The Toxicity of Girlbossing

By Sabine Waldeck, Deputy Opinion Editor

Let’s discuss the nauseating term put forth by millennials: “Girlbossing.” People started praising the all-mighty girlboss in the early 2000s, ala The Devil Wears Prada

However, at that time we had yet to name this strong successful woman, she just existed as a feminist icon that my preceding generation admired. Millennial women saw and wanted to be her. Once Sophia Amoruso, founder of NastyGal, gave her a title in her book #Girlboss it was, as many current girlbosses say, “over for you bitches.” 

The best definition of a girlboss I can find on the internet is from Keith A. Spencer, a journalist for the Salon, critiquing the film I Care A Lot, as a woman “whose success is defined in opposition to the masculine business world in which she swims upstream.”

Girlbossing began as an empowering movement for women by women that focused on leveling up in the workforce and taking positions of power that have historically been held by men. In Amoruso’s book, she tells her story on how she created her clothing business by working her way to the top and embodying girlboss energy. 

Today, the more popular definition of a girlboss is to work your ass off to get a job other women will be jealous of. You must take over typically male-dominated jobs by working twice as hard as the man who had the job before you. You must have all your shit together.

The girlboss is a character of what a successful woman is meant to look and act like, and therefore, if you do not fit this stereotype, you are not successful. The caricature is a woman wearing stiletto pumps while drinking black coffee walking down the mean streets of New York City to their executive position in a skyscraper. 

While the term initially held an empowering meaning, girlbossing intersects with sexist stereotypes when these so-called “girlbosses” value themselves, and other women, based on their job title. A constant drive for a better position causes one’s self-worth to be tied to it.  

When women link their self-worth to their job, it creates a value system among us. If you do not have as good of a job as these girlbosses, then you are not working hard enough. You are not a “strong woman,” and are therefore not as respected. This mimics the hierarchy that has already been put into place for generations by the patriarchy and is replaced with fake feminist rhetoric. This way of acting takes something that was once empowering and turns it into just another thing that pits women against one another.

Then, if you are living the girlboss lifestyle and are finally deemed successful, often what you are left with is insane amounts of work and a system in which you quantify your worth based on your work achievements. You are not respected as a woman unless you meet the girlboss requirements. This generates a toxic perception of your value as a person and benefits a capitalistic society that has been set in place by the patriarchal system that actual feminists work hard to take down. 

“Gaslight, gatekeep, girlboss” has also been a common phrase over the past few months. It is meant as an ironic statement of the three toxic G words. Gaslight is to confuse someone of their realities, gatekeep is to keep things to oneself to benefit from them, and to girlboss? Well, that’s what this whole article is about. 

As funny as this phrase is, it represents a kind of binary, mostly a white performative kind of feminism that convinces women that if they simply work in the systems created by white men they are worthy. 

The concept of working hard and taking over the jobs of men seems like the picture of a perfect feminist. However, therein lies the issue. There is no perfect feminist. Feminism is not about chalking up your achievement to quantifiable actions. When we manufacture this girlboss woman it only creates more pressure to live up to yet another standard, but this time, we as women are creating it for ourselves. 

We need to dismantle all ideas of what women are “meant” to be. In a corporate system that is working against us, we created strong praise for the women who made it. By doing so, we leave behind the women who either do not make it or do not want that path, and in turn, are telling them they are not good enough. Let’s put an end to imitating the toxic behaviors of men and calling it feminism.