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November 30, 2023

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‘Girl boss’ impact on underprivileged women

Girl Boss – Graphic by BG News staff

The ‘girl boss’ is the image of a woman taking care of her energy as she is dominating the social spaces around her.

Nicole LaCroix, a senior at BGSU thinks of Elle Woods from “Legally Blonde” as a traditional girl boss. 

“She’s got it together and she’s doing her lawyer things in a very feminine way. Which is essentially what a ‘girl boss’ is. She’s doing it in a way that is feminine and empowering. And she uses her prior knowledge to be a ‘boss’ to win that case.”

‘Girl boss’ feminism, or in a formal definition, neoliberal feminism, coined by feminist theorist and researcher Catherine Rottenburg offers an explanation toward the trended feminism. The definition was established in the 2010s with ill-defined aspects of the theory, but solidifies characteristics of the trend.

The neoliberal feminist can be defined as a woman who seeks capital marketization for individual progress that minimizes her intent and purpose as a woman, according to Rottenberg.

Essentially, this woman focuses on maintaining status through the means of capitalism and prioritization of the individual self rather than the collective of people that feminism tends to vie for.

“Feminism unfortunately has always been that. The first wave was for the Suffrage movement, and when we said women were given the right to vote, people forget (only) white women were given the right to vote,” BGSU senior Maria Duffy said.

Through her minor in Women’s Studies and her experience as a Black woman in the U.S., Duffy said she’s seen feminism as an individualistic movement and a commoditized ideology.

“(Feminism) has always been a commodity. People would, with the first-wave with suffrage, things were being sold; second-wave, things were being sold — third, fourth. It’s always going to be a commodity, and there’s always the risk of that with any social movement. The Black Lives Matter movement, the Civil Rights movement — it can become a commodity. Specifically with feminism, its become a commodity in the sense that feminism isn’t the product, but the woman is. But, that’s the opposite of feminism, that’s what we’re trying to work against,” Duffy said.

The self-prioritization of feminism has become a marketized commdity, according to Rottenburg, and can be obtained through better socioeconomic means. 

The technological and media advancements in the 21st century have contributed to the progress of the ideology within the mainstream media, where trends like ‘girl boss’ are introduced. The advancements redefine feminism in its many forms and in its primary objective — the establishment of equality among the sexes.

“There are lots of affluent women out there that are marketing their feminism as just a tool, or marketing their feminism as a character trait. Being a feminist is good, it’s good to be feminist, we can all agree on that. It’s good to agree that women should have equal rights and be equal, under law and socially, to men. However, it becomes a detriment when women are not using feminism for what it is and trying to promote equality, but using it to virtue signal,” BGSU senior Ashtyn Jefferson said.

Jefferson, a Black woman, said she sees feminism from its varying degrees, and there’s an aspect of individualism and superiority to modern feminism and trends.

Neoliberal feminism, though it is not a widespread theory and it recognizes gender inequality, doesn’t acknowledge inequalities that do exist within the feminist framework, according to Rottenberg. 

‘Girl boss’ furthers the idea Rottenburg sets in place.

“I think the ‘girl boss’ trend is the idea that women, and women of color in particular, are supposed to hustle and hustle as hard as they possibly can to get where they want to be. And that they can girl boss through any other factors; they can girl boss through being discriminated against because of their gender, because of their race, because of their sexuality — because of anything that is discriminatory in their identity,” Jefferson said.

Neoliberal feminism poses a threat to feminism with the likelihood of the denial of rights and equality between the sexes when socioeconomic individualism is prioritized rather than concern for underprivileged individuals that don’t have the option of socioeconomic mobility.

“These trends are predominantly used by white women. Even historically, feminism has been something that has been a luxury to women who are white, upper-middle class and have the option of feminism. Women of color haven’t always had to option of feminism — that’s just the truth — it’s a sad truth. I think (girl boss) is primarily a white women’s trend, and I don’t think things are always obtainable for women of color,” Jefferson said.

Rottenburg’s definition points out neoliberal feminism’s threat, and there are components to neoliberal feminism that makes it less about gender equality, but rather something that markets, commodifies and monetizes women and the idea of social equality. 

It eradicates conversations about social equality and markets an ideal life for an individual — who has economic potential and individual empowerment that gives them the ability to progress — which isn’t accessible because of existing social inequalities.

“(Girl boss) does involve a lot of women who are privileged. Think of Elle Woods in ‘Legally Blonde’; she’s a rich white woman and we don’t honestly look at women of other racial and ethnic minorities, or socioeconomic classes as the ‘girl boss,’ even though they may be grinding just as hard as the rest of us,” LaCroix said.

Though LaCroix has been exposed to the trend and benefits as a white woman, she said it is unrealistic for her to obtain the ‘girl boss’ status because of her socioeconomic status, and to an extent, her physical attributes — she can’t meet the standards the trend puts forward.

Neoliberal feminism is seen through feminine standards, or present social media trends that influence the standards women are held to. Circulating trends on social media platforms such as Instagram or Tiktok, inspire women to strive to be their “best selves” through their daily routines, which LaCroix found an encouraging part of the ‘girl boss’ trend.

However, when a woman’s value as a person becomes subject to an economic standard, it can circulate back to the commoditization of a human being, according to Rottenberg.

In creating their “best selves,” which Duffy, Jefferson and LaCroix acknowledged as part of the trend, formed a new standard for women and what women need to look and act like to be that “best self,” which has been catered in social media for young, white women — under the guise of aesthetic and recognition as an individual in society, which Rottenberg has said is a major effect of neoliberal feminism.

“Us women, we have to work together to really achieve the equality that we want. When I think of individualism, that is apart of feminism, but we have to be individuals together. In order to be individualistic, we have to accept not only our individualism but others individualism, which is also a form of working together,” Duffy said.

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