Girlboss.

The television show Girl Boss debuted on Netflix in 2017, depicting the life of Sophia Amuroso, female founder and CEO of the company Nastygal. The show was considered a flop, with only a 32% on rotten tomatoes, and was canceled after one season. Despite the lack of success of the show, the term ‘girlboss’ has now become ingrained into popular culture.

Sophia Amoruso’s book Girlboss which inspired the TV show

What is a girl boss? Abby Snyder for The Michigan Daily said it best. She is “the early-2000s postfeminist caricature of the career woman. You know the type: the queen of the stiletto-heeled walk-and-talk, she’s working 24/7…constantly cradles her phone between her shoulder and her ear so she can multitask and has a stylish designer wardrobe far beyond what her salary could realistically buy.” Think part Gwyneth Paltrow, part Meryl Streep’s character in The Devil Wears Prada, part office Barbie. Does this trope of women in the workplace uplift female success, or make a mockery of career-driven women?

Recently, two shows depicting versions of the girlboss have gained rapid popularity. Netflix’s Inventing Anna tells the story of Anna Sorokin, who scammed prominent New Yorkers into believing she was a German heiress, and eventually faced jail time for fraud. Hulu’s The Dropout follows Elizabeth Holmes, founder of the infamous biotechnology company Theranos, who was also convicted of fraud after lying about the success of the company’s products. It is interesting to me that these two shows, where the girlboss characters in question are frauds who are ultimately taken down, have gained such popularity. Meanwhile the original Girlboss was poorly received, with part of the critique being that Sophia Arruso’s character (a successful girlboss)  was “unlikeable.” What can this tell us about the true perception of the girlboss? Is everyone secretly rooting to see her fail?

Amanda Seyfried Portraying Theranos CEO Elizabeth Holmes in The Dropout

The “girlboss” has become a highly used meme on social media platform Tik Tok. A popular sound espouses the phrase “gaslight, gatekeep, girlboss” as the motto of the girl boss thought process. A popular joke has been made of “girlbossing too close to the sun,” when one is successful with the cunning tactics of a girlboss and finds themself in a position of power or achievement, insinuating that they did not really earn this accolade but “girlbossed” their way into it- exploiting the imposter syndrome felt by many sucessful women. In this case, girlboss is being used ironically, making fun of women that achieve success and leadership roles in their careers. 

Two Tiktoks, both utilizing a sound that says, “I fear I may have girlbossed too close to the sun.”

At best, the girlboss trope is an oversimplified, shallow portrayal of successful women. Often the branding of a girlboss is emphasized more than the quality and merit of her work. She conforms to very specific norms of dress and appearance. She is a model of greedy capitalist aspirations, as she is always money  and material success driven.  At worst, the girlboss displays the stunning amount of sexism still found  in the workplace. The term becoming a joke and an insult makes a mockery of women in power in the workplace, implying it is a negative thing to be an ambitious and career driven woman. 

Despite significant progress in the last few decades towards equality in the workforce, there is a large leadership gap between men and women. In the United States, women hold just 21% of senior leadership positions, according to a Forbes Insight Study. This now meme of the girlboss highlights the stereotypes women who achieve these high positions often face. 

While policy cannot eliminate the use of the girlboss meme, improving the number of women in high level positions can help change the narrative around women in power. Despite growing numbers of qualified female employees, this can be difficult because women are often discouraged or overlooked for high level roles. One way to invest in the future of female leadership is developing pipeline programs which invest resources in promising potential female leaders. Additionally, increasing childcare accessibility can take pressures off of women to stay home after having children, a common reason given for the leadership gap. Both of these actions could be enacted into government programs, or carried within private companies. Either way, providing more resources like these can help to ensure more women in the workplace make it into high positions, dismantling the stigma around successful women.

5 thoughts on “Girlboss.

  1. I’m so happy that you brought up accessible childcare as a possible solution to this problem, because I think that the looming stereotypical expectation for young women to put their careers on hold to start a family is one of the most damaging forces to having females in leadership positions. I think that by working to abolish this societal expectation, not only would the issue be directly lessened by the increase of women in the workforce, but the indirect effects of normalizing women in positions of power would offer young girls so many more female role models to inspire them.

    I also love the way that your analysis links the term “Girlboss” with imposter syndrome. While “girlboss” does put forth an image of feminine empowerment in the workforce, we see no equivalent “boyboss” figure to accompany it, implying that men and their corporate behaviors are the norm, and that anything else should stand out (i.e., seem like an imposter). I had never considered this implication of the term “girlboss” before, but I really appreciate the new insights and perspective that it brings to the conversation. Overall, I really enjoyed this blog post!

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    1. I totally agree with Sarah’s point about child care policy. I believe the biggest barrier for women to succeed comes when they have a kid. I know a lot of people around me who don’t want to have a child or want to delay having a child as much as possible. Even though many policy changes have been made, I think the pressure for women to take care of babies is still more held to women than men.

      Also, it was very interesting how you pointed out the popularity of Girl boss and Inventing Anna. I actually never heard about girl boss, but I watched Investing Anna. So reading your blog was very insightful about my Netflix watchlist.

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  2. Hi Jayden, I really enjoyed reading your blog post. I have heard the term “Grilboss” and the ever famous phase “Gaslight, Gatekeep, Girlboss” all over social media and especially tik tok. However, I wasn’t aware that the term/concept was really raised from the show, so that was good to know. Whenever I see the memes about “Grilbossing towards the sun,” I usually just laugh it off and don’t take it too seriously, but thinking about that in a more critical way is a very interesting take. Sure, making memes about “girl bosses” are funny, however, they are also undermining the presence of women in power. Another interesting thing I noticed on social media, is that it is mostly women themselves that are making these memes, which makes me wonder if the term “girl boss” in its inherent birth was not meant to be taken seriously but rather just a dark irony. That again is problematic, considering how a woman being successful is so blasphemous that people needed to make the term “girl boss” to cope with that fact. A lot of portrayals of successful women on television turn out to be very two-dimensional, a woman either is nurturing and caring or she is a “girl boss.” It is interesting how being a “girl boss” is so out of nature for a woman, that they essentially forgo all other “feminine” aspects, to become this greedy, cold, money-driven machine.

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    1. I like that you use the TV shows as examples in which such characters are made out to be frauds, thus propelling the imposter syndrome that surrounds this topic. I think that this can also be projected onto the rest of a workplace in some cases where female employees are seen as only present due to diversity programs. It propels the notion that women would need “help” to achieve such career success if other employees group against a faction that they see as unfairly advantaged. Therefore, I think that it is an important concept to maintain pipeline programs like you mentioned, but without any variations in the recruiting/interview process that I know some companies have. Women are capable of achieving the same success, and being able to enforce this notion amongst other employees will decrease the societal pressure of imposter syndrome.

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  3. I’ve never seen either of these two shows, however, they did pique my interest. It is very intriguing how they have gained so much traction and they’re involving the downfall of women becoming successful. I think this really has to do with the fact that although it’s getting better, people still hold these gender stereotypes against women and what they should and should not be good at. People still think that women don’t really deserve/have a place in the workforce. You see this everywhere, I worked with a group this past month on increasing the number of female applicants and females who get hired at internship and entry-level positions at Credit Suisse. Reading over their reports they were trying to increase the number to a mere 42%. Looking over their Gender 3000 report you could see the huge disparities between men and women in finance, implying that their company and essential other banking companies didn’t necessarily think that women had a place in banking. My team also worked on ways that Credit Suisse could support women, and just as you had here, we said childcare as well as some other things!

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