The term Girl Boss refers to the emancipated woman of the 21st century who has let go of her previous shackles by succeeding and advancing in a liberal society. It has been a preferred term for companies and clothing brands to advertise just how progressive they are. They do this by highlighting the successes of women in business, as well as encouraging women and girls to become Girl Bosses and take charge of their own lives.
Sophia Amoruso, founder of clothing brand Nastygal, popularised the term. Her 2014 autobiography ‘#Girlboss’ was turned into a show of the same name by Netflix. All these things can be considered positive, as undoubtedly many young women will have been inspired to have higher ambitions and succeed in life because of it. However, the term Girl Boss and feminism associated with it should be seen as harmful and problematic.
Limitations and issues of the Girl Boss:
Firstly, Girl Boss feminism is quite superficial, limiting women’s successes to becoming CEOs, and focusing on change within the patriarchal system, instead of trying to dismantle the system itself. The term only seems to address a certain type of woman in society, one who is able-bodied, white, and certainly not working class.
When a woman is termed a Girl Boss, she is immediately revered, and the fact that she may be a bad person is glossed over. This has happened with many women in the media, such as Sophia Amoruso herself, who has continuously been accused of maintaining a toxic work culture. This is seen with the fact that it was one of the reasons her company Nastygal filed for bankruptcy, and evidenced by four employees having sued Nastygal for firing them right before maternity or paternity leave.
It has even become a popular topic to make fun of on social media, highlighting how out of touch companies and people promoting it are. This is before mentioning the blatant hypocrisy of the term, that (especially with clothing companies) usually means a woman in charge of a business that relies on and exploits women in the global south, where most of any product is made today. It also means companies who want to be seen as progressive will use and promote the term without enacting any real change.
This was seen when H&M came out with a line of clothing with the term Girl Boss on them marketing‘ feminism’ to young girls, while factories that supply the brand have been reported for abuse of female garment workers in 2018. Still now, nearly none of H&M’s supply chains have certified labour standards, meaning that labour rights such as health and safety, living wages and more are not ensured.
Therefore, the example of one company (out of many), who is profiting off promoting Girl Boss feminism while forgetting about and harming, or putting into potential harm, its female workers, makes the need for structural changes, rather than superficial ones, obvious.
We could start with relatively slow changes, such as giving more support to working-class women and factory workers and putting more effort into making sure labour rights are protected.
The more companies realise that superficial progressiveness is not something we want, the more they will try to keep us happy and start doing better. We should also think more deeply about why the term Girl Boss, and the women associated with it, are celebrated, instead of keeping the trend going.
We can change Girl Boss feminism from a problematic, superficial term into feminism that celebrates all women, and recognises the situation of female garment workers, whose labour rights keep being discarded.
So next time you see a Girl Boss being celebrated, think about the women she benefits from.