Dear #GIRLBOSS Culture, Be Better

Dear #GIRLBOSS Culture,

Stop trying to sell me $40 planners, and give me career advice I can actually use. I want real empowerment, not this trendy you-can-do-anything crap that’s been packaged to women for decades. It’s not cute, and it’s certainly not helpful. 

This new Instagram-filtered look is not you. When you came on to the scene six years ago, you had so much promise. Sophia Amoroso’s memoir, #GIRLBOSS, was the millennial’s approach to female leadership. You were entrepreneurial, savvy, innovative, and unapologetically feminine. You rejected the assumption that women’s empowerment required acting more like men, boldly claiming that a person can like pink and still demand equality.

At first, the idea seemed radical and exciting. I had grown up believing that I had to be masculine to be a serious professional. I looked at leaders like Hillary Clinton, with her tough exterior and boxy pantsuits as the only model of leadership for women. It had never occurred to me that the Elle Woods model was also acceptable. 

You created a community of new role models. With the explosion of media covering successful women in a diversity of fields, I felt like there was already a path to success that was well-trodden by heels and ballet flats. The Girlboss culture made me feel like I didn’t have to be a pioneer to be a success. I could learn from older women who had built organizations from the ground up, and the Girlboss title made them easy to find. Everywhere I looked I saw new books and blogs and podcasts that focused on helping women’s careers. 

You made it trendy to talk about work. Ambition was feminine. Equality was sexy. 

Was all of this #Girlboss chatter empowering? Of course not. Many of the books and podcasts offered unsubstantial advice. And more seriously, the movement also had a huge problem with marketing to primarily white upper-class women – a group in no particular need of empowerment. 

Still, I believed that the movement would evolve past those problems. I naively imagined that the explosion of inspirational Girlboss media would transcend the trend, and bring useful information into traditionally female spaces. I envisioned articles about investing in Cosmopolitan and pink-toned Instagram accounts talking about resume building and networking. But alas, you seemed to dream of other, greener things. 

You saw how rich your older sister, the wellness movement, became by selling yoga retreats and juice cleanses and figured that there was more money to be made exploiting ambitious women than empowering them. You transformed into an aspirational brand, gutted yourself of intellectual value, and started selling crap. 

Worse still, you used sexist marketing techniques to sell the very crap you claimed would empower your audience. Companies like Indeed used the fear of workplace discrimination to sell their job search tool. Deodorant ads sold themselves as the secret sauce to getting a raise. It is the same technique companies have used for decades to sell makeup, razors, and weight loss shakes. The only difference is that it shifts from preying on women’s physical insecurities to their professional insecurities. 

If I am being honest, this turn of events should not have surprised me. The #Girlboss god, Amoruso herself, was not only a leader in an industry that benefits from selling fake empowerment to women, but she has also literally turned the #GIRLBOSS name into her personal brand after the failure of NastyGal.

But knowing this doesn’t make me any less disappointed in you. I still believe in all the future you initially stood for. I still crave a culture – and a market – that takes women’s empowerment seriously. I want a media market that sells personal finance and business skills as hard as it sells high-waisted jeans. 

But to get there, you have to be better. Do you really think women struggle to break the glass ceiling because they don’t have monogrammed sticky notes? I don’t think so. 

The you-can-do-anything platitudes need to stop. It may be a great message to sell planners, but it is not helping women start businesses or get promoted. You need to be the career adviser that every woman wishes she had. You need to help build the social infrastructure – a girls club so to speak – that spreads the inside secrets of success. Let’s talk about contract negotiation. Let’s talk about investing and winning over clients. Let’s discuss our professional lives in the same graphic detail that Cosmo talks about sex. 

There are some great examples of women doing this already, but we need more of them. I shouldn’t have to wade through a mountain of fluff to find the information that will give me an edge. With the barriers to entry lower than ever before for professional women, empowerment no longer means inspiring women to “lean in.” We are already doing that. Now, we need the tools to contribute when we do. 

Sincerely,

Madison

What do you think of Girlboss culture? Comment below!

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