In 2015, fast fashion brands were earning millions from #girlboss merch, various white women were publishing success-story memoirs, and brands were profiting from the absolute bare minimum.
Capitalism was commodifying feminism.
Corporations transformed it into an aesthetic rather than a struggle against oppression. Girl boss feminism, as defined by women such as the founder of the fast-fashion brand Nasty Gal, Sophia Amoroso, celebrates individual and financial success as the ultimate form of empowerment. Amoroso heavily profited from building her brand around the girl boss feminism mentality and aesthetic. She portrayed herself as the absolute girl boss feminist, writing a book and having a TV series about her rise to the top in weeks.
But in recent years, it has been criticised for its glass-ceiling approach to feminism. It celebrates white women for integrating themselves into our society’s patriarchal and oppressive power structures while perpetuating the oppression of the majority of other women. Girl boss feminism celebrates class hierarchies and highlights how capitalism directly praises and benefits from the rich, contributing to the further oppression of women and people of colour.
However, while girl boss feminism is regarded critically by most, feminism as a marketing tool has become endemic in several industries. Individuals like Florence Given focus their entire aesthetic on female empowerment while acting in an exploitative fashion towards other women, rendering their feminism more performative and less empowering.
This has become an issue in the fight against racism, with brands like Urban Outfitters and Reformation being called out for their racist behaviour towards black customers and employees while posting about Black Lives Matter on their social media platforms.
In these instances, feminism and anti-racism have not been treated as an actual fight for equality and human rights. They’re a trend. Variations of feminism, such as the girl boss feminism, often lack intersectionality and fail to be representative of most women’s struggles.
Despite girl boss feminism having received much criticism, corporate employers continue to weave this toxic tale of success of how “hard work will get you there.” It is a renewed attempt to sell this utopic dream of economic wealth, where no matter your ethnic background, gender, or sexuality, “you can get there too, if you only work hard enough.”
This omits the racial and intersectional struggles many black women and women of colour experience when applying for jobs. Furthermore, it overlooks the truth of structural oppression and opportunity gaps, which heavily influence how well individuals do in education and on the job market.
Extensive research and exposés are revealing just how much slower women and minorities move up the career ladder. They are often more likely to be burdened with childcare duties, frequently without financial or practical support, prejudiced against in interviews and promotions, or simply be marginalised in an office workspace that is majority white, cis men.
These issues need to be addressed and cannot be combated with a “working harder” mentality.
Moreover, the girl boss mentality often exploits women, pushing them beyond their limits and justifies unfair wages, all in the name of empowerment and feminism. Girl boss feminism glosses over real issues, such as affordable childcare or flexible working hours. We do not need inspirational quotes or stories of white women’s success. We need policy and behavioural change.
Another issue of girl boss feminism that is still prevalent is the act of celebrating a woman just because she is in a position of power, ignoring all her other actions. This often prevents women from being held accountable for their potentially harmful and problematic actions.
Women like Sofia Amoroso or even Kylie Jenner are often celebrated for being women in powerful positions, distracting from justified criticism of their harmful and exploitative behaviour towards their employees. Both Nasty Gal and Kylie Cosmetics seem like empowerment utopia’s with fancy logos and banners showcasing empowering slogans, printing #girlboss onto bulk-bought merch. However, the reality of working there is a lot less idyllic.
Both Amoroso and Jenner treat their female workers abysmally, claim other women’s work for themselves, have been known to fire pregnant women and, in the case of Amoroso, exploit female garment workers in developing countries.
It is not worth celebrating a woman for assimilating patriarchal qualities and oppressing other women in the name of feminism. We must hold people accountable for their actions, especially when it comes to politics or big corporations. Women in power need to be criticised for their harmful actions, which girl boss feminism is preventing.
While misogyny and patriarchal oppression are ever-present in politics and business, this branch of feminism is not the solution. It becomes apparent that without oppression and systemic exploitation, it is pretty difficult to be successful in a big business. This demonstrates that uprooting these systems, not assimilating with them, should be at the top of the agenda.
Lastly, how could I conclude without pointing out how patronising the term “girl” boss is.
Have you ever heard of a male CEO being referred to as a boy boss? No. Because that would be ridiculous. Yet, we have readily accepted a form of feminism that perpetuates gender disparities rather than fighting them. While we might have gotten rid of the girl boss aesthetic, the mentality is still ingrained in most of us and needs to be eradicated for good.
Making white women the new white men was never going to help anyone, especially not when it comes to solving systemic racism or homophobia within capitalist structures. Girl boss feminism evades accountability and makes it seem like women are a homogenous group, which we are not. The success of one single white woman by no means implies the empowerment of all. Instead, feminism needs to be a unified struggle for the rights of all women, regardless of skin colour, sexuality, class, gender, or religion.