Illustration of a business woman in an article about the term girlboss
The initially feminist-rooted word is sometimes used as a crutch to defend questionable behavior. (Image via Pixabay, by Ronny Overhate)

Is It Time to Cancel the Controversial Term ‘Girlboss’?

Once a term that conjured up images of hard-working women ready to smash the glass ceiling, the word now represents everything wrong with America’s capitalistic system.

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Illustration of a business woman in an article about the term girlboss

Once a term that conjured up images of hard-working women ready to smash the glass ceiling, the word now represents everything wrong with America’s capitalistic system.

On June 22, in an article on Medium.com, writer Leigh Stein proclaimed “The End of Girlboss Is Here.”

On its surface, this seems like a bold and somewhat anti-feminist statement to make, given that since the term’s initial rise to popularity in 2014, a “girlboss” was known as a strong career woman who, through sheer drive and work ethic, rose through the ranks of the male-dominated corporate world.

In reality, as Leigh Stein breaks down in her article, women who are seen as girlbosses oftentimes cater to the problematic institution of capitalism, putting an emphasis on rising through the ranks of a corrupt system instead of changing that system altogether.

Stein wrote, “The girlboss didn’t change the system; she thrived within it. Now that system is cracking, and so is this icon of millennial hustle.”

Not to mention the term’s tendency to ignore the added struggles women of color face trying to build themselves up the same way white women do. As Stein stated in her article, “The white girlboss, and so many of them were white, sat at the unique intersection of oppression and privilege. She saw gender inequity everywhere she looked; this gave her something to wage war against. Racial inequity was never really on her radar. That was someone else’s problem to solve.”

Another issue with the term girlboss, some have pointed out, is that it refers to grown women as “girls,” perpetuating the infantilization of adult women.

As Katy Leeson wrote in 2019, “We aren’t girls, we are women. Unless I’ve got my hair in pigtails and I’m wearing gingham, there is no situation in business or in life where it’s okay to call me a girl.”

A number of influential businesswomen used the term girlboss liberally when describing their particular journey to the top of their chosen fields: Sheryl Sandberg, a billionaire Facebook executive; Sophia Amoruso, the CEO of Nasty Gal clothing company and even Hillary Clinton, the Democratic candidate for president in 2016, who was hailed as the ultimate girlboss.

Each of these women are white, and each of them worked endlessly to cater to a brutal, capitalistic system that many liberals are now calling out for its tendency to leave certain women and men behind, particularly women and men of color.

For a woman to feel like a girlboss, she was expected to put in countless backbreaking hours of work and labor in order to reach her goals. She was expected to laugh in the face of sexist adversity and then rise up against it through sheer determination and grit. She was not supposed to question the system she was working in, but rather serve it diligently until she was at the top of her field.

In 2020, women appear to feel differently. In the wake of Stein’s article, many women took to Twitter to praise her insight and agree that the era of the girlboss was over.

Amanda Mull, a staff writer for The Atlantic, tweeted, “Regret to report that putting highly paid, well-pedigreed, mostly white women into the same positions of power traditionally held by men does not seem to help anyone but those women,” and linked a similar article she wrote on the topic.

Other women spoke about how their so-called girlboss higher-ups abused the power they had earned just as the male hierarchs before them did.

One woman tweeted in response to Mull’s article, “oh wow. this one hit home & gave me more language to explain all the white female managers i’ve had & how they wielded their power in questionable ways while simultaneously defending those actions with their femininity.”

Still, some women are reluctant to give up a term they’ve spent years happily employing. One search of girlboss on Twitter will reveal thousands of new tweets since Stein’s article continuing to call either themselves or other working women girlbosses.

Whether 2020 marks the real end of the girlboss or not, it is evident more and more women are coming to the stark realization that perhaps doing everything in their power to mold themselves to fit into a broken, corrupt system is not the best use of their time. Perhaps it would be better to change the system altogether.

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