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No cultural stereotype has had more ups and downs than the “girl boss.” In a few short years, she’s gone from idolized to ridiculed, overanalyzed, and eventually canceled. Before society starts writing her redemption arc – and that moment feels so dangerously imminent – it’s time to look back on her story. More importantly, on why bringing her back is a bad idea.

What’s a Girl Boss, Anyway?

In 2014, an industrious, resourceful, and enterprising woman named Sophia Amoruso popularized the term by making it the title of her autobiography, #GIRLBOSS. The Washington Post called the best seller “Lean In for misfits. ”One review called it a “ manifesto.” Girls star Lena Dunham called “girl boss” a movement. At that time, it was all these things.

Amoruso, founder of fashion retailer Nasty Gal and known for her dumpster diving and inspirational hustle, claimed she wrote it for people like her: “outsiders or insiders seeking a unique path to success,” naysayers be damned. It felt approachable and inclusive. People purchased the book, read it, and bought what it was selling: a woman can build an empire, wear the pants, and run the world.

In hindsight, it plainly maps out its obvious path to toxicity. But in that moment? It wasn't as simple, judging by how its allure took years to dwindle. How could something so seemingly empowering take such a virulent turn? What led to the neologism’s fall into slur-dom? 

Where Did It All Go Wrong?

The “girl boss” phenomenon gave rise to the “girl boss culture,” which glorifies and rewards women for hustling tirelessly against all odds. The noun became a verb. To “girlboss” was to conquer by pulling oneself up by the bootstraps. To attempt and excel. To prove the late great Ruth Bader Ginsburg wrong and “have it all, all at once.”

It led to many women working relentlessly for accolades they will never get because the game is rigged. A catchphrase cannot undo systemic wrongs and those who seemed to have outsmarted them – knowingly or not – simply went along with the charade.

The movement’s unofficial ambassadors happened to have been born into privilege. Without dragging anyone, rich, white women, beautiful and perfectly manicured, set yet another unhealthy standard for the female masses. “You can be like us,” they said. Followed by, “Buy a membership to our exclusive club.” Literally.

In 2020, many of these girl bosses – most of which are founders of successful startups – faced criticism for being tyrannical and racist toward their employees. They stepped down one by one, ceasing operations and slowing down a steamrolling movement. However, shrapnels of the once-admired culture are still lodged in workplaces and psyches everywhere.

Gen Z can mock the girl boss all they want (they did come up with the phrase “” after all), but it’s going to take more than blatant shaming to exorcise her.

Why Girl Boss Culture Has to Go

The term “girl boss” continues to be toxic even as society gets its rude a-woke-ning. In the past, it represented the unhealthy hustle culture in patriarchal systems. Today, it’s a weapon of internalized misogyny. It pokes fun at women who appear to try too hard. It’s a label that perpetuates the classification of women into . It diminishes women’s accomplishments by associating them with gender rather than talent or hard work.

It also makes you feel self-conscious about your efforts: Are you winning or are you girl-bossing? Perhaps this can be a good thing. A bit of self-awareness can't hurt.

You Can Still Be a Boss

You can still be a boss – just not a “girl boss.” Ditch its toxic trappings (overworking, compromising your values, stepping on toes) and do you. Finding that healthy balance between hard work, self-care, and compassion for others may take time, but it’s not an impossible task.

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Girl boss culture must go, but instead, it keeps evolving. Cut off one head, out grows another. The problem stems from the term itself. However, it's still just a label. Don’t let the threat of being called a “girl boss” keep you from working for your dreams or shame you into shying away from success.