Within the past decade, feminists — namely social media savvy women — have popularized a new buzzword for the feminist movement: girl boss. It’s probably a phrase you’re familiar with — often seen printed on t-shirts, coffee mugs, desk plaques and everything in between at retail stores across the country. There’s even a company called Girl Boss Collection, where you can buy anything from “our future is female” sweatshirts to “girl power now and forever” notebooks.
There’s no doubt girl boss has become a popular, heavily marketed catch phrase for young feminists. But, what exactly is a girl boss?
According to The Free Dictionary, a girl boss is “A confident, capable woman who pursues her own ambitions instead of working for others or otherwise settling in life.” Powerful celebrities such as Michelle Obama, Beyonce and Kylie Jenner are a few notable women who have been given the title of “girl boss.”
The term was originally coined by Sophia Amoruso, former CEO and founder of the multi-million-dollar fashion company Nasty Gal. At 22, Amoruso began her career selling vintage clothes on eBay, which eventually led to the founding of Nasty Gal in 2006, according to her website,
In 2014, Amoruso released an autobiography titled “#Girlboss,” which recounts her rise to fame and fortune. After hitting over $100 million in revenue, Amoruso was named one of America’s richest self-made women by Forbes in 2016.
Unquestionably, Amoruso's story is filled with entrepreneurial success, yet it didn’t come without its problems. At the peak of her career in 2015-16, Amoruso faced a myriad of legal issues, such as copyright infringement and employee discrimination lawsuits. One woman sued Nasty Gal for discrimination after her and two other employees were laid off right before they were expected to take maternity leave, according to the New York Times.
On the surface, girl boss culture appears to be a notable contribution to feminism that celebrates women for taking leadership positions typically held by men. Yet, when taking a closer look, some believe girl boss feminism perpetuates the same systemic issues that continue to restrict women today.
“At times we think, ‘Yay! We have a woman in a powerful position who’s a CEO,’” Zoe Brown, junior political science major, said. “But, (women are) abusing workers in the same way that men are. (Women are) perpetuating the 40 hour work week, just like they are. (Women are) not paying women and men equally in her company, even though (they) made it to the top.”
While some take issue with the phrase “girl boss,” others believe it can be empowering for women and an important contribution to women’s liberation.
Abby Falgout, business administrative management major, said the girl boss movement, although not perfect, is still a worthwhile achievement for feminism.
“When I was growing up, people in leadership positions and roles, especially in the workplace, were typically associated with men,” Falgout said. “It’s encouraging women to remind them that they're equal to men and they deserve everything that a man is getting, so I do think it’s a step in the right direction.”
Girl boss feminism is a powerful brand, one that has provided feelings of empowerment and motivation for many women. Yet, as we praise the individual success stories of strong women climbing the corporate ladder, other women are left to deal with the ugly and discriminatory parts of the business world.
Gender discrimination in the workplace is a significant issue that affects many women today, but for Black women, it hits even harder. Not only do Black women get paid less than white men, they also get paid less than white women. For every dollar a white man makes, white women make 79 cents and Black women make 62 cents, according to Lean In, a global organization dedicated to gender equity efforts.
The same issues that have plagued women for years — the gender pay gap, childcare deserts and inaccessibility to affordable reproductive health care — continue to be left unaddressed today. Despite this, the focus still seems to be on girl bossdom — the highly corporatized, watered-down version of gender equality.
At the heart of girl boss culture, its intentions are good, and for future feminist movements, it does bring up an important point: women should have access to the same opportunities to lead happy and successful lives, just as men do.
It’s unclear how long the girl boss movement will ride on this century’s wave of feminism. Maybe one day it will be just a distant memory. Until then, if you feel emboldened to throw a #bossbabe or #girlpower onto your Instagram post, go for it. There’s no inherent harm in doing so, but don’t let your activism stop there. We still have a long way to go.
Follow Paige Nicewaner on Twitter, @danny__devitHoe
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