Why girlboss is not as empowering as you may think


Betelhem Alemu, Staff Writer

What does gender have to do with our competency to strive and lead in a workplace? It doesn’t because there’s no correlation, however, the term and use of ‘girl boss” indicates otherwise. Originating from Nasty Gal founder—Sophia Amoruso—girlboss epitomizes the attitude that women can achieve anything, especially in a work environment. Except this is not true for women of color or the less socio-economically privileged. The term plays into many backhanded empowerment sayings, like “If she can do it, so can you.” These types of sayings lack consideration of the support systems that aid an upper-class white woman’s success but impede a Black woman’s opportunity of reaching the same prosperity.

As the number of white women involved in business increased, the girl boss image subsequently became increasingly white and the lack of diversity became more apparent. During the height of the pandemic in 2020, the Black Lives Matter movement shed light to many racist brands and companies. For example, many proclaimed ‘girl bosses’ have stepped down due to the allegations of toxic and racist workplaces. There was also a number of pressures on women to uphold the new standard of being a ‘girlboss’ along with maintaining that lifestyle and mentality. With that pressure comes the need to be seen as an equal to men and consequently surpass other women to be treated equally. This causes women workers to look at each other as competition. The previously stated allegations demonstrates that these companies went against their whole brand and supposed principle of being feminist advocators. The term ‘girl boss’ was first used by women in an empowering way but now both men and women use it as an insult to women. It is now usually meant to mock a woman’s success or ambition; it reveals the spread of internalized misogyny to women who claim to be feminists.  

The movement failed to acknowledge that it is impossible for everyone to succeed under capitalism. To truly succeed, there are occasions where people are exploited to benefit these huge brands. For instance, Amoruso was found paying her workers five pounds (about $7) under the minimum wage in Leicester. Feminist author and poet Leigh Stein thoroughly illustrates the toxicity and specifics of the girl boss. Stein wrote that “The rise and fall of the girlboss says more about how comfortable we’ve become mixing capitalism with social justice, as we look to corporations to complement social changes because we’ve lost faith in our public institutions to do so.” The fall of the movement was magnified because people assumed companies who embody the ‘girl boss’ persona were going to fix the gender inequality issue we have in society. It makes sense why the ‘girlboss’ movement failed when it had huge expectations to live up too in an environment where people didn’t want women to actually succeed.  

The saying ‘girl boss’ was meant to go against stereotypes that women couldn’t lead and take control in the workplace the same way men do. Yet, it was stripped of its empowering brand and evolved into faux-feminism, making women believe they were thriving in a system that was already against them. As a result of the spreading of the ‘girl boss’ persona, women now—more than ever—are identified by their gender and not by their success. Adding ‘girl’ to ‘boss’ reinforces the idea that women are not equal to men, especially in the workplace. A Reader in Consumer and Gender Psychology at the UK’s Anglia Ruskin University, Magdelena Zawisza, states, “While ‘girl boss’ immediately draws attention to the feminine, it also infantilizes the role of a female as a boss.” Boys are traditionally associated with the term ‘boss’, and this solidifies their image of being able to strongly lead without any hesitance or questioning from other people. However, there has been a rise of women critiquing the term ‘girl boss,’ that progressed from them calling out its toxicity and the hypocrisy of women to undermining and diminishing women’s success as a whole by assuming gender is the reason for their success.

Instead, as a society, we must be aware of the difference of treatment women of color receive in the business environment and how they have to work harder and endure rough circumstances to get a job or even be respected in an office the same way a white woman is. Would you continue to use the term despite its effects on women in the business industry?  Do you believe society should be encouraged to stop saying the term at all?