Feminism. A lot’s been said about this struggle for gender equity and equality in the face of centuries of discrimination and disenfranchisement of women on the basis of gender. There has been a marked push to open up spaces and include women in places where they were previously excluded. Every time a woman advances to positions traditionally held by men, this is hailed as progress. Endless celebrations follow announcements about the first female, president, billionaire, chief justice, you know the ones. Feminism is made synonymous with women occupying previously male-held positions of power. It is then demanded that everyone celebrate this as progress and as feminism. But is it really? This is girl-boss feminism.
In the beginning, Girl Boss was used to refer to women who had rejected the idea of working for another person and were running their own enterprises chasing their own big dreams. Then it evolved to include women who were not necessarily running their own businesses but were confident and capable and pursuing their own ambitions not settling in life. Currently, it just refers to powerful women whether it’s because they are wealthy or occupy a high-ranking position in a well-known corporation or have many followers on social media or are celebrities or occupy previously male-dominated positions such as high-ranking positions like prime minister or vice-president as in the case of Margaret Thatcher and Kamala Harris.
Focused on individual success
Feminism is about the communal struggle for equality and justice and against all manner of oppression especially oppression and discrimination on the basis of gender. Feminism is about all women and when it comes to freeing people from patriarchy it’s about all women and men. Girl boss feminism is about individual accomplishments and the individual empowerment of women. It has no sense of the communal. As long as this singular woman is winning, people are supposed to extrapolate that all women are winning which is obviously a lie. This thinking is also used when it comes to other marginalized groups. For example, because we have a black president, racism is beaten, because we have a female chief justice, sexism is a thing of the past, and equality has been achieved.
Also, regardless of a woman’s financial success or position, misogyny still exists and will still be a reality in their lives. This is a systemic problem and no amount of individual success will change that.
It props us capitalism
In the past feminism was understood to be against all oppression and accompanying hierarchies. Girl boss feminism has no criticism of the oppression and exploitation inherent in capitalism as an economic system. If anything, it props up capitalism, celebrating the rise of women in corporate spaces. It essentially sanitizes capitalism because of creating spaces for women to engage in the oppression that was a boy’s only club.
Consider the fact that fashion corporations exploit workers whether they are run by men or women, the majority of which hire female workers in low-income countries. What exactly is being celebrated when women ascend to positions where they just carry on the oppression that is perpetrated by men? What difference does it make if there is a boot on your neck as a worker if the boot is worn by a man or is a stiletto worn by a woman? Girl boss feminism is largely about being performative without doing anything to advance the material conditions of women’s lives.
Ignores everything but gender
In girl boss feminism world it does not matter what the woman does or what her ideology is, all that matters is she is a woman in a position of power. People are encouraged to celebrate them just because they are a woman in that position and are actively shamed or called sexist if they refuse to do it. What does it matter if a black woman ascends to the highest office in the land when that country’s foreign policy is rooted in racist imperial murderous acts? What does it matter is the CEO is a woman and workers are still living below the poverty line? Is it not actually sexist to treat women differently on the basis of gender? If everyone else is judged on the basis of their actions, why should it be any different for women?
Promotes toxic work beliefs
Girl boss feminism is just hustle culture for the girls. It continues to push the toxic yet proven false messaging around economic success being a product of hard, hard work. It is just a renewed attempt to normalize toxic work tales of success while ignoring the role played by systemic factors like race, gender, sexuality, disability, and economic background in achieving any kind of economic stability in a capitalist world.
This hustle culture that emphasizes pushing yourself beyond healthy limits justifies unfair wages, poor working conditions and lays blame on individuals when they do all that and do not succeed. If you are not successful it is because you are not working hard enough. It ignores all other structural and systemic issues.
Privileges the already privileged
The women who are the poster girls for girl boss feminism are already privileged women of a particular class. It is not the working women like the cleaners and nannies who are also hard at work trying to improve the material conditions of their lives. It is largely associated with white women and upper-class women. It also privileges women who are able to afford health care and help at home. In all these ways, it privileges and celebrates already privileged women.
Instead of advancing policy and systemic changes that benefit all women, girl boss feminism focuses on individual effort and abilities. Instead of focusing on actual solutions, it hides behind motivational quotes. All girl boss feminism cares about is the empowerment of the individual in keeping with the individualism that is at the very heart of capitalism. Either people care about all forms of oppression and discrimination and injustice or they do not care about any.
The oppression and injustice women are subjected to is real. It is a communal, societal-wide issue that will not be fixed by each woman accumulating power and wealth. We either win together or we die together. That’s not how patriarchy will be brought down. The fact that women were excluded in these oppressive spaces is not the problem. The problem is that the spaces and systems are oppressive. The problem is oppression and that is what we should be fighting against, not inclusion or diversifying oppressive spaces. If anything, feminism is about dismantling oppressive systems altogether.
For a deeper critique on this capitalist push towards individual success and running your own business, check out this piece, a critique of entrepreneurship.
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