Scroll on your TikTok “For You” page and within ten minutes or less, it’s highly likely that you’ll land on at least one video with a comment along the lines of “girlboss” or “girlbossing too close to the sun.” It’s a fluid term that Gen-Z has gotten a hold of and now uses in a wide variety of contexts.
The term “girl boss” originates from entrepreneur Sophia Amoruso, best known for creating vintage clothing company “Nasty Gal.” In her 2014 eponymous book, a girlboss is someone “whose success is defined in opposition to the masculine business world in which she swims upstream.” Right from the start, Amoruso defines the term as one of empowerment. It is catered towards the female-identifying population and aims to encourage more people to have confidence and courage in the world of business and entrepreneurship.
This sounds good. It’s a rose in a field of thorns.
But what if you pick up the rose, only to find that there are several smaller thorns on its stem?
Since its inception, the word has caused controversy and confusion. What’s more interesting is that many of the negative emotions towards this term come from the very population it’s supposed to benefit: women.
Vicky Spratt, a writer from Refinery29 said, “...this word is a sexist Trojan horse. It appears to raise women up, to carve out space for us in a working world still too crowded with men and purports to offer us a bit of the boardroom we can call our own. But in reality it denies us agency, it diminishes us and denigrates our authority. A girl is a young woman – to suggest that a female worker or leader is a #girlboss directly infantilizes her. If we weren’t so scared of women’s power we wouldn’t need to do this, to make it more palatable by rolling it in glitter and pinkwashing it.”
Clearly, there are many hidden thorns.
Many women find the term to be a toxic representation of hustle culture or a sheer mockery of female empowerment. Rather than redefining success, it’s ridiculing it. However, the phrase seems to carry a more positive connotation on certain platforms dominated by younger demographics, such as TikTok. Whether you’re finally in your dream relationship or you just broke up with your significant other, if you’re partying all night long or at home doing homework, if you’re working four jobs or if you’re working one, it doesn’t matter – you’re a girlboss. At least, that’s how Gen-Z seems to see it. On one hand, it’s nice to see a term intended for good use being revived, but these new definitions are still used in toxic ways that justify overworking yourself or water down accomplishments.
I know that for me, I’ve primarily used the term to brush off or dilute bouts of serious burnout. For all practical purposes, the term has become a coping mechanism of sorts. It allows me and my friends to justify feeling like you’re not doing enough and then as a result, doing too much under the premise of an experience that everyone is supposedly aiming for. After all, wouldn’t everyone want to “girlboss” if they ideally could? The idea of “girlbossing” or “girlbossing too close to the sun” can come across as something that one wants to reach, but in an attempt to reach it, you might end up doing more harm than good.
According to Lily Nevo, a columnist from The Daily Northwestern, “Sarcastically calling any woman who takes initiative a “girlboss” inexplicitly undermines her power and mocks her ambition. Though explicitly misogynistic language is rarely employed, the fact that a synonym for successful woman has become one of the most popular insults reveals that internalized misogyny plagues even those who claim to be the strongest proponents of intersectional feminism. Simply put, calling out girlbosses for upholding the patriarchy is misogynistic in its own right.”