The "Girlboss": Progressive or Problematic?

The other night my roommate and I were chatting, and somehow our conversation turned to dishing some hot takes. I’m always down to hear an unpopular opinion, but at first I was a bit surprised to hear my roommate complain about the idea of “girlboss feminism.” I’m sure we’ve all heard the term before, popularized by “Nasty Gal” founder Sophia Amoruso in her autobiography about starting a clothing business as a young woman. Despite these origins, its connotation has now evolved to represent a goal of sorts for women in the workforce to achieve. While I initially thought it was a harmless form of empowerment, my roommate’s insights had me realizing that the term could actually do more harm than good in the fight for gender equality.

Laptop with white mug that says the future is female with a lipstick mark Pexels / CoWomen While feminism is meant to strive for equal opportunity, especially in the workforce, the term “girlboss” itself creates a problematic image of a woman in charge. The term commodifies the idea of female leadership, referring to grown women as “girls” and putting them in an easy-to-swallow box. The girlboss movement is often entwined with the aesthetic of success as it pertains to women, instead of focusing on the women themselves. Why does the idea of a powerful female boss have to be shrouded in a glamorized social trend? A boss is a boss, whether female or male, yet to be palatable to society, the girlboss movement dilutes the idea of a female boss to a simple pink power suit filled with empty empowerment that seldom addresses the gender inequality in the workforce that is still pervasive today.

These workplace issues aren’t solved by girlboss feminism either. The COVID-19 pandemic itself has highlighted how women are still at a disadvantage at work, with women losing their jobs at a disproportionately higher rate than their male counterparts during the pandemic, according to a May CNBC article. Yet this movement does little to raise up the women who are struggling; instead, it puts the few women who make it to the top on a pedestal to serve as proof that feminism has somehow “won.” However, glorifying female leadership only helps to distract from the women at the bottom of the corporate ladder, and it perpetrates a capitalistic idea of success that fails to meet the needs of underprivileged and underrepresented demographics.

Feminist activist holding sign Photo by lucia on Unsplash While I’m sure the inception of the girlboss wasn’t meant to be detrimental to the feminist movement, its adoption in popular culture has created an unrealistic and unattainable idea of corporate female empowerment. Women shouldn’t have to fit into the perfectly-sanitized image of girlbosses in order to be successful, impactful leaders. And a woman shouldn’t have to be the CEO of a company in order for her work to be recognized. The sooner we stop commodifying female success, the sooner we can focus on the movements that really make a difference.

Girlboss feminism may seem glamorous on the outside, but gender equality is more than just a pantsuit and heels. It’s a systemic change that accounts for everyone and leaves no one behind.

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