“Gaslight, Gatekeep, Girlboss.” The phrase that seems to be on the lips of every Gen Z college student, parodying the modern “girlboss” and the brand of white millennial feminism that was once so popular. But what exactly is a girlboss? And how did the word go from an inspirational moniker to an ironic meme?
The origins of the word girlboss can be traced back to 2014, when Sophia Amoruso, CEO of the online fashion retailer Nasty Gal, released her autobiography titled #Girlboss. The book was a New York Times bestseller and was eventually adapted into a television series for Netflix. Amoruso had her own idea of what a girlboss should be:
SOPHIA AMORUSO: It’s really just about being the boss of your life, it’s not, I mean yeah being a girl, something that I relate to. But it’s not about being the boss of other people, it’s just about being the boss of your own life.
The so-called girlboss would strive for corporate power in the male-dominated workplace and lead the fight towards equality. The girlboss would eventually use her own success to uplift other women. It was seen as a form of female empowerment that encouraged young women to achieve capitalist success. The girlboss craze soon took over, inspiring plenty of white, affluent millennial women to girlboss their way into entrepreneurial positions and try to reshape male-dominated industries.
But, unlike its intended goal, the girlboss only recreated the unfair power structure of the male workplace, simply with a woman on top, and one who was usually white. The downfall of the girlboss quickly ensued. Its demise was ironically reflected in the history of its founder. Less than a year after the release of her book, Sophia Amoruso stepped down as CEO of Nasty Gal, and months later the company declared bankruptcy amidst claims of a toxic workplace.
Unfair labor practices and harmful scams soon became associated with the idea of the girl boss. Nowadays, media depicting the scorned girlboss has become popularized. Just this year we’ve seen television series such as Hulu’s The Dropout and Netflix’s Inventing Anna. Now, not all female CEOs fall into this category, but our culture loves watching the rise and fall of the girlboss.
The girlboss has made somewhat of a resurgence recently in online meme culture as a word used to ironically mock capitalist white feminism. “Live, Laugh, Love” has now been transformed into “Gaslight, Gatekeep, Girlboss”, mocking the shallow promises of white feminism and millennial culture.
The girlboss will now live on as a parody of a once praised ideal. Honestly if you want to, go and girlboss it up! But as a fair warning, make sure not to burn other people as you climb your way up to success.