The time has come to redefine girlboss
If you’re an avid social media user, no doubt you’ve seen the word “girlboss” gain traction these past few months. The term was made famous in 2014 by the founder of Nasty Gal, Sophia Amoruso, when she released her book titled, #Girlboss. Through this book, she tells the story of how she founded Nasty Gal despite the struggles of working against a patriarchal society. To label her success, she calls herself and others like her a girlboss.
Once again, this word is circulating through pop culture, but it holds more meaning than people realize.
When you think of a girlboss, what comes to mind? How do you define success? To be successful, does one have to be wealthy, educated and powerful? A girlboss can be a woman thriving in a traditionally male-dominated profession. Or they can be a powerful woman that was able to work against patriarchal social expectations and work their way to the top. Can you see the pattern in all these definitions?
All these traits are good things for a person to want in a role model, but they are centered around traditional ideas of success. If this depiction of a girlboss is the only one that is made popular, it creates a tunnel view of how we picture successful and strong women.
The girlboss movement has transformed itself into a wave of feminism as people on social media work to uplift other women and congratulate them for their accomplishments. The major flaw is the obvious exclusion of racial and social issues that are intertwined with feminist issues. The media already struggles with incorporating intersectional feminism and bringing to light the overlapping identities of people and their struggles. For a term like girlboss to become something more inclusive, people must widen the scope of their knowledge of women and how they define success.
Much of the fashion industry is dominated by women. However, these corporations are built on the backs of garment workers, and a majority of these workers are women. Cultural stereotypes, as well as economic and social vulnerability, push many women to take these back-breaking jobs to make a living. Large fashion companies, such as Zara, are notorious for the workers’ rights violations in their factories; the workers are often denied bathroom breaks, work long hours and are underpaid, all to support their families at home. Have you ever seen stories of these women when you look up girlboss?
If you have Instagram, search #girlboss. What do you see? Aside from all the Met Gala pictures and memes. The examples of girlbosses you’re going to find on the platform usually fit into the traditional traits that were mentioned above. Articles and social media posts about girlbosses consist of powerful and wealthy women, business and corporation owners and so on. You won’t see any posts highlighting the stories of garment workers and the women that work behind the scenes of these business moguls.
Another classic girlboss icon is Rosalia Mera. She co-founded the fashion company, Zara, alongside her husband, Amancio Ortega. From philanthropy work to activism, Mera worked hard to gain her wealth, as well as advocate for others. She is politically active and spoke out against Spain’s abortion laws and cutbacks to health care and education programs. Mera is one of the wealthiest self-made women, and her story is one of hard work and inspiration. Exactly what people want to see in a girlboss, right?
Now introducing Daliya Akhter. At age eleven, she ran away from home and got a job at a clothing factory in ??Bangladesh. The combination of poor working conditions, worsening pay and loss of rights led to Akhter creating a union. She was one of the first women in Bangladesh to start a garment workers’ union. Unfortunately, her success and the impact she and many women like her have on factory workers’ conditions are often overlooked, and even more rarely covered in the media. They do not receive the same idolization as Mera, but ignoring these women and their stories furthers the polarization in the feminist movement itself. It uplifts certain feminist issues in the media while burying others.
Girlboss culture follows many social media influencers promoting companies, especially fast-fashion companies like Zara, Fashion Nova and Shein. Scroll through TikTok or Instagram, and you’re likely to see someone with a large following advertising clothing from a fast-fashion company. Social media promotes commodity culture and centers around obtaining wealth, power and popularity. Trends and movements like girlboss culture build off of these previously established ideas and exclude a multitude of people. The goal of feminism is to be inclusive of all people; uplifting a specific personality and character to be the head of a movement or symbolize success is invalidating and harmful.
With that said, social media needs to reframe its use of girlboss and girlboss culture. We need to move away from glorifying a specific archetype for success and instead highlight other women whose stories are not shared but should be. We need to bring to light that there are feminist issues that’re being ignored and social media movements like #girlboss that allow for the exclusion to continue. It’s time for our feeds to share the stories of the women being covered up by the big and powerful figures that dominate our media and culture.
Navroop Kaur is a first year writing for speech and language pathology major who thinks girlbosses on all levels deserve our hype. They can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Art by Carolyn Langer.