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Don’t Admire the ‘Girlboss’. She’s Not Real.

I think it would be a bit redundant to say that we all live within the capitalist system and with all its faults and contradictions, we simply have had to endure it. But I want to discuss a strange facet of capitalism that has prominently propped up from the emergence of Western neoliberal feminism. And it’s all over your Instagram page too. The girlboss.

Capitalism has consistently shaped the social makeup of civilisation as we know it; it made black people property and the woman a second-class citizen. In the case of women particularly, capitalism has prompted them to compete with men in order to combat the patriarchy that has been imposed on them; that has made them inferior to men in social hierarchy. Consequently, women focus on work and the business of money-making to become financially independent and emancipate themselves. Nowadays, this has culminated into the ‘girlboss’ personality. It can be explained as a woman who has ambitions of achieving social equality by operating in and aiding the capitalist system, moulding herself to fit it. She’s independent, hardworking, competitive and money hungry.

During the second wave of the women’s rights movement in the 1960s and 70s, women protested for reproductive rights, against gender discrimination and sexism in the workplace, and for liberation. In the midst of great technological progress and an economic boom in the USA, women slowly became more prominent in the workforce and in higher education. In the US, between 1950 and 2000, the number of women in the labour force rose from 18 million to 66 million [1].  Many liberal feminists promoted this novel idea of women managing both the thresholds of work and home. This is best encompassed in the explosive popularity of Cosmopolitan editor Helen Gurley Brown’s 1986 book Having It All. She endorsed the individualist mindset that hard work guarantees success and helped to shape this neoliberal fantasy of having a robust career and a happy home life- all at once. This has been reiterated with the success of 2014’s #Girlboss by Nasty Gal founder Sophia Amoruso, who even had her own Netflix series of the same name. But this idealised myth is just that: it’s not a reality that the majority of women face globally.

Social media has amplified capitalist fantasies of being ‘ballers’, ‘grinders’ and pertinently ‘girlbosses’. But beneath this glossy veneer and beyond the grids of an Instagram profile, people realistically cannot manage juggling being a mother and a worker so easily. The girlboss is an elusive figure who’s not grounded in the reality of working-class women. Women are expected to keep up the duality of handling both reproductive and productive labour in the system of capital accumulation. The woman boss is the elite, corporate woman who hires and fires other people. Exchanging power from the megalomaniac male CEO to a female of the same nature only perpetuates the exploitation that contributes to capitalism. Instead of challenging the patriarchy, the woman boss only accommodates to and reinforces it. The myth of “having it all” does not empower women, but only exhausts them, as they try to play both roles- try to lift two heavy weights. Marxist feminist Silvia Federici said that “the overalls did not give us any more power than the apron—quite often even less, because now we had to wear both and had even less time and energy to struggle against them” [2]. In an attempt to simultaneously be a successful worker and a mother- tackling both productive and reproductive labour- women risk a detriment to their physical, emotional and mental health. From misogyny and sexual harassment in the workplace, to the glass ceiling, to lacking friendships with other women because of constant competition, to estrangement and distance from children– these are many experiences that are often wiped out of the polished girlboss narrative. You can’t always have it all.

The ‘girlboss’ also proves that working alongside, or in competition with men doesn’t erase the structural inequalities that are inherent in the capitalist system. As well as wiping away any image of real struggle that goes into juggling reproductive and productive labour, the girlboss is ambivalent to the existence of social distinctions. Looking back in history, second-wave feminism- as a precedent to modern liberal feminism today- omitted intersectionality. ‘Woman’ is a collective, homogenised identity. It did, however, connote to possessing white and class privilege. The girlboss is therefore another component of white neoliberal feminism. It excludes black women and women of colour. Undocumented immigrants. Single mothers. Women on welfare. Abused mothers. It merely co-opts the aggressive capitalist practices and mindset in the form of an acerbic, no-nonsense, tough talking middle class white woman in a power suit. This is not empowering.

I think that working women should definitely be celebrated, but we can also observe the struggles that come with being one. Instead of pretending that the privileged white lady with lots of followers on Instagram is relatable, we can pay attention to the women workers who don’t fit that description; who survive in spite of all that is pinned against them. We can recognise that the perfected image of the girlboss pushes women to their limit in order to fulfil the tenets of this austere system. And we can realise that capitalism doesn’t look any better on a woman. 



[1] The US labor force, 1950-2050 - Bureau of Labor Statistics https://www.bls.gov/opub/mlr/2002/05/art2full.pdf 

[2] Silvia Federici, Wages Against Housework, 1975 


I'm Sara, a second year English student. I'm a lover of jaffa cakes, pop culture/history documentaries, and my two cats who are my best friends!
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