GIRL BOSS. EMPOWERING OR PATRONISING?

Are appendages necessary for those already finding their own way in modern society?


BY mEGAN rEES: Literature Columnist


From the “she believed she could so she did” Instagram quotes to the powder-pink power suits, the Girlboss dominated our social media feeds from around 2014 until June 2020.

And so did phrases like “She-E-O” and “bossbabe”, all seemingly encouraging the same brand of explicitly feminine drive and ambition. We might cringe at these words now (perhaps some of us always have), but they sparked a movement of ambitious young women carving out a space for themselves in the traditionally male-dominated world of business.

What is a Girlboss?

Made popular by Sophia Amoruso’s best-selling autobiography #Girlboss, the phrase came to represent a type of particularly feminine success and ambition. Gone (in theory) were the days where women felt forced to take on more masculine traits to be successful in business. The idea was they could be successful on their own terms – while both looking and acting like women.

But, Girlboss was about more than just ambition – it was an aesthetic, a way of looking as well as acting. You might recognise the pink powersuits, perfectly-manicured nails, girly home offices, and planners covered with inspirational quotes in extravagant lettering.

Girlboss challenged ideas of what success should look like. But did she do this at the expense of fostering another impossible ideal for women to live up to?

Did she inadvertently widen the cultural gap between men and women, carving out a space in society for women but essentially enforcing the idea they are not equal to men, rather than disproving it?

“Have we ever heard about boy bosses?”

While the movement sought to uplift and empower, the term instead seems to deny women authority and maturity in the world of business. Referring to grown to women as ‘girls’ serves only to infantalise and patronise rather than uplift.



You can almost imagine a ‘Girlboss’ as a child playing dress up in her mother’s business suit, humoured by those around her about the power and authority she actually has.

The term appears not to promote equality within the workplace, but rather reinforces the idea that women actually aren’t equal to men after all. If she were, why would she need the prefix ‘girl’ before the title ‘boss’?

And as Madgdalena Zawisza asks: “have we ever heard about boy bosses?” Male bosses don’t need a prefix, because power is often assumed to be male.

How many times have you used the word ‘boss’ to describe an unnamed individual, and had those around you instantly start using the pronouns ‘he/him’ to refer to them throughout the rest of the conversation?

Girlboss doesn’t challenge the idea of a ‘boss’ typically being a man, but instead, further displaces women from traditional ideas of power by infantalising and patronising their authority.

And as well as this, the movement has been frequently criticised for enforcing an ideal that’s not only unachievable for anyone who is not already wealthy, but is overwhelmingly targeted towards white women, ignoring issues of both class and race.

So, what now?

Since the decline of the Girlboss in June 2020, are we better off?

While the fall of the Girlboss most certainly doesn’t mean the end of female leadership and power, does it leave space for a more inclusive workplace, where bosses can succeed and feel respected irrespective of their gender? Or is there need for more drastic change?

Girlboss was a small progressive step for our society, but we have a lot further to go.


MACKAYAN: girlboss. empowering or patronising?



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