What is the problem with girlboss feminism?


“We all know Kim Kardashian is a bad b**ch!” enthuses an article I read recently on the social media mogul. And if you aspire to a certain school of thought, she certainly is, as CEO of not one, but two, multibillion-dollar companies. But she was also born into money, and worshipping her as a “bad b**ch” ignores the arguably toxic culture she promotes. That’s why her recent advice to women in business to “get your f**king ass up and work” has caused a storm. Sure, she’s worked hard – but it’s way easier to launch your own brand when you started off from a position of wealth and brand recognisability.

Kardashian, and other influencers of our age, are synonymous of the problem with term ‘girlboss feminism.’ The concept celebrates successful businesswomen breaking the glass ceiling and making racks in the face of adversity. But it’s not that simple. Individual women being ‘girlbosses’ does not change the systematic oppression women face in the world of work. In fact, the whole point of girlboss feminism is not to attempt to break this down, but to be successful despite it. The girlboss doesn’t try to change the system in order to help all women, but just to advance herself, leaving the structures that victimise women intact.

Unsurprisingly, the girlbosses that dominate media and the top ranks of businesses are generally white, cisgender, conventionally attractive and wealthy

Girlboss feminism doesn’t address issues of unequal pay, sexual harassment, or dangerous working condition. It ignores complex issues such as race, sex, disability, and sexuality, which disadvantage millions of women attempting to make it in business. Unsurprisingly, the girlbosses that dominate the media and the top ranks of businesses are generally white, cisgender, conventionally attractive, and wealthy even before entering the corporate world. Girlboss feminism does nothing to open up pathways to those without this privilege.

Kardashian undoubtedly works hard at what she does – but she has a string of nannies to look after her kids; two full-time chefs; and the reassurance that she’s made of money. Telling women that they just need to work hard to achieve anything they want ignores the real-world factors that the majority have to contend with – factors that have never been in Kardashian’s way. We don’t all, despite what Molly-Mae Hague thinks, have the same 24 hours as Beyoncé. I’m sure Beyoncé never worked 40 hours a week at minimum wage.

In the years since its conception the term ‘girlboss’ has exploded – and big business loves it. It’s a snappy soundbite that makes it sound like companies are empowering and inclusive, celebrating a token symbol of diversity without doing anything truly meaningful to help women. It’s like how wearing a fast-fashion ‘girlboss’ T-shirt made by a child in a Bangladeshi sweatshop doesn’t really translate to being a champion of women’s rights.

And most girlbosses don’t do anything for feminism at all. Sophia Amoruso, the CEO who coined the term, has been accused of a litany of rather un-feminist crimes: racial discrimination, firing pregnant employees, copying other women’s designs, and abusive management. A Sunday Times investigation even exposed her company for paying workers in Leicester £3.50 an hour – when the minimum wage was £8.72. Molly-Mae Hague, as creative director of Pretty Little Thing, works for a company controversial for relying on modern-day slavery. And Kim Kardashian, who preaches the importance of “no toxic work environments,” is being sued for not paying employees, illegally employing underage workers, and refusing to give staff breaks during the working day.

Token symbol of diversity

It could even be argued that the original girlboss was Margaret Thatcher, who certainly broke through a glass ceiling in becoming the first female prime minister – but was hardly a champion for gender equality or women’s rights. This is all to say that this particular brand of feminism benefits the few, not the many – not exactly the point of a movement which is supposedly all about empowering women to achieve their dreams. Girlboss feminism is about working within, not fighting the patriarchy.

So why should we applaud a female billionaire any more than a male one? And what good does some CEOs being women do for the vast majority of us? We need a new kind of feminism to replace the problematic, elitist conception of the ‘girlboss’ feminist: one that actually empowers successful women, but also works to take down the system that prevents most women from achieving that kind of success. We could all benefit from celebrities like Kardashian keeping their mouths shut on the advice front. Kim, just have a day off – I’m sure you need it.


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