Surely you’ve seen the branded content.
Whether it’s on a millennial pink T-shirt, a sassy coffee mug, or the former Nastygal CEO, Sophia Amoruso’s memoir that started it all, #Girlboss culture has become inescapable online and off.
The girlboss moniker is attached to overwhelmingly white, cisgendered women who have achieved lucrative careers in their field of choice; generally the business sector. The term’s purpose is to encourage women to climb the corporate ladder, in hopes that if more women are at the top of historically male-dominated industries, they will become more ethical and egalitarian.
Girlboss culture didn’t come out of nowhere. Girlbosses are just the millennial manifestation of the decades old “girl power” movement. Girl power started in the 1990s as a result of the radical “Riot grrrl” feminist movement. Riot grrrls would play underground women-fronted punk shows, circulate handmade political zines, and preach radical self-acceptance. Whereas Riot grrrl was a bottom-up DIY scene, girl power was the market’s top-down commodification of Riot grrrl’s ideals.
For example, The Spice Girls are often cited as a prime example of girl power, yet the band was assembled by two (male) managers connected to major label Virgin Record . Like much of girl power culture, The Spice Girls were manufactured to sell a product, and secondly, to sell the idea of “empowerment” to young girls.
Empowerment remained an important notion in the transition from girl power to girlboss culture. “Empowerment” is one of those words that has become so ubiquitous in popular culture that it has begun to lose much of its original meaning. By definition, empowerment means gaining control over the actions and choices in one’s life.
Since girlboss culture is targeted to mostly white, middle to upper class women in the west, I struggle to see how this veil of empowerment is necessary. Girlboss culture is not about making sure women have the education or structural means to achieve careers, it is simply bolstering already-privileged women into higher levels of financial success. Thus, empowerment is just a trendy word to rally behind that serves no real purpose other than making powerful women feel good about their accumulation of wealth.
Additionally, the notion that a company with women at the top is inherently more ethical is highly flawed. In the case of Amoruso, the original #girlboss of fashion retailer Nastygal, she had several allegations against her company’s culture of image consciousness and lack of accountability and respect for those working under her.
This “trickle down” mode of feminism will not work. Instead of placing our faith in a handful of corporate women to try to change the system from within, why not focus on structural change that will improve the lives of everyday women and other marginalized groups? It will be hard to try to hack at patriarchy without taking capitalism to task as well. Feminist practices don’t need to always be “practical.” Pushing for large structural change, rather than sticking more women into an already broken system, is the only way forward.