BY Freya Cormack

When the term "Girl Boss" rose to popularity in the mid 2010s, it was received warmly. Emblematic of a resurgence in feminism, it quickly became a hashtag and slogan mostly used to celebrate successful women in business.

But what was intended to be the slogan for female empowerment has now become a symbol of the corporatisation of feminism.

'Girl Bosses' came to the scene as proof that women can benefit from capitalism in the same way men have. But perhaps we expected too much from them. Perhaps we hoped that Girl Bosses would come in and even out the playing field by making the male-dominated corporate world a better place for all women.

But the women who have advanced to leadership positions in these spaces are specifically chosen because they aren’t interested in rocking the boat; they realise that their success depends on their conformity to the existing system.

Girl Bosses advocate for women to change themselves to fit the system instead of actively trying to change the system to accommodate more women into positions of power and authority.

The archetype of the Girl Boss is a 20 or 30-something year old wealthy, white woman who has risen through the ranks within a company, or who has started some kind of brand of her own. She isn’t a nurse, teacher or retail worker – she’s a big corporate boss lady.

The founders of these brands aren’t afraid to broach the subject of feminism and will fill their Instagram feeds with millennial pink “Girl Power” graphics and quotes from Gloria Steinem.

It is feminism packaged in its most accessible way: pretty, young, white women attending ego-stroking networking events and panels, posing for photos against a floral backdrop. And it’s certainly a more palatable form of feminism than street protests, women’s shelters and volunteering at a reproductive health clinic.

Since Girl Bosses are by and large concerned with money-making, they need to seem politically and socially engaged, but not so much that they alienate their more conservative follower demographic. However, they need only challenge the status quo just a little to get the politically conscious on board as customers.

A broader implication of the #GirlBoss movement is its association to the increasing commodification of feminism. Feminism is now a product that you can purchase in the form of a t-shirt, canvas tote bag or membership with a women-only co-working space.

The more mainstream and commercialised a social movement gets, the easier it is for the masses to adopt its stance without truly understanding the philosophy and purpose that underpins it.

The fashion industry has gleefully taken advantage of the prevalence of mainstream feminism despite being an industry that fails to empower women – especially those making its products.

Take SHEIN, for example. This fast fashion brand is renowned for its trendy, mass-produced ultra-cheap clothing that is infamously poor quality. SHEIN sells a $5.95 t-shirt emblazoned with the words “FEMINIST AF”. Ironic, huh.

This is a brand with allegedly unethical manufacturing practices that provides almost no transparency about its supply chain. So, it’s safe to assume that feminism is not a concern for the executives at SHEIN.

However, nothing lasts forever and the reign of the #GirlBoss seems to be nearing its end.

The fall from grace of the Girl Boss came swiftly with dozens of prominent bloggers and brand owners being embroiled in scandal after scandal. The weeks following June’s Black Lives Matter protests saw the dethroning of many Girl Bosses who were exposed for tolerating or even perpetuating racism and discrimination in their workplaces.

Pressure from a hyper socially aware public has ousted or called-out leaders and executives behind brands like Reformation, Celine, Anthropologie, Glossier and Everlane. Beloved high-end bohemian Australian label Zimmerman was also called out for its allegedly discriminatory staff grooming guidelines.

A similar exodus has occurred in the media space, notably with executives at popular Condé Nast title Bon Appetit facing numerous accusations of discrimination and racism.

Fashion industry watchdog, DietPrada (@dietprada on Instagram) has taken to calling out a number of Girl Boss darlings for bad behaviour. Popular influencer Arielle Charnas who is behind the blog Something Navy, was called out for repeatedly flouting coronavirus guidelines and stealing designs from smaller creators for her clothing line.

The problem with all this is not feminism itself. Feminism has been weaponised for commercial means when in reality it serves a purpose much different to the goals of most Girl Bosses.

2020 has shown that women are becoming more aware of the problems with the #GirlBoss movement. Women want diversity, inclusivity and a deviation from consumerism in their feminism. Girl Bosses will have to shape up to these rising expectations, or else they’ll be shown to the door.

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