When the term "girl boss" first became popularized in 2014, the intention was to encourage female entrepreneurs. The "girl boss" was meant to empower women in the business world and show that women could be just as successful as men. On the surface level, it makes sense: women should be allowed to take up space in the corporate world, to hold just as many positions of power. However, the "girl boss" mentality isn't quite so simple, especially when we consider the role of capitalism in the concept of the "girl boss." When we say "girl boss," what do we really mean?
The idea of seeing more female CEOs and business owners isn't necessarily bad: many female-owned businesses can absolutely be supported and celebrated. The issue is when we decide to support every female-owned business and every female CEO without first evaluating how these businesses run and how their CEOs have attained their success, especially under capitalism.
Take, for example, Sophia Amoruso, who first popularized the term "girl boss." Amoruso was known as the founder of clothing company Nasty Gal. With her best-selling book #Girlboss and the initial success of Nasty Gal, Amoruso could be celebrated as a successful woman, but doing so would ignore the multiple controversies and issues surrounding Nasty Gal. The company is often regarded as a "fast fashion" brand, having detrimental effects on the environment. Nasty Gal has also run into a number of lawsuits, including a pregnancy discrimination suit. Workers at a Nasty Gal supplier also alleged that they were working in sweatshop conditions with over $3 million in unpaid wages. In a more recent instance, Kendall and Kylie Jenner were accused of withholding pay from Bangladeshi factory workers producing their clothing line in June.
Should we still be supporting these women as "girl bosses" and celebrating their success, even when their success was built on the exploitation of their workers and a disregard for sustainability?
One of the problems of glorifying female CEOs as "girl bosses" is that we ignore the fact that many of the most successful businesses are mainly successful due to unethical business practices. Plenty of male CEOs exploit the working class, and women are absolutely capable of doing the same. The "girl boss" mentality so often strives for women to hold the same positions and the same power as men, but should we really be aiming for women to exploit their laborers the same way many men do?
Refusing to support the "girl boss" isn't anti-woman, nor is it anti-feminist. As women, especially, we need to contend with the pitfalls of the "girl boss" attitude and whether the "girl boss" is the kind of feminism we want. Underpaying workers is not feminism, and female CEOs exploiting the cheap labor of female laborers overseas, especially, is not feminism. It's time to re-evaluate what being a "girl boss" really means: what are we really supporting when we support the "girl boss"?