The golden age of the girlboss, which once embodied the height of female empowerment and hustle in the workplace, is officially over. So what killed her?
A few years ago, the word “girlboss” was ubiquitous. Popularized circa 2014 by Sophia Amoruso, the founder of fast fashion brand NastyGal, the girlboss movement was intended to empower women in the workplace. And it did – for a time. Millennial women everywhere jumped aboard the hustle culture train and never looked back. Female entrepreneurs became more prevalent than ever before. Many of them founded uber-popular companies such as Away, 23andme, and ClassPass, among others. Even infamous Theranos founder Elizabeth Holmes is arguably a girlboss.
Women like NastyGal’s Amoruso embodied the same ethos as other female C-suite trailblazers, like Facebook’s Sheryl Sandberg, who published the hit book Lean In: Women, Work, and the Will to Lead. Sandberg's and Amoruso’s message to women was, at its core, a simple one: confidence and hard work are the building blocks of success. Standing up for yourself in the workplace can be very intimidating, so their message was a worthy one that many women genuinely needed to hear.
The girlboss message was a simple one: hard work and confidence are the building blocks of success.
Never one to let a cultural trend go by without capitalizing on it, Netflix even created a television show called Girlboss, which was loosely based on Amoruso’s life. But much like the female workplace hustle culture it glorified, Girlboss the series did not last very long.
Out with the Girlboss, In with the Bimbo
Working Girl Gen Xers and girlboss Millennials came of age in an environment where women were taught to value their careers over everything else in life. Hustle culture was revered and taking too many vacation days was seen as a weakness. But as these Millennial and Gen X women grew up and ushered fresh-faced Gen Zers into the workplace, the once-beloved girlboss began to lose her luster.
Gen Z and the modern pop-culture that shaped them have not warmed to the idea of the girlboss in the way that previous generations of women had. The idea of hustling, working long hours, and climbing the corporate ladder no longer sounds appealing to many young women. As the glory of workplace hustle faded from the zeitgeist, so did the girlboss. The death of the girlboss left a void in the idea of how young women should navigate their ambition, but all cultural power vacuums must be filled.
All you need to do is look to social media to see what modern culture values in the workplace nowadays. Being busy and working overtime is seen as toxic. Major outlets like NPR and Fast Company are encouraging employees to be lazy. Where Millennial women had their girlboss, Gen Z now has “Quit-Tok”, which is where people publicly announce how and why they quit their jobs, to the applause of their viewers.
With the girlboss officially dead and gone, some women are now embracing her antithesis: the bimbo.
Quit-Tok isn’t the only cultural firestorm running rampant among Gen Z TikTokers. With the girlboss officially dead and gone, some women are now embracing her antithesis: the bimbo. In a piece titled “Bimbofication Is Taking Over. What Does That Mean for You?”, VICE helpfully explains that “The modern-day bimbo is a fresh approach to intersectional feminism.”
As one bimbo-TikToker with over 4 million followers eloquently puts it, “A bimbo isn’t dumb. Well, she kind of is, but she isn’t that dumb!” Nothing screams female empowerment quite like telling women to embrace stupidity! Where young professionals used to talk about their careers, aspirations, and five-year plans, now they fret over burnout, promote laziness, and shun the idea of having to work late.
Why Are We Glorifying Laziness in the Workplace?
We can’t blame it all on Gen Z though. The pandemic lockdowns induced a revolution of workplace laziness. All across social media, there are posts, memes, and videos about how easy and funny it is to pretend you’re working from home while you’re actually shopping online or scrolling Instagram or getting a pedicure. There are entire Instagram accounts dedicated to it.
Recently, the CEO of Better.com, Vishal Garg, made headlines for firing 900 employees via Zoom. I’m in no way excusing his methods. No one deserves to lose their job via a mass Zoom call, but what got lost in all the hoopla was a big part of Garg’s reasoning: his employees were being extremely unproductive. In his own words: “You guys know that at least 250 of the people terminated were working an average of 2 hours a day while clocking 8 hours+ a day in the payroll system?” I would bet that Better.com is not the only company that struggles with its employees’ work-from-home productivity.
No woman ever became successful in life by whining about having to work hard.
Time off used to be reserved for sickness, vacation, or family emergencies. One of the benefits of remote work is that it has given many people more flexibility with their hours, which is a good thing, especially for parents. Some people take that flexibility too far, however, and want time off simply because they don’t feel like working that day. The advent of “mental health days” has given way to an era where laziness is often seen as praiseworthy. It’s all well and good to give yourself a break sometimes, but modern culture is taking the idea of self-care to greater extremes and the new era of working from home has only exacerbated this issue.
Stress and burnout are very real, and you should take time off if you truly need it, but that doesn’t mean that hard work is a bad thing. On the contrary, working hard can be extremely rewarding. It makes you smarter, more resourceful, and more responsible. No woman ever became successful in life by whining about having to work hard. But perhaps there is an area where we can all find common ground when it comes to adjusting the framework of how women prioritize their careers and where they find meaning in life.
Finding Common Ground
The girlboss phenomenon taught women some valuable lessons about how to be confident in the workplace and ask for the things they want, but many women who bought into hustle culture and chased their career aspirations in lieu of any other life goals ended up realizing they’d been sold a false bill of goods. While it’s admirable to work hard and climb the corporate ladder, the girlboss made many women forget that there is more to life than your job.
Perhaps Millennial and Gen X women can learn something from Gen Z about slowing down and re-examining your priorities. I’m not saying we should all become bimbos! Not by a long shot. But I believe there’s a happy medium to be found somewhere between the workaholic girlboss and the “sort of dumb” bimbo. We can be confident women who work hard, but have a playful side and know how to take time off to spend with our loved ones. It’s not about having it all, it’s about realizing which things in your life are worth prioritizing.
As a Millennial woman, I have to say there’s something nostalgic to me about what the girlboss personified. I was once a young, starry-eyed twenty-something who thought my career would be the most fulfilling aspect of my life, but I’m glad I grew to realize there’s more to life than the hustle. RIP, girlboss. Your lessons were valuable, but your time is up.
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