According to Urban Dictionary, “Girlboss” is a term used to describe a woman who is self-made, running their own business, and acting as their own boss. The concept of a girl boss is becoming highly publicized over time through internet use and social media and women's ability to create online stores and cultivate their own businesses. The term itself sounds great. However, over time, it seems to have taken a negative turn. It seems "girl boss" has become a joke at the expense of ambitious women trying to create their own path in the world. Women need to be aware of this timeline and recognize how a phrase meant to empower women can be warped into the butt of the joke.
The term ‘girl boss’ was coined by Sophia Amoruso who began a fast-fashion retail site from eBay known as ‘NastyGal’ in the early 2010s, as highlighted in her book “#Girlboss.” She built herself an empire and an online shopping experience that offered affordable clothing. Ultimately the company, like any, has faced challenges and has gone through bankruptcy more than once. However, if you look up NastyGal today, the clothing site is still up and running, giving hope that the company is still alive and well.
The question then becomes what are the core aspects of a ‘girl boss’? Karen Schneider’s 2016 blog article says that there are “12 Ways To Make Sure You're Becoming A #GirlBoss, Not A Mean Girl” The list is as follows:
1. Know what you want, and how to ask for it.
2. Have ambition, and always set (and reevaluate) goals.
3. Respect yourself and your body.
4. Be confident in yourself and your abilities.
5. Focus on the future, not the past.
6. Be considerate of all people.
7. Know that your only competition is the reflection in the mirror.
8. Avoid gossip or bragging.
9. Know when to be a b*tch, and when to be a lady.
10. Keep private matters private.
11. Recognize that happiness is a choice, and it's one you must make every day.
12. Support and empower other females.
The ‘girl boss would change how businesses were run, long gone where the days of sexual harassment, discrimination, and toxic work environments, those days were over, the ‘girl boss’ was a symbol for change. Or so people thought, as cited by the Michigan Daily in the article “Gaslight, gatekeep: How “girl boss” went from aspirational to insulting”, writer Abby Synder discusses what the ‘girl boss’ was imagined to be versus what she actually became.
“We wanted the girl boss to fix everything that was wrong in our workplaces: the competitiveness, the workaholism, the fraternity-style sexist collegiality, the racism. The girl boss was supposed to represent a change in the workplace, but more than that, she was supposed to bring that change to the workplace. Instead, she was right at home there within all of these workaholic, toxic patriarchal structures, and we couldn’t forgive her for it."
However, the term girl boss has taken a bit of a nasty turn and in an article by Early Magazine, writer Isabell Solane discusses how the word has become a slur. In terms of how it's trended on social media platforms like TikTok, the phrase is perceived more as a joke. “Meanwhile, phrases like, “They hate to see a girl boss winning,” “Just a girl boss building her empire,” and “Gaslight, gatekeep, girl boss” has taken off as ironic Gen Z catchphrases used to poke fun at clueless millennials who once uncritically bought into the notion that craven careerism is somehow inherently empowering”. This also highlights generational differences and the values of Gen Z and Millenials.
Whereas millennials bought into girl boss culture and played an integral part in it Gen Z sees it as fake and demeaning. Annie Z., a 22-year-old who recently graduated in St. Louis, Miss, runs a Twitter account Girlboss OTD, and claims that “‘a girl boss is someone who steps on people on their way to the top”. The girl boss doesn’t seem to be a friend in her eyes or a cool boss you want to hang out with outside of work. In fact, the article by Solane goes on to define what a girl boss really is considered today, “The girl boss is effectively a millennial Karen, only ten years younger and with a better haircut. Instead of making a fuss with the manager, she’s the manager herself, exclusively looking out for her own interests while ignoring the needs of her overworked, underpaid employees.” Although the phrase aligns with feminism, in theory. In practice it actually seems very anti-feminist based on the articles shown, thus making it a joke to younger generations.
How did this idea fall so far from grace? To put it simply: scammers. We all know about pyramid schemes, and somehow they wormed their way into the idea of a girl boss. In an article from gen medium, writer Leigh Stein quotes Jia Tolentino from her essay, “The Story of a Generation in Seven Scams,” as saying this on the girlboss “The feminist scammer rarely sets out to scam anyone...She just wants to be successful, again the agency that men claim so easily, to have the sort of life she wants. She should be able to have that shouldn’t she?” The feminist scammer in Tolentino’s words is a part of the downfall of the ‘girl boss’ as this is what allows the joke to enter their conversation. A ‘girl boss’ isn’t real, she's just going to try to sell you on some cheap hair product or clothing brand and get you to join the brand that she’s selling as a way to move up the pyramid, ultimately not caring what happens to you in the process. The ‘girl boss’ is in it for herself, and doesn’t care who she steps on to get there, thus the idea of ‘girl boss’ became a joke.
The joke continues on with the phrase “Gatekeep, Gaslight, Girlboss” a play on words from “Live, Laugh, Love”. However, let’s break this down a little further. ‘Gatekeep’, according to Urban Dictionary, refers to when a person tries to take it upon themselves to decide who does or does not have access or rights to a community or identity. ‘Gaslighting’ is a form of manipulation where someone or a group of people get you to question your perception of events or reality, seen as a form of emotional abuse. ‘Girlboss’ is about the mocking of the intended definition of a 'girlboss'. In particular, Gen Z uses this as a phrase for something they hate, and the phrase always has a satirical connotation.
Another TikTok favorite taking social media by storm is the phrase “I think I may have girl bossed a bit too close to the sun” which basically means that someone has taken on more than they meant to, or has found themselves in a position they are not sure how they got into. An article from The Link, explains further, “it’s not uncommon to meet someone who is juggling a part-time job, a full course load, freelance work, and involvement in student life. This does not account for time to maintain personal relationships and social life, or room for self-care. After a friend tells me about their laundry list of responsibilities, I nod knowingly and say, “You’re girl bossing too close to the sun." The phrase has to do with taking on more than you can handle, from work to school, and personal life. We can overwork ourselves, and that can, unfortunately, lead to our own downfall. Meaning, if you fly too close to the sun then you’re bound to get burned or fall from the sky.
The ‘girl boss’ is not as fallen as we have all been led to believe. However, she has evolved, especially within social media. Whereas a ‘girl boss’ was usually defined as a cis, straight, white millennial girl boss who was in the hustle game for herself, the idea has shifted from the tyrannical boss to what you can do for yourself. Now known by a different name, “that girl” is now the achievable goal for women, rather than being a ‘girl boss’. ‘That girl’ is who women aspire to be, who has her life together, and is the embodiment of ‘wellness’ from food to fitness, self-care, and career, ‘that girl has it all together and is living her best life. That girl is also mostly about the focus on the self; self-care, self-actualization instead of then changing herself for others. She seeks to evolve into the best form of herself. Is your goal for next year to become “that girl”?
This has to do with ideas of ambition, and what it means to be an ambitious woman. The demise of the ‘girl boss’ has begun to redefine what it means to be an ambitious woman and how to be one as well, given that it’s being called into question if women can still be ambitious without being labeled without a negative connotation. Ambition can feel risky as it relates to the ‘girl boss’ who has been proven to be “unsuccessful”. TWN-SDSU seeks to guide, inspire, and create ambitious young women in the world. Where ambition in workspaces and ‘girl bosses’ have been stigmatized, TWN seeks to destigmatize and cultivate ambitious women who can lead and elevate themselves, their careers, and other TWN members no matter how long it takes.