Everybody knows a #GirlBoss. She wears $100 feminist-themed t-shirts from Zara that were made by child laborers in Bangladeshi sweatshops. Bossypants by Tina Fey is her favorite book followed by Hillary Clinton’s What Happened. She attended an elite private university, joined a sorority, and still talks about it years later. She routinely orders uterus and #girlboss stickers on Etsy to paste onto her laptop and Hydro Flask water bottles. She shops at Reformation. She thinks that there should be “more women in finance,” and only tips her Uber Eats delivery driver 10%.
She retweets Nancy Pelosi with captions like “yasss queen” and subscribes to The Wing along with Man Repeller. She loves SNL. Not to mention that she exclusively cooks recipes from Alison Roman (a.k.a. recipes by women of color that Alison Roman whitewashed.) She’s also vegan and mocks those who aren’t. She goes to SoulCycle every weekend and posts about it all over social media. She fat shames. She posts on her Instagram about the Women’s March but not about Black Lives Matter. Well, actually, maybe she posted a black square.
She’s a #GirlBoss – a.k.a the white feminist on our Twitter feed, behind us in line at Starbucks, and talking over us in our college classes.
The term #Girlboss was first coined by Sophia Amoruso, a designer who transformed her eBay shop into the fast-fashion empire known as Nasty Gal. Amoruso and Nasty Gal developed a cult following and was labeled the “Cinderella of tech” by the New York Times. Amoruso published an autobiography titled #GirlBoss detailing the rise of her company. She also founded the website “Girlboss media,” a community and networking platform for “ambitious women,” where she charged up to $1,400 to provide female entrepreneurs with advice.
In 2015, however, four employees sued Amoruso and Nasty Gal, claiming that they had been fired due to pregnancy. At that point, Nasty Gal also came under fire for their toxic working conditions and their cheap, unsustainable clothing. The company went bankrupt. Amoruso stepped down as CEO of Nasty Gal in 2015 and left Girlboss this June because of the effects of COVID-19 on the company.
The #GirlBoss movement truly erupted with Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign in 2016. As the first female presidential candidate nominated by a major political party in the United States, Clinton became an immediate icon. Her campaign revolved around feminism and her groundbreaking rise to the top of the American political system that is built upon the oppression of non-white people.
From bumper stickers to hats, women were ready to embrace the first female president while quietly choosing to ignore Clinton’s support of war along with US imperialism in Iraq and Afghanistan, and covert relationships with rapists Harvey Weinstein and Jeffrey Epstein. I’m not saying that we shouldn’t uplift and support women who run for political positions. We just shouldn’t support women in power just for the sake of having a woman in office. To do so is masked misogyny at its finest. We need to hold our politicians accountable for their actions, regardless of gender.
After Clinton’s loss, two more feminist movements erupted, the first being the Women’s March. As soon as Donald Trump was elected as president, women across the country began mobilizing in protest to Trump’s sexist and predatorial actions. The Women’s March was born and on the day of Trump’s inauguration, women in pink pussy cat hats and sequined vagina posters with glittery feminist phrases marched across the country.
The marches became a haven for white, cis-gender women to place themselves at the center of all political oppression. Women took photos with their genital laden decor, disregarding the fact that not all women have vaginas. They chanted about birth control while ignoring that poor women of color will be ones most affected by Trump’s stances on women’s reproductive health. And at the end of the day, most of them hung up their pink hat, posted their Instagram pic, and fell soundly asleep while forgetting that 53% of white women voted for Trump. And 94% of Black women voted for Hillary Clinton.
In 2006, Black feminist activist Tarana Burke founded the “Me Too” movement, using the now-popularized phrase to support and uplift survivors of sexual assault and raise awareness of sexual abuse. In 2017 however, she found her hard work co-opted by actress Alyssa Milano who one day tweeted: “If you’ve been sexually harassed or assaulted write ‘me too’ as a reply to this tweet.” The #MeToo movement erupted within Hollywood, as several women brought forward rape allegations against famed director Harvey Weinstein.
Actresses stood in solidarity at The Oscars, The Golden Globes, and told harrowing and brave stories about their experiences with sexual assault, without using their privilege and status to uplift the low-income, women of color that Tarana Burke originally intended to help. White women like Scarlet Johansson raised awareness about sexual assault, yet continued to directly participate in an industry that mistreats people of color. For example, Johansson continues to support director Woody Allen, a sexual predator and was cast to play the lead character, a Japenese woman, in the white-washed film Ghost in the Shell, based on the Japanese comic.
Recently, however, these corporate feminist establishments have come crumbling down. As the Black Lives Matter movement began to erupt alongside a global pandemic which dismantled chunks of the economy, it resulted in the cancellation of several white feminist brands and companies. One being The Wing, founded by Audrey Gelman, a women’s working space and social club with extremely high dues, which came under fire for its lack of intersectionality and its treatment of employees of color. As a result, Gelman, a former Clinton staffer, stepped down.
Tina Fey, the trailblazing comedian and television show writer, has been including racist stereotypes in her TV shows for years. Characters in 30 Rock do Blackface. In The Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt, a white female actress plays a Native American character.
Even Man Repeller, a popular fashion and lifestyle media platform has been canceled for its insensitive, inaccessible articles that catered only to the white and wealthy. Additionally, the company fired only people of color during the pandemic, which is certainly not a coincidence. It’s intentional. Popular clothing brand Reformation, which has prospered under its guise of “sustainability,” faced allegations for their racist behavior against POC customers and employees. Christene Barberich, the co-founder of Refinery29, stepped down after it was reported that she paid Black writers less than white writers.
The reign of the #Girlboss has met its decline. And, while that might seem like a loss for feminism, it’s actually a step forward. There’s never been anything wrong with female empowerment. However, to critique feminism isn’t to invalidate it. Feminist movements have always been exclusionary of women of color, and the recent wave of millennial, corporate feminism isn’t exempt.
The “nasty woman,” “I’m with her,” “girlboss,” “future CEO” feminism was never about dismantling the patriarchal systems that continue to suppress women. It was always about infiltrating these systems and thriving under them. Corporate feminists continue to use the guise of gender equality to propagate their capitalist gain, without considering those who are preyed upon by a capitalist system.
Racial inequality and violence against non-binary and trans women were never issues that the #Girlbosses cared to solve. In order to truly dismantle the patriarchy, women must think of ways to deconstruct the corporations that oppress, instead of joining them.
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