As an active consumer of the internet and social media, one might come across the term “Girlboss” repeatedly. While it comes across as another trendy hashtag such as “Girl power” and “Boss Babe”, the GirlBoss has a lot more to it, and unfortunately, not all of it is good.
The term, ‘GirlBoss‘ first originated when Sophia Amoruso, founder of a fashion website Nasty Gal, came out with her biography #GIRLBOSS, in 2014. The term soon took off and was used to describe a successful, ambitious woman in a corporate or entrepreneurial setting who acts as her boss without conforming to others’ ideas and rules. That is how GirlBoss feminism or the culture was born.
GirlBoss feminism is a type of watered down, oversimplified, marketable feminism that just ignores any real issue that the movement is supposed to focus on and aims at creating a feminist narrative that is capitalised and can sell. It equates corporate and capitalistic success with empowerment and shows this success as the ultimate goal of feminism. With an individualistic approach, it commodifies feminism and conveniently ignores the ugly side of it vis-à-vis women’s exploitation, gender pay gap, racial discrimination, and just the general preference given to men over women. It also glorifies the existing exploitive power structures and expects women to claim their success by climbing these structures.
While there might be a lot wrong with Girlboss culture, the most noticeable disparity would be its lack of intersectionality. The culture favours somewhat privileged women who have capitalistic aspirations and the means to realize these aspirations. It completely ignores other women who might not have the same privileges. These include women weighed down by familial matters like children, marriage, or racial and caste-based oppression, women who do not have capitalistic or corporate aspirations, or any woman whose idea of success might not align with GirlBoss culture.
Girlboss culture glorifies and justifies existing power structures and women empowerment by climbing these ladders of power, ignoring the patriarchal, capitalistic, and sexist connotations. The fact is that capitalism and female empowerment cannot go hand in hand because capitalism is an essential tool used since time immemorial in the subjugation of women. This approach simply glorifies a woman’s ability to assimilate herself in these problematic power structures and uses the same exploitive tactics of the men to climb to the top. It makes way for women in a world that is already male-dominated and capitalistic but not in the way that would benefit women, rather, in a way that would seem palatable and acceptable to everyone.
Women are denied the power to own their narrative and be the authority. Their authenticity and experience are diminished, and an all-pleasing narrative is fished out that would no doubt show a conventionally acceptable woman in power but will also take care to protect the already thriving patriarchal and sexist values.
Furthermore, a woman in power in a corporate setting does not necessarily mean that the labour force won’t face exploitation. Women in power do not make the oppressive systems automatically become good. For instance, in 2015, Amoruso’s Nasty Gal was sued for firing three employees before they were to go on maternity leave. Following this, a lawsuit filing described Nasty Girl’s work culture as toxic and discriminatory. In June 2020, an employee of a woman-led lifestyle brand Ban.do, accused the company of being toxic and racist. The same year, employees of The Wing, a woman-focused, co-working space, spoke up about the low pay, poor treatment, and racism. The young American reality star-turned-entrepreneur, Kylie Jenner’s makeup empire, Kylie Cosmetics recently faced accusations of mistreating its Bangladeshi workers and refusing to pay the wage. These companies thrived under the Girlboss culture and used it as marketing propaganda.
However it should be noted that, this, by no means is an attempt to portray women entrepreneurs as exploitive, but an attempt to show that taking the help of oppressive powers for women’s empowerment will never benefit women as a community. These will only work towards the perpetuation of their interests and only use feminism as a prawn to reach their goal. These structures are inherently exploitive, and having women at the top is no guarantee that other women at different levels within the same sphere will not face exploitation.
It is high time we understand that change is impossible by dominating the same exploitive power structures. The objective is not to give these structures a makeover but to question them. Till these oppressive powers perpetuate, the dream of equality can never be achieved for all women. Women do not need to change themselves to assimilate into the system; the system needs to change to accommodate women, all sorts of women.
The next time you see a woman trying to make it through the day without anyone “Yass queen-ing” her from behind, remember, that is your objective, and that is who you need to fight for.
Rutba Manzoor is a student pursuing Psychology Honours from Jamia Millia Islamia.
Edited by: Maryam Hassan