(Isabelle Lim | Daily Trojan Horse)

By Ye Ji Jong

Personal editor

Gaslight, gatekeep, girlboss – it seems to be the new mainstream motto for female empowerment. Female CEOs and entrepreneurs have pushed for women to enter male-dominated industries and rise to positions of power. From Wall Street to Big Tech, women are encouraged to “work their way to the top” and take over the public sphere. It is not what women can do for capitalism, but what capitalism can do for women. This all sounds empowering and liberating, so what’s the deal?

Girlboss feminism fails to address a key issue: how can we be empowered at the expense of exploitation?

To succeed in the game of capitalism, there must always be a loser for there to be a winner – and often women are the losers. The term girlboss was coined by Sophia Amoruso, founder of Nasty Gal, an author and “girl boss” who made her fortune building a fast fashion empire. She encouraged women to be unabashedly ambitious, to challenge masculinity in power, and to gain capital as a form of feminist activism.

Although she was successful, her fortune was built on anti-feminist beliefs. The North West Daily reported that “In June 2020, reports emerged of unsafe working conditions and insufficient wages at factories that supply Boohoo, the parent company of Nasty Gal. The report revealed that the factory was not following social distancing guidelines and workers were expected to continue working even after testing positive for coronavirus. Additionally, workers were paid just as little at $4.40 an hour.

While Amoruso succeeded, he came to underpay and exploit poor communities – the epitome of girlboss feminism. It is not about questioning the structure of capitalism or structural violence, but rather about gaining power within these systems to beat the man.

Often, gaining power in this capitalist context is also at the expense of other women. From sweatshops to sex work, female boss feminism tends to further marginalize and profit from these gendered and harmful types of work. Placing a woman in a position of power does not guarantee that she will make “feminist decisions”.

But Amoruso is not alone.

Nonprofit organizations and programs that claim to empower young girls to break into male-dominated fields can also produce similar results.

For example, Reshma Saujani, the founder of Girls Who Code, made powerful statements about accountability and activism at Yale’s 2022 commencement ceremony. She said, “[Our country] should do a lot more. It should provide health care and child care, save our planet and our democracy, make the rich pay their fair share. And yes, making workplaces pay,” referring to government accountability.

While his words had a lot of validity, I wondered if his work was keeping up with the times. Girls Who Code, a feminist organization dedicated to closing the gender gap in tech, has previously partnered with companies like Meta and the Boston Consulting Group for opportunities in augmented reality, music, and prep. of interviews. But, isn’t it ironic that the same words “making the rich pay their fair share” and “making workplaces pay” refer to these same companies? These Fortune 500 companies are responsible for widespread data collection and privacy breaches, harmful misinformation, and huge inflows. They represent unchecked capitalism, which is at the heart of structural gender violence.

But the problem is not women in positions of power who make harmful choices. The problem isn’t necessarily female feminism or those pipelines to unethical companies. In fact, I don’t think it’s fair to blame women or any type of feminism for the problems that capitalism and patriarchy have created. I think girlboss feminism and these pipelines are a product of oppression, because in all honesty, what other choice do women really have?

Men have succeeded with exploitative and aggressive tactics, but when girlboss feminists do it, it suddenly becomes a problem. Regardless of success or failure, women will be criticized for any type of activism. Marxist feminists are called “dangerous radicals”, but liberal feminists are now “pick-me’s”. Too often it seems that the common denominator is just misogyny. Being a woman is already seen as an opposition to men, so being a woman unhappy with the system is a threat to men. It’s a vicious cycle of misogyny, and to point the finger at women and feminist movements rather than the big picture is counterintuitive.

So, to all the girlfriends: it’s not your fault. Don’t blame individual action for a systemic problem. Society is built against you, and in all honesty, there is no “ethical way to win”. No matter what you do or how you do it, the patriarchy will always find a way to rain down on your parade. Of course, accept constructive criticism and acknowledge the problems that come with girlbossing. Do your best to avoid making the problem you are trying to deal with worse. But if a man ever tells you that you’re “doing wrong,” feel free to gaslight him and keep it, because you’re a boss.