RIP to the #GirlBoss Mentality

Words by: Hannah Cohen
Art by: Ruth Ong

Girl boss. A title that signposts an era when women were suddenly hypnotised by the tranquilising idea of self-made capitalist empowerment. Almost collectively, the desire to kick off an entrepreneurial career and subsequently build an empire became the motivation for women of the western world. 

It was a time when our understanding of feminism was maybe a little reductive. It was supposedly re-writing the highly male-dominant corporate success story for the female gaze. 

It was shamelessly lacquering on a red lip paired with a navy pinstripe suit. Strutting through the bullpen and asserting your authority by just the smell of your perfume and the hairspray smoothing down your perfectly curled locks. Clutching a hot pink coffee mug embellished with variations of mantras like #getitgirl or #riseandgrind. 

Admit it. We all bought into it for a minute there. We all dared to dream of the day when we’d finally finished scratching and clawing our way right up to the tippy top of the corporate ladder. We swore we’d do anything for it. We’d work harder than anyone just to get a taste of the fantasy lives of these cut-throat women who supposedly had it all. We’d drool over the wardrobes of clothes, the piles of money, the loyal staff, the empire that belonged to women like NastyGal founder and #Girlboss pioneer Sophia Amoruso (you bet I ATE UP the TV series).

So when did the words ‘girl boss’ transition from a compliment we used to express in awe of a woman’s financial and career success to the laughing stock of the twenty twenties? When did our motivation to succeed at all costs diminish into something satirical to scoff at? When did I go from wanting to ‘be my own boss’ in heels and a form-fitting blazer to drinking peppermint tea out of a #thefutureisfemale mug that my housemate bought ironically?

You might have your own personal gripes with the girl boss mentality (there are, after all, many to choose from), but allow me to share just a few of mine. 

It’s the epitome of #Whitefeminism

When we visualise a girl boss, we’re often thinking of a trope we recognise all too well 一 the face of a woman we praise for redefining success on her terms. Maybe it’s the White lady sitting pretty in the CEO office on the top floor, the influencer who ‘took a major risk’ and started a cult-fave activewear brand, or the marketing intern turned senior chief of advertising. What’s not spoken about, or merely thought of, are the women who had to work, often at horrifically low rates or in appalling conditions, to make the women at top’s dreams of capital bliss a reality.

Take our OG girl boss Sophia Amoruso for example. Building her fortune by the way of fast fashion, Amoruso was eventually outed for allegations of discrimination, mistreatment, and abusive management of her South Asian garment workers. Not very #feminist of her. 

The White-feminist reality of one of the key girl boss pillars is that ‘doing anything’ to achieve one woman’s success is one that neglects the human rights of many others. So, it’s no surprise that after waking up to the fact that a lot of these girl boss brands are built on the toxic mistreatment towards mostly women of colour, we’ve decided to reject this hypocritical contradiction.

Because, after all, if it’s not intersectional feminism, we don’t want it. 

Hustle culture #sucks. 

Girl boss mentality and hustle culture go hand-in-hand, and it goes without saying (*cough* pandemic *cough*) that both of these things aren’t really fitting the mood right now. We’re stressed, anxious, and probably possessing just enough energy to do little more than drag our feet between the kitchen, bathroom, and bedroom. Going the extra mile to cultivate careers from the ground up doesn’t really feel like the vibe, especially at the moment. But to be honest, I think Miss ’Rona has only further revealed that the girl boss mentality has always been a touch problematic. 

The extra pressure hustle culture puts on us to work ourselves to the bone not only disregards the necessary practising of intentional rest and self-care, but also completely neglects to address the interplay of privilege and the different opportunities we’re afforded.

It doesn’t consider that a woman’s level of success may be given a leg up or is set back by their level of education, their family background, or even the amount of time or spare money they have to funnel into their girl boss dreams.

Being a girl boss isn’t necessarily on the cards for everyone, and insinuating that all it takes is working past 5pm and waking up early on weekends is super classist. 

Why can’t I just be a #boss?

This has been a personal ick about the whole girl boss fiasco I’ve been trying to unpack for a while now. Why should I have to preface my gender in telling you I’m a leader? If it’s so meaningful, where are the boy bosses? 

To be frank, I wish I had something more articulate or coherent to say about this, but all I can string together is that it feels like a step back that’s only reinforcing patriarchal structures in the workplace.

Women have come such a long way in the workforce since the liberation movement; something about opting to label ourselves as a ‘girl boss’ over just a ‘boss’ when we reach career milestone careers feels like it undermines our position titles. 

It goes without saying that leaning into femininity while achieving professional success is a massive power move and a huge ‘fk you’ to the notion that professionalism is associated with masculinity. But I feel like the girl boss mentality isn’t really challenging this paradigm, but is instead furthering it. 

Instead of allowing women to carve out a more compassionate, inclusive, accessible and intersectionally feminist method of killing it in the workplace, girl bosses have gone down the same patriarchal route that men in power have done for decades 一 amassing their fortunes through power-hungry exploitation. 

Considering my minor rant above, I think it’s safe to say that unless we’re joking around in the whole ‘gaslight, gatekeep, girl boss’ kinda way, you can rest assured that I won’t be taking the term as a compliment. 

In 2021, reaping success off the backs of exploited women in dire working situations is not the gold star feminist trope we should be striving for. 

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