Why the “Girlboss” Culture Created More Harm than Good

Woman sitting in a red coach wearing a business casual outfit

In 2014, Sophia Amoruso’s “Girlboss” novel launched the birth of a new era of feminist ideals in the workplace. Out was the concept of women simply playing supporting characters to others in their professional lives and in was the boss defeating the patriarchy to conquer it all. “Girlboss” culture, as it turns out, is embedded in white privilege, toxicity, and overworking.

Amoruso’s autobiography attempted to disprove the idea that “girlbosses” can’t exist. She attempted to show that women aren’t constrained by the systemic patriarchal barriers that block a woman’s professional accomplishments and earning potential. Nevermind that Amoruso first gained access to real money by working at a Borders bookstore and stealing stacks of bestselling novels to resell on eBay for profit.

Amoruso’s ability to spin her tail of shoplifting, stealing, and lying to justify how these actions allowed her to later found Nasty Gal, an online vintage store full of curated pieces chosen specifically by Amoruso herself, is a privilege no woman of color posseses. Nasty Gal later became a multi-million dollar empire - only to file for bankruptcy and collapse years later.

Amoruso then took the money from that deal and launched none other than the cutely titled Girlboss Media.

This isn’t to say Amoruso didn’t work - she certainly did. It isn’t easy to manage inventory or create a brand all on one’s own, and Amoruso put in the work that got her to her goals. However, Amoruso’s peddling of the “girlboss” mentality being 100% accessible for all lacks the same intersectionality lens that Sheryl Sandberg’s Lean In did just a year prior to #Girlboss’s original publication in 2014.

White feminism and and self-identifying white feminists often achieve their success at the expense of women around them, usually, women of color or women of lower economic status or privilege. The latest example coming from the notable implosion of “The Wing,” a women’s co-working space that raised millions of dollars peddling diversity and inclusion while they were internally mistreating their employees of color to the point where a high-profile digital walkout was staged.

There’s no doubt that what Amoruso created provided value in empowering many in the next generation of women, but one can’t deny that she only got as far as she did by leveraging her white privilege, just as countless “self-made” white women have done before. Amoruso’s ability to get a job at a museum for health insurance just long enough to treat the lump in her breast, then promptly quitting that job to pursue her passion full-time, is a direct testament that her existence is on an opposite plane of reality to the one women of color and lower-income women live in.

Girlboss culture is coming to an end.

For too many years, the girlboss and lean-in phrases dominated every professional development conference aimed at attracting Millennial and Gen-X female workers. Overcommitting to your job to the point of developing health issues, losing relationships to favor professional accolades, and missing out on time with yourself to get a promotion is finally mostly on its way out.

With the death of girlboss culture also comes an abrupt slamming of the door on unhealthy relationships with work as women (especially Latina women) left the workforce altogether at shocking rates due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The pandemic exposed inequalities in the workplace, the same inequalities that white women have benefitted from for years, even in pre-pandemic times.

Amoruso’s book taught women that the harder you work, the bigger the reward (essentially a rebranding of the “pulling yourself up by the bootstraps” rhetoric we’ve all been told). A silly anecdote about mistaking a Victoria’s Secret credit card for an in-store offer that destroyed Amoruso’s credit and didn’t allow her to finance the six-figure Porsche she wanted (but was able to purchase in cash, thanks to her great savings habits!) years later would be seen as ignorant were it told by a woman of color, sans the ability to buy the Porsche in cash, of course.

Where financial literacy is seen as a default for privileged, white, college-educated women, it is not as accessible and even foreign for those raised for generations without. The end of girlboss culture finally puts to rest the false notion that the hustle lifestyle is sustainable. In a world where Latinas and women of color are still earning only a fraction of a white man’s salary despite professional achievements, there is no room for myths based on patriarchy and white supremacy.

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