Girlboss probably seemed like a slam-dunk idea when Netflix announced it in 2016: The series is loosely based on the memoirslash-business guide of the same name by Sophia Amoruso, who started what would become the multimillion-dollar business Nasty Gal as a humble ebay store in 2006. At a time when “feminist” had become a branding buzzword and a female presidential candidate was on the ascent, Girlboss offered up a bold new pop culture archetype: Move over, Manic Pixie Dream Girl, here comes Saucy Vixen Boss Babe.
But the reality into which the 13-episode series struts makes it seem spectacularly tone-deaf. Feminism has been mainstreamed as an individualist pursuit of success under capitalism rather than a
collective liberation of women, and Amoruso has become a symbol of the fragility of its trickle-down promise. Sisterhood is still interpreted as a mandate to support other women, even those who actively work against women’s interests; Nasty Gal declared bankruptcy in 2016, and Amoruso stepped down as the company’s ceo amid legal challenges from, among others, employees who were illegally fired when they got pregnant.
Given that the introduction of each episode asserts that Girlboss is a “real loose” interpretation of real-life events, it should be easy to sit back, disconnect the cult-ofpersonality Sophia from the fictional one, and enjoy what the show does have to offer. There’s self-aware humor, likable if predictable costars (there’s Rupaul pulling double duty as both the Gay Friend and the Sassy Black Neighbor), and unconventional storytelling. But the self-mythologizing of the show’s heroine and the acknowledgment of her as selfish, mercurial, and rude still don’t sit well; defending Sophia as a deliberately unlikable character itself seems a little out of date. The expanding landscape of television means that unlikable characters can no longer just be jerks for jerks’ sake. Additionally, an increasingly intersectional lens on TV characters makes it difficult to look at the scene where Sophia steals a rug and not recognize that the same scene with a nonwhite character would not be considered quirky character embellishment.
“Women doing stuff that men usually do: feminism!” was a bolder concept back in the time of Working Girl. These days, we’re well aware that women can be as craven, as mercenary, as ruthless, as inhumane, and as incompetent as their male counterparts. And though that is certainly a benchmark of equality, it has nothing to do with feminism. Enjoy Girlboss on what merits it has, but don’t try to convince us of more.