The Demise Of The #Girlboss: White Feminism and Fake Wokeness

The term #Girlboss was first coined by the founder of the famed women’s retailer Nasty Gal, Sophia Amoruso, to describe her own journey in turning her rags into riches. A girl boss is self-made: in Amoruso’s own words, “someone who has big dreams and is willing to work hard for them.”

Photo Credit: Dribble

Today, it’s a term that has encouraged female entrepreneurship, and many use the term in reference to CEOs that are women, who run businesses that champion women. They’re meant to be strong female leaders, encouraging other women to hustle and grind their way to the top and overcoming gender stereotypes while doing so.

Recently, many of these girl bosses have stepped down from their positions amidst claims of racist and discriminatory behaviour amongst people of colour. Reformation, who make sustainable and ethical fashion that “celebrates the feminine figure,” has established themselves as a cult fashion favourite over the years. Their overall brand is so identifiable that they’ve become synonymous with the “cool girl” image.

However, the brand’s CEO Yael Aflalo recently stepped down after being accused of racist tendencies by a manager at the Reformation flagship store. The accusations, made by Elle Santiago, include Reformation hiring and promoting less qualified white women over people of colour and Yael Aflaflo refusing to interact with Santiago. The brand’s negligence of diversity was mentioned, referencing the lack of black models and lack of plus-size models. Aflafo officially gave up her title (she’d stepped back from the brand 2 years ago) after posting an apology on Instagram, citing her failures as a leader an acknowledging that the brand’s idea of diversity occurs through a ‘white gaze.’

For these female executives, there seems to be a discrepancy between their messaging and branding, and their actual workplace. The Wing is a women’s co-working space and collective, with locations all around the world – it boasts around 12,00 members, and is affiliated with faces of the Women’s March and even Alexandra Ocasio-Cortez. However, The Wing is not without faults – as a New York Times exposé put it, “The Wing is a women’s utopia, unless you work there.” Audrey Gelman, the CEO, stepped down after employees of colour accused The Wing of its superficial diversity and making making black and brown women feel insignificant. This is despite 40% of the brand’s executives being women of colour

The Wing is a series of female co-working and community spaces, and has been accused of its superficial diversity. Photo Credit: The New York Times

The pattern does not end there – given the current social climate, many media outlets have been announcing their support for the #BlackLivesMatter movement, only to be met with backlash by employees. These outlets include Man Repeller and Refinery 29 – outlets that are proudly feminist and progressive – which saw both of the respective CEOs and editor-in-chiefs step down. The complaints were similar: workplace cultures of favouritism and elitism, micro aggressions towards black and brown women and the prioritisation of white women in the workplace.


A former employee speaks out against Refinery 29, a site that caters for the “modern woman.” Photo Credit: @AshleyAlese on Twitter

The reckoning of these girl bosses may come as a shock: these brands and businesses seemed progressive, but it seems that this was only to benefit the brand. This is the final nail in the ‘girlboss’ coffin, with many calling to end ‘girlboss’ culture before these accusations came to light, with many perceiving it as derivative and counter-productive. So, it might be time to scrap the word – no more #girlbosses, only female bosses who recognise what it means to be truly intersectional, in theory and in practice.

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