Our modern day Icarus: Girlbossing a little too close to the sun

| Senior Cadenza Editor

What started as a seemingly harmless term of women’s empowerment in the field of business has turned into a phrase facetiously used to describe a woman doing literally anything in the name of femininity. Whether that be girlboss Kamala Harris being the first woman to have the opportunity to bomb the Middle East or Kim Yo Jong girlbossing her way to dictatorship in a one-party state, the term has bred a toxic notion of what it means to be a woman. As a society (maybe excluding millennial women), we have officially moved past the point of using girlboss seriously, and I could not be more happy. 

To really understand the term “Girlboss” we have to go back a few years to 2014, when Sophia Amoruso wrote a memoir titled #Girlboss. At the time, the term was exactly what it implied: a name for a woman who became the CEO of a company. But as time progressed and the “she”-E-O accolade became more widespread, the term was broadened to include all badass women attitudes. It no longer represented a woman who hustled in her work place and broke boundaries but instead encapsulated any woman with a driving attitude. 

The most obvious critique of the girlboss movement is that it distinguishes a female boss from a “regular” boss: male. Not only does this support the problematic binary of cis man and cis woman, but it also reinforces there being a “main” group and an “other group.” This is different from the notion of “man or woman” by instead focusing on “man or NOT man.” The gap between these two points is widened by linking “male” with “boss” instead of striving to diversify the word. The girlboss movement seems to do the complete opposite of empowering women by bolstering this dichotomy. 

We’ve also used this term to justify capitalizing off of social justice movements and female ambition. It promoted the idea that if you work hard enough, you will get what you want, never taking into account generational poverty, education inequality or the unfair economic system (just to name a few). Corporations ran with this concept of womanly “grind” to perpetuate the capitalistic cycle. They were making money off of underpaid workers, but of course, it was in the name of feminism. The exact male-dominated corporations that women strove to dominate were benefiting from this. Way to stick it to the man. 

As if the implicit sexist and capitalistic narratives weren’t enough, the term also has uncomfortable racial undertones. The girlboss is a white, cisgender woman, and the “strong Black woman” is the empowered title for Black women; girlboss never included POC. It never included the intersection of race, and instead it focused its war strictly on gender. Racism was someone else’s battle to fight. The movement was also tone-deaf to efforts towards women who wear head veils like hijabs, behavior likely influenced by misconceptions provided by the American War on Terror. Because the term lacks intersectionality, it’s common for the self-espoused girlboss to also be the woman who focuses on the religion and “culture” of Afghanistan instead of assessing the US’s role in the region and the history of oppressive regimes. The girlboss movement justified white, westernized women pushing their views of what feminism is on others. 

We’ve progressed past the girlboss movement for the most part, but we must be careful not to use another trendy term to the same effect. Social movements aren’t supposed to follow social trends. We’ve passed the dichotomized point of distinguishing between a leader and a woman leader, and to me, that is pretty girlboss.


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