Why the ‘Girlboss’ phenomenon is problematic and slowly fading
“Girlboss” is a new term popularized by Nasty Gal Founder and Executive Chairman Sophia Amoruso, an American entrepreneur who channelled her notoriety from the rise of her multi-million-dollar fashion business, into a best-selling book.
According to Amoruso, a “Girlboss” is a woman “whose success is defined in opposition to the masculine business world in which she swims upstream.”
The “Girlboss” was originally a term for feminist empowerment, referring to women who put professional (i.e. financial) success above all by adopting a relentless cut-throat yet feminine persona to get there.
It’s been codified in popular culture through figures such as Miranda Priestly in The Devil Wears Prada, Jessica Pearson in Suits, and Daenerys Targaryen in Game of Thrones. The term also made its way to TikTok in the form of “Corporate-Tok” and the “That Girl” trends which generally involved a montage of 5 a.m. workouts, green smoothies and high-paying corporate jobs.
While there is nothing wrong with encouraging women to practice wellness and assert their talents across traditionally male-dominated industries, the term has faced increasing criticism as feminists call out its inherent contradictions. Under the guise of feminist empowerment, the term “Girlboss” contains a deeply exclusionary identity that unites unchecked privilege with capitalist ambition and the toxic glamorization of hustle culture.
Inclusive or exclusive Feminism?
In a profoundly ignorant TikTok, lifestyle influencer and author of “Girl, Wash Your Face,” Rachel Hollis, asserted her goal of leading an “unrelatable” life by comparing herself to figures like Harriet Tubman, Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Marie Curie and Oprah Winfrey.
While Hollis apologized for her post, it demonstrates “Girlboss” culture as an output of mainstream white liberal feminism that glosses over the race and class-based systems that catapult certain women into privileged society and that keep the majority down.
Elevating the “Girlboss” as the end-all-be-all of the fight for gender equality encourages surface-level activism and tokenism.
“Girlboss” culture tells us that to be good feminists, we must work to smash the patriarchy and that the only way to do so is by clawing our way into traditionally male high-ranking corporate roles, which is not true.
The sexist trojan horse
Vicky Spratt refers to “Girlboss” culture as a “sexist Trojan horse,” and I must agree. After all, nobody has ever referred to a male CEO as a “Boyboss.” I’d wager any attempt to do so would be quickly characterized as insulting, demeaning and patronizing.
Well, the same goes for the term “Girlboss.” It is a sexist and infantilizing way to diminish the achievements of powerful women by preserving the male-dominant status quo.
Professor Sylvia Bashevkin from the University of Toronto identifies the presence of a “visceral discomfort” that is widely experienced when it comes to women in positions of power. Women may adopt the “Girlboss” brand to make themselves appear less threatening, thus assuaging that discomfort.
To put it into perspective, this is an escalation of sprinkling work emails with unnecessary smiley faces and niceties so as not to come across as too demanding or assertive. Simply put, “Girlboss” is a policy of distraction from the encroachment on patriarchal gender roles and attributes.
Pinkwashing hustle culture: A capitalist trap
“Girlboss” culture is also responsible for the glamorization of hustle culture by elevating the “have it all” mentality. It’s built on hyper-productivity, workaholism and burnout. It suggests that without a relentless and cut-throat work ethic, often achieved at the expense of one’s mental and physical health, you are not doing enough.
This is not just in regard to an individual’s professional life but also to the feminist crusade against the patriarchy. By conflating the feminist discourse with hustle culture, women become indoctrinated by a skewed notion of what it means to be a feminist.
According to Emma Maguire, “girlbossing isn’t feminism, it’s capitalism.” “Girlboss” culture assumes that success can be achieved by simply releasing self-doubt and putting the work in. Kim Kardashian’s advice to women in business to “get your f*cking *ss up and work” comes to mind.
This mindset specifically benefits privileged women and preserves corporate structures that propagate the patriarchy alongside race, gender and class-based forms of discrimination that cannot be dismantled by grit and ambition alone.
The bimbofication of the girlboss
With the fall of “Girlboss” culture rose “Bimbofication.” In popular culture, the “Bimbo” referred to a beautiful fool referencing Paris Hilton, Pamela Anderson, Elle Woods in Legally Blond and Cher in Clueless. However, Gen Z has cultivated a new identity for the modern bimbo that does not rely upon a fixed race, sexuality, class, job or intelligence.
Chrissy Chlapecka, a viral social media personality, defined the Gen Z bimbo on TikTok, stating, “a bimbo isn’t dumb. Well, she kind of is, but she isn’t that dumb! She’s actually a radical leftist, who’s pro sex work, pro Black Lives Matter, pro LGBTQ+, pro-choice, and will always be there for her girlies, gays and theys.”
In emerging from the “Girlboss” fever dream, Chlapecka introduced a platform for feminism built on inclusivity and self-actualization as opposed to a singular unattainable and unrelatable ideal.
Fiona Fairbairn, a TMU student, adopted “Bimbofication” and released a podcast called the “Bimbo Manifesto” using the mantra “no thoughts, just vibes.” Fairbairn encourages her audience to free themselves of all external expectations and attitudes, including the “Girlboss” mould, to become the perfect woman.
According to Adina Bresge, the movement acknowledges that “femininity is both revered and reviled.” In other words, the perfect woman does not exist. If you adopt hypermasculine traits to assert your opinions or role in the workplace you’re characterized as a cold-hearted b*tch. If you embrace hyperfeminine traits and roles, you’re characterized as nothing more than an object of male desire or a ditz that should not be taken seriously.
There is no right way to be a woman, so why bother trying? Why bother comparing yourself to men at all?
For Fairbairn, “Bimbofication” is about celebrating feminine empowerment without limit, judgement or the influence of the male gaze. In the first episode of the “Bimbo Manifesto,” Fairbairn says, “don’t ask what misogyny does to you; ask what it can do for you.”
“Bimboism” encourages its followers to embrace being underestimated and to weaponize the expectations set against them by simply not caring. You don’t need to be a CEO, own luxury products, or adopt a specific appearance to embrace Bimboism. All you need to do is focus on yourself and what matters to you. If that means adopting the persona of an airhead that’s never heard of the stock market and could not care less, so be it!