Cover of Sophia Amoruso's 2014  book Girlboss which popularised the phrase.[1]
Cover of Sophia Amoruso's 2014 book Girlboss which popularised the phrase.[1]

Girlboss, also known as girlboss-ism, is a neologism popularised by Sophia Amoruso in her 2014 book Girlboss, which denotes a woman "whose success is defined in opposition to the masculine business world in which she swims upstream".[1] The concept's ethos has been described as "convenient incrementalism".[1]

History

The term became popular in 2014 after Sophia Amoruso used it with a hashtag prefix in her bestselling autobiography, which was adapted into a TV show of the same name.[2] Its early usage was defined by perceived empowerment.[2] Its popularity led to it becoming a "a template for marketing and writing about powerful women in virtually every industry".[3]

By 2019, the concept had begun to derive disdain from some women and viewed as ironic; others still believed in its worth.[4]

In early 2020, the self-regulatory organisation Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) banned a billboard, advertising PeoplePerHour, which read: "You do the girl boss thing we'll do the SEO thing".[2] Later in 2020, the George Floyd protests saw a number of high-profile women executives resign after accusations of creating toxic and racist workplaces.[5] According to Amanda Mull of The Atlantic, this time saw the "end of the girlboss" manifest in a "cultural pushback".[3] Judy Berman of Time stated that the rise of anti-capitalist sentiment among youth had turned the term "into a joke, a meme, something hopelessly cheugy."[6] Alex Abad-Santos of Vox argued that the term has "shifted culturally from a noun to a verb, one that described the sinister process of capitalist success and hollow female empowerment," pointing to the parody phrase "Gaslight, Gatekeep, Girlboss."[7][8]

In 2021, some social media influencers attempted to redefine the term as "a sort of post-ironic area in which female evil is celebrated," such as over the trial of Elizabeth Holmes.[9][10] A number of 2021 films and televisions series were criticised for exemplifying the term, such as Physical and Cinderella.[11][12] In September 2021, University of Sydney Dean of the Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences Annamarie Jagose referenced the term while defending proposed cuts at the university, stating "Girlboss feminism? I’m not sure what girlboss feminism is."[13]

Criticism

For a time, female wealth was treated as feel-good news unto itself. The reality of girlbossing, however, was always a little bit messier...The confident, hardworking, camera-ready young woman of a publicist’s dreams apparently had an evil twin: a woman, pedigreed and usually white, who was not only as accomplished as her male counterparts, but just as cruel and demanding too.[3]

Amanda Mull, The Atlantic

According to Magdalena Zawisza, associate professor of Gender Psychology at Anglia Ruskin University, "It is very difficult to escape the deeply rooted gender stereotypes, and many such linguistic attempts backfire ... While 'girl boss' immediately draws attention to the feminine, it also infantilizes the role of a female as a boss".[2] Mull critiqued the idea for reinforcing power structures created by men.[3]

Gargi Agrawal of Elle argued that "the idea propagates sexism, racism and class elitism."[14] Journalist Vicky Spratt argued that the term was "a sexist Trojan horse... if we weren’t so scared of women’s power we wouldn’t need to do this, to make it more palatable by rolling it in glitter and pinkwashing it."[15]

Interpretations

Hannah Ewens of Vice noted that, although the idea is one of the 2010s, its roots go back to the 1980s: "The Working Woman of the Thatcher and Reagan era, strutting in wearing her power suit, had both the boss and the baby on a leash".[4] Emma Maguire, in an article for The Conversation, echoed a similar sentiment, saying that the idea of girlboss was only possible through feminist achievements. She chose June Dally-Watkins as an example of a historical girlboss.[16] Ewens viewed a girlboss as a multi-tasking woman who doesn't view family as a priority and "deceptively dissolves class without understanding or interacting with it".[4] Maguire wrote that "Girlboss rhetoric often works to propagate sexism, racism, and class elitism, among other forms of oppression".[16]

Ewens highlighted Paris Hilton, Gwyneth Paltrow, Jessica Alba and Sarah Michelle Gellar as examples of girlbosses.[4] Mull called The Wing "an incubator of sorts for girlbosses".[3]

Former Teen Vogue executive editor Samhita Mukhopadhyay argued that "for women, navigating the workplace has always been about figuring out which tropes to avoid—we quickly learn not to be the doormat or the shrew, the secretary or the nag—and it seemed as though the death of the girlboss had set another trap."[17]

References

  1. ^ a b c Spencer, Keith A. (2021-02-26). ""I Care A Lot" is a stinging indictment of neoliberal "girlboss" feminism". Salon. Retrieved 2021-02-27.((cite web)): CS1 maint: url-status (link)
  2. ^ a b c d Anderson, Hephzibah (January 28, 2020). "'Girl boss': When empowerment slogans backfire". BBC. Retrieved 2021-02-27.((cite web)): CS1 maint: url-status (link)
  3. ^ a b c d e Mull, Amanda (2020-06-25). "The Girlboss Has Left the Building". The Atlantic. Retrieved 2021-02-27.((cite web)): CS1 maint: url-status (link)
  4. ^ a b c d Ewens, Hannah (August 15, 2019). "The Girlboss: Why Young Women Mock the Idea But Aspire to It". Vice Media. Retrieved 2021-02-27.((cite web)): CS1 maint: url-status (link)
  5. ^ Solis, Opinion by Marie. "What the fall of the 'girlboss' reveals". Cnn.com. Retrieved 23 November 2021.
  6. ^ "How Pop Culture—Finally—Got Over the Girlboss Heroine". Time.com. Retrieved 23 November 2021.
  7. ^ Abad-Santos, Alex (7 June 2021). "Girlboss ended not with a bang, but a meme". Vox.com. Retrieved 23 November 2021.
  8. ^ Cortés, Michelle Santiago. "Gaslight, Gatekeep, Girlboss: How Memes Became A Cry For Help". Refinery29.com. Retrieved 23 November 2021.
  9. ^ Todd, Sarah. "Elizabeth Holmes' trial is also a referendum on the girlboss era". Qz.com. Retrieved 23 November 2021.
  10. ^ Lorenz, Taylor (15 June 2021). "Serena Shahidi Is Redefining the 'Girlboss'". Nytimes.com. Retrieved 23 November 2021.
  11. ^ "The Empty Girlboss Fantasy of "Physical"". The New Yorker. 8 August 2021. Retrieved 23 November 2021.
  12. ^ Winkelman, Natalia (3 September 2021). "'Cinderella' Review: A Girlboss in Glass Slippers". Nytimes.com. Retrieved 23 November 2021.
  13. ^ "'I'm not sure what girlboss feminism is': Arts dean censured by students in her own lecture". Honisoit.com. 3 September 2021. Retrieved 23 November 2021.
  14. ^ "Here's Why These 'Feminist' Terms Like #GirlBoss Are Problematic". Elle.in. Retrieved 23 November 2021.
  15. ^ Spratt, Vicky. "Why We Must Get Rid Of Girlboss Culture For Good". Refinery29.com. Retrieved 23 November 2021.
  16. ^ a b Maguire, Emma (February 26, 2020). "Young women won't be told how to behave, but is #girlboss just deportment by another name?". The Conversation. Retrieved 2021-02-27.((cite web)): CS1 maint: url-status (link)
  17. ^ Mukhopadhyay, Samhita (31 August 2021). "The Demise of the Girlboss". Thecut.com. Retrieved 23 November 2021.