Roar writer Youmna Warda on the hollow empowerment of girl boss “feminism”.

Upon googling “girl boss feminism”, you will be bombarded with countless search results that lay immense criticism on the phenomenon. So, what does being a girl boss mean?

According to The Free Dictionary, a girl boss is “a confident, capable woman who pursues her own ambitions instead of working for others or otherwise settling in life.” It is important to note that while the term is typically associated with women in business, it is not limited to female entrepreneurship in any way. In 2014, Sophia Amuroso’s autobiography “#girlboss” detailed her journey to becoming CEO of Nasty Gal. All in all, the perception of the phenomenon was initially quite positive. Many women have cited feeling empowered through these digitized modes of empowerment.

What went wrong, then? 

The permeation of female empowerment, or “girl boss” culture, into brand identity soon became its demise. Audiences slowly but surely became aware of the inconsistency within marketing campaigns. It was clear that some corporations which were championing female empowerment were woefully neglecting precarious working conditions that affect women; sexism in the workplace, expensive childcare, low-paying jobs and more. The corporatisation of feminism enables lazy activism that certainly does not push for any quantifiable progressive changes to the workplace. 

There is immense performativity behind social media activism. With several brands stepping up to the scene to celebrate minorities, including women of colour, it’s important to think critically of some of these actions. It’s great that large amounts of people are becoming aware of such activism, but what is the intent behind it? Is there any substantive argument that challenges the status quo in any way? The performance behind girl boss culture is inextricably tied to its glossing over of social justice issues. Therefore, it is difficult for audiences to engage with inauthentic modes of feminism, especially when there’s no real revolutionary or substantive measures being applied in these corporations. 

Moreover, the infantilisation of women within girl boss culture can actually be counterproductive. The notion that women who rise to authority ought to be paraded solely based on their gender identity can be quite sexist. Unfortunately, there’s always an implication that female authority will always be some kind of anomaly. Having to plaster “girl boss” around on social media platforms is deemed celebratory of women’s success. I’ve personally never encountered someone being referred to as a “boy boss”. I can, however, understand the argument that a patriarchal society enables male authority, so there should be a celebration of female authority. In my view, however, recognition of female authority should be normalised within all workspaces, without the preconceived notion that it is some kind of rare anomaly. It’s a basic form of equality that ought to be implemented; the bar should not be set so low.

Here’s where the mythology of the girl boss narrative really kicks in.

Women are being told to “just work hard”, “grind” or “hustle” 24/7 to build an empire. There’s a lack of consideration for the inequality and intersectionality of the struggles women face all around the world. Class and race inequality are constantly being neglected as facile discourse. The idea that “If she can do it, then you can do it” is incredibly misleading.

Like so many young women, I’ve personally felt this pressure to reach an arbitrary level of success – pushing past any career limitations, social pressures or anything that could ever halt my path to being a “girl boss”. The precarity of being a “girl boss” is that the goal is certainly unrealistic for most of us. White, female CEOs have used a plethora of resources, privilege and means to reach where they are. The meritocratic nature of the sentiments championed by girl boss feminism is unjustly pressuring women into an arbitrary path of meaningless “empowerment”.

Girl boss feminism isn’t real feminism. As you could’ve probably guessed by my quotations in the title, I wholeheartedly believe that associating “girl bosses” or “boss babes” with feminism is too exigent of an error. As I’ve already touched on, basic social issues such as class, race, and access to education are overarchingly neglected in the pursuit of such ideals. Such neglect leads to an inevitable lack of intersectionality – which frankly completely diverts from what feminism really is.

Blind and misled empowerment is nothing but a hollow ploy to most women; so who are we really trying to empower?

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