Amoruso’s vision of female corporate supremacy was celebrated and emulated by other aspiring entrepreneurs for years. #Girlboss sold more than half a million copies, and Amoruso launched a media company of the same name, complete with networking conferences, branded merchandise, and a Netflix series. Soon, the girlboss ideal became a template for marketing and writing about powerful women in virtually every industry. For a time, female wealth was treated as feel-good news unto itself.
Read: Why women still can’t have it all
The reality of girlbossing, however, was always a little bit messier. Amoruso’s career at Nasty Gal was dogged by constant turnover, accusations of discrimination and abusive management, and the company’s eventual bankruptcy. (The company denied the allegations when they were made. Through a representative, Amoruso declined a request for comment for this article.) Over time, accusations of sinister labor practices among prominent businesswomen who fit the girlboss template became more common. The confident, hardworking, camera-ready young woman of a publicist’s dreams apparently had an evil twin: a woman, pedigreed and usually white, who was not only as accomplished as her male counterparts, but just as cruel and demanding too.
Since #Girlboss’s publication, the country’s deep, long-standing divisions along race and class lines have led many people who might have been amenable to Amoruso’s remunerative quasi-feminist liberation fantasy to become more skeptical not just of their male bosses, but of power itself, and anyone who might possess it. Now, amid the chaos of 2020, people sense a need for change deeper than self-help career books could hope to offer. In recent months, a series of stylish young female entrepreneurs have left or been forced out of the companies they founded. This group even includes Amoruso herself: Earlier this week, she and most of her staff left Girlboss Media, citing financial losses due to the pandemic.
Even before Amoruso’s announcement, the end of the girlboss was nigh. When a country is grappling with mass death, racist state violence, and the unemployment and potential homelessness of millions of people, it becomes inescapably clear that when women center their worldview around their own office hustle, it just re-creates the power structures built by men, but with women conveniently on top. In the void left after the end of the corporate feminist vision of the future, this reckoning opens space to imagine success that doesn’t involve acing performance reviews or getting the most out of your interns.
Read: What America lost as women entered the workforce
For the girlboss theory of the universe to cohere, women have to be inherently good and moral creatures, or at least inherently better than men. For some young women who find inspiration in the concept, that assertion might simply feel like a vote of confidence. But the presumption of that difference between women and men is also what made girlbosses marketable to those who might patronize their businesses: If these women could succeed while upholding feminist values and treating their employees humanely, then maybe the patriarchy was just a choice that savvy consumers could shop their way around. Maybe people could vote for equality by buying a particular set of luggage or joining a particular co-working space.