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Has #Girlboss gotten a bad rap?

September 1, 2021, 1:14 PM UTC
Sophia Amoruso speaks onstage during the 2019 Girlboss Rally at UCLA on June 30, 2019 in Los Angeles, California.
Emma McIntyre—Getty Images for Girlboss

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Good morning, Broadsheet readers! The Theranos trial begins, Texas’s six-week abortion ban and “bounty hunting” law goes into effect, and we reconsider the girlboss. Have a thoughtful Wednesday.

– Who’s the boss? #Girlboss.

How does the term make you feel? Do you cringe—or embrace it?

Girlboss had its moment in the five or so years after it was first coined by Nasty Gal founder Sophia Amoruso in 2014. It quickly became a sort of shorthand for a particular sort of feminism (or at least feminist positioning) mixed with hustle culture, and was thrown around a lot in reference to the growing number of female entrepreneurs and other powerful young women making a name for themselves in the business world.

But as a number of those rising stars started to flame out (read Maria Aspan’s “Female Founders Under Fire” for a far more nuanced take), the cult of the Girlboss started to sputter. And, as the pandemic has inspired more women to question the get-rich-or-die-trying ethos of the past decade or so, it felt increasingly out of touch.

So I was fascinated to read this essay in The Cut from Samhita Mukhopadhyay, a former editor at Teen Vogue, which doesn’t exactly try to reclaim the term, but does suggest that there’s some facet of its meaning and importance that we’ve overlooked.

Mukhopadhyay talks to women who still identify with the concept of the Girlboss. For them, it’s not the “too-cute branding and the Instagram-follower counts and untenable investment dollars,” but the conviction that ambition is a powerful force, one that has the potential to change their lives. It can “provide a template for young women as they move forward in their careers,” she writes. “And many of these young women, especially the less privileged ones, needed to believe they could get ahead in order to do so.”

Women’s ambitions may be shifting, but certainly they haven’t vanished. So do we need an updated, catchy new phrase to replace Girlboss? I hope not. The term served a purpose for many women and I agree with Mukhopadhyay that looking back at it with disdain misses the point. But from here on out, let’s let ambitious women choose and define their own identity, rather trying to lump them together with a too-easily dismissed hashtag.

Kristen Bellstrom
kristen.bellstrom@fortune.com
@kayelbee

The Broadsheet, Fortune’s newsletter for and about the world’s most powerful women, is coauthored by Kristen Bellstrom, Emma Hinchliffe, and Claire Zillman. Today’s edition was curated by Emma Hinchliffe

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IN CASE YOU MISSED IT

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ON MY RADAR

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PARTING WORDS

"Clearly I’ve been through a lot. The spark is back—and everybody’s noticing."

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