as women become more powerful, they are perceived as less likable. So by using that term girlboss, there’s a desire to be powerful but a fear of losing likability.” The girlboss movement is rooted in gaslighting, even down to its name.
Leigh Stein wrote an article titled “The End of the Girlboss Is Here” in which she defines the girlboss as “a millennial embodiment of unapologetic ambition. Her greatest pleasure was success; being underestimated only motivated her to trounce her doubters…. [she] was a disruptor; where others saw a problem, she saw an opportunity… ”
The girlboss movement is “about the melding of professional self and identity, capitalist aspiration, and a specific (and arguably limited) vision of empowerment.” The girlboss movement doesn’t empower the girl (or woman); it empowers gatekeepers and gaslighters.
What is “Girlboss” Replacing?
As the girlboss rose, feminism declined. The girlboss movement took precedence over feminism. After all, why would you want to fight for all women’s rights when you can create your own empire?
‘Feminism’ became more toxic and muddled. When the feminism movement started, it was to fight for equal rights, pay, jobs, and respect for men and women. After the fight was mostly over and won, there was a large group left without a cause.
A large group of people cannot come together for purely nonselfish reasons — “once you’ve got a group of people together, organized for a single purpose, achieving political leverage and adopting power, building institutions and careers for themselves, all sorts of bad human tendencies start to take over.”
Feminism was no longer about fighting for each other; it was about fighting for yourself, thus the birth of the girlboss.
The beginning of the girlboss movement saw Amoruso and other girlbosses wanting the same thing that feminism promised. The #girlbossvision held the view that “women advocating for themselves and their worth was, intrinsically, a form of justice.” The girlboss movement became a twisted version of feminism – so much so, that in Amoruso’s #GIRLBOSS book, she asks, “Is 2014 a new era of feminism where we don’t have to talk about it? I don’t know, but I want to pretend that it is.”
We also cannot forget that the majority of girlbosses are women of privilege. 61.6% of bosses in America are white. White women make up 32.5% of all management positions compared to 3.8% of black females. The girlboss isn’t the rags-to-riches Cinderella story so many want it to be. It’s a story that’s shrouded in gatekeeping and gaslighting.
Gaslight, Gatekeep, Girlboss
When a woman runs her own company, her name is synonymous with it. Think of Sophia and Nasty Gal. I, personally, cannot go to Nasty Gal’s site without thinking of Sophia, her book, her fall, and her Netflix series (which is surprisingly great). The problem with girlbossing is that these ‘SHE’-E-O’s cannot separate themselves from their companies. A boss will often fight tooth and nail for their company’s success. But being a girlboss forces the SHE-E-O even further into the spotlight than a typical boss. It fuses her passion for her job with her identity. Girlbosses don’t just have jobs — they have empires. Imagine how much a boss will punish and push her employees to ‘build her empire.’
The girlboss seeks money and success in order to get out from under ‘the man’ and seeks to turn, “a capitalist system… into an empowering feminist victory. [It] was a way of framing financial success and consumerism as goodness. The implicit promise was that if consumers made these girlbosses successful, it would mean better working conditions for women, and with that, maybe empowerment for all.”
Girlbosses aren’t ideal bosses, though. They often abuse their staff, look down on people who work for them, and expect their employees to give their lives for a company that won’t give them anything.
When the girlboss movement took off, people found similarities between girlbossing and gatekeeping. Many say the toxic mantra of the girlboss is, “Gaslight every moment, Gatekeep every day, Girlboss beyond words.” That statement is a stepping stone that the girlboss takes when she tramples over her employees to climb to the top of her empire. Vox further dissected the mantra saying, “‘Gaslight’ has become the trendy synonym for lying — particularly a strain of lying where someone denies an obvious truth — and “gatekeep” has become interchangeable with discrimination.” The three Gs of girlbossing only benefit the boss, not the girl.
Is Girlboss a Front?
Along with the rise of the girlboss came the rise of hustle culture. 40-hour workweeks are out, but working 80 hours in 9 days is said to be super productive. Grind, grind, grind. And for what? To go home and tell your hubby that you’re taking over the feminine world and doing a job that women didn’t believe they could do 100 years ago?
That shouldn’t be payment – that should be protocol. We shouldn’t celebrate getting recognition and a higher status at work. If we properly earn them, we should own them. Women need to stop celebrating the hustle culture that’s linked to being a girlboss. We need to realize gaining recognition for a job well done isn’t something that others have to work their butts off for. Stop idolizing women who can’t stop working and have sold their souls to get a title or more money. Stop idolizing the girlboss. Idolize the people who have healthy work boundaries, who treat their employees with kindness and like they’re actual people. Idolize the women who don’t have to introduce themselves as #girlbosses, but who are simply bosses.
But What If I Love the Term?
Calling yourself a “girlboss” won’t make you anti-feminist. It might make you seem unironically clueless, but you won’t be a horrid person. Women don’t need to call themselves “girlbosses” in order to take over the world. If it empowers you to call yourself a girlboss, then do it.
If you want to use the term to describe yourself, that doesn’t mean that you’ll end up failing, stepping down, or abusing your employees. I would simply suggest looking at the legacy of girlbosses who came before you. Ask what you can do better and what you can learn from them.
The problem with the girlboss arises when she cannot separate the boss from the girl.
We need to accept our accomplishments because we know what we’ve done and who we are is not reliant on the fact that we’re girls… or bosses. It’s reliant on the fact that we’re powerful and brilliant. We have our own voices and overcome obstacles. I am a boss. I am a girl. But those two things are not dependent on each other.
Have you used the term girlboss? What do you think about it? Let us know in the comments below!
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