The Rise and Fall of Girlboss — But What Does that Mean for Us? - Avni Barman


Generation She is a proud partner of Font Femme and a huge advocate for all that they do! Font Femme, founded and led by a group of high schoolers, is the perfect example of why Gen She believes in investing specifically in this generation of women, Gen Z'ers. Gen Z women are a powerful group of digital natives, driven by what is right, and have the passion to make change happen. These same girls making an impact in their communities today will be leading the powerful, global workforce of tomorrow — one that is female positive.

As the founder of Gen She, I want to make sure that Gen She stays grounded in its original intentions and continues to serve as a positive role model to young women amongst all the turmoil happening in the world today. With sensitive conversations around anti-racism and economic privilege during a global pandemic on the rise, I have noticed that we are often too quick to point fingers at each other. One such case that has surfaced a number of critical negative lenses is the recent demise of Girlboss due to COVID-19. Using them as an example, I have written an article that contemplates my thoughts on feminism, race, politics, and culture in today’s world.

While this reflection has left me with more unanswered questions than ever before, I want to make sure we aren't celebrating others' failures. Instead, I hope that we can all use this example as a learning opportunity, compel ourselves to do better, and hold ourselves to higher standards. Most importantly, let's be forgiving as we are all still learning how to be empathetic and appropriately stand up and speak up for voices that may not be our own.

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Girlboss announced last week that their leader, Sophia Amoruso, will be leaving the company permanently alongside many others on her team. Girlboss is an acclaimed brand that young millennial women worldwide look to for inspiration. This announcement left me feeling confused and devastated. As the founder of the nonprofit Generation She (Gen She), I have looked up to Amoruso as a role model for many years. Similar to Gen She, Girlboss works to motivate young women to become leaders and entrepreneurs. For me, Amoruso has been an icon for ambition and a beacon of hope in the feminist movement.

The recent demise of Girlboss (due to COVID-19) has surfaced several critical lenses on her. This news has prompted me to reflect and address some of this as it relates to Gen She’s mission and other organizations like us.


Consequences of Marketing Feminism

Amoruso, the figurehead of the #Girlboss movement, has come to represent the ideal modern-day woman. After her success with Nasty Gal, her eBay store, reached $100M in revenue, she became the face of Girlboss. Many critics were quick to point out that Amoruso’s story is not an accurate representation of the Girlboss brand. They felt that Nasty Gal's values did not align with the feminist movement. Instead of focusing on changing the system, she thrived and profited from it. Others added that Girlboss was putting too much emphasis on the Gucci handbags and Instagrammable photo booths at their Girlboss Rallies. By suggesting that feminism is synonymous with aesthetics and high-end brands, the focus of Girlboss is shifted to physical appearances rather than the movement’s objective.



Rather than pointing fingers at a mega-empire, I’d rather reflect on Gen She’s brand that influences thousands of teens. How can we be more mindful of how we communicate our core values while still promoting our brand? As a team, how can we better align our decisions to be more deeply rooted in the strategy: come for the jazz, stay for the message, and leave with a goal to make an impact?


Acknowledging Intersectional Feminism

Amoruso is criticized for not only using a social-justice movement for capitalism, but also failing to recognize other identity markers such as race, class, and sexuality in her fight for gender equality. Amoruso wrote her New York Times bestseller book #Girlboss in 2015, where she recounts her story about beating the odds as a young woman in a male-dominated space. Would the world have listened if she also talked about racial or economic inclusion? Racial minorities have been advocating for equality for decades, but conversations about this have only recently been given more space and attention.


Moreover, when other minority groups are not acknowledged, unintentional messaging can often be ingrained in brands. The steep membership costs at The Wing or Amoruso as the face of Girlboss can perpetuate the idea that only privileged, beautiful white women can succeed. Other radical feminist ventures such as Refinery29 and Man Repeller have also led with bold goals. But with such a strong focus on growth, they lost sight of their core values. None of this was premeditated but rather an unfortunate side effect of the general white supremacy we live in. However, at the minimum, organizations should not be making it harder by claiming to be solving these issues if they truly are not. For example, don't showcase people of color wearing your products on your landing page, if your workforce does not represent that.


At Gen She, we need to work towards having conversations greater than gender equality. We need to educate our audiences that feminism cannot be understood without recognizing the marginalization of other groups and genders. We need to hold our team and brand accountable to a higher set of standards. As a first step, we’ll be adding position(s) to our team that will focus on ensuring Gen She is inclusive of all backgrounds, nationalities, ethnicities, genders, sexualities, religions, self-expressions, physicalities, abilities, neuro-divergences, economic statuses, and educational backgrounds.


Mixing Social Justice with Capitalism

Many have duly noted that "feminism is out and anti-racism is in." Anti-racism is becoming the branding for many opportunists. What makes it unauthentic is not seeing a movement as a trend, but rather forgetting the real-person impact in the process of marketing it. While profit is crucial to sustaining a business, companies must not mix diversity and inclusion with profitability goals.


At the same time, it’s unfair to compare Girlboss to other nonprofits and corner them for "profiting off the feminist movement.” Instead, it makes more sense to compare them with other for-profit companies like Ban.do and hold them all equally accountable. In the same vein, we must hold Gen She to the same standard that other nonprofits hold themselves to.

This brings me to my final question: as our distrust in politicians and lawmakers grows, and society turns to brands and societal influencers for moral leadership, do organizations have a larger moral obligation to be better role models? Until our government bridges the immense wealth gap and taxes are fairly allocated, nonprofits will continue to take a backseat. The reality is that for-profit companies like Girlboss and The Wing have an undeniable advantage over nonprofits to raise limitless funding that they can leverage to make an impact. As long as the government is inefficient at meeting nonprofit needs, it will remain unable to achieve its maximum potential. As a growing nonprofit with a serious agenda to effect change, we must ask ourselves: how much longer does it make sense for Gen She to be a nonprofit to make its greatest impact?


As the founder of Gen She, I need to consistently challenge the status quo. I want to ensure that Gen She continues to stay grounded in its original intentions as we grow bigger. How can we teach young women in our community to raise awareness about current gender gaps and advocate for societal inequalities? And how can we do this better than previous generations?


Ultimately, I think it's unfair to pin Amoruso as a profit-seeking figurehead. A fairer conversation would be to assess how she uses her platform to dismantle systemic inequalities that plague our world today. While this reflection has left me with more unanswered questions than before, I want to make sure we aren't celebrating others’ failures. Instead, I hope that we can all use this as a learning opportunity, compel ourselves to do better, and hold each other to higher standards. Most importantly, let's all be forgiving as we are still learning how to be empathetic and appropriately stand up and speak up for voices that may not be our own. I am grateful and eager for this new shift.


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