Girlboss, bossbabe, sheEO, fempreneur, she-wolf of Wall Street, ladyboss—by now, you’ve heard them all. For better or for worse, girlboss culture has turned into somewhat of a joke. But have you ever wondered if the male equivalent of a girlboss even exists?
The answer is yes, he does. Unofficially, he is known as the ‘hustle bro’, ‘bropreneur’ or the ‘boyboss’. Just like his girlboss counterpart, he is the epitome of the rise and grind, hustle, ‘get that bread’ culture. Both engage in very similar activities—but, somehow, all of our society’s criticism is yet again directed towards women. Which really makes me think, isn’t making fun of girlbosses, and girlbosses only, kind of sexist?
What started as an attempt to empower and inspire female success in the workspace, quickly (and rightfully) became scrutinised and backfired. The term ‘girlboss’ boomed ever since the 2014 #GirlBoss memoir of entrepreneur and Nasty Gal founder Sophia Amoruso, as she encouraged women to get out there and claim power in the corporate world.
Many criticise the term as patronising and condescending, since it immediately draws attention to a person’s gender, rather than their hard work or abilities—you don’t see the term boyboss coined as a symbol of male empowerment.
The whole culture was established as a response to the patriarchal workplace structures, in place for hundreds of years, that have been affecting most women existing in male-dominated spaces. But somehow, this pursuit towards female liberation turned into a disguise for capitalist and commercial success.
You’ve seen #girlboss or #bossbabe plastered all over inspirational social media posts and Pinterest boards. You’ve seen it printed on mugs, t-shirts, and tote bags. It is the epitome of lazy, commercial, and white feminism, co-opting the fight towards equality for profit. Over the recent years, many wealthy and powerful women who have built their brand off of the girlboss trope have come under fire for allegations of workplace bullying, underpaying their staff, and contributing to a toxic environment in the workplace.
A girlboss in the making aspires to have it all—she is chasing the bag and building an empire. She hustles and is unapologetic about it, all in the name of feminism. You can find her unironically reposting quotes like ‘One day sweetie, these 5am starts are gonna make you a legend’ or ‘One day? Or day one. You decide’. Of course, there is never any harm in a little bit of motivation. But where do you draw the line between hard work and having aspirations, to accidentally basing your entire self-worth off of your career and financial success?
The hustler/boyboss/bropreneur is not that different from your typical girlboss. Arguably, he’s even worse.
The boyboss is everywhere. He is in those YouTube ads you see before your video finally loads, shouting at you that if you have a 9 to 5 job, you are doing it all wrong (all while trying to sell you his online course or book on how to become successful). He often idolises other men like Elon Musk, Jordan Belfort, or Jordan Peterson. His favourite movie is The Wolf of Wall Street, obviously. He won’t shut up about stocks.
On social media, you will often find them posing next to expensive cars, wearing expensive watches, and holding bottles of Dom Pérignon. He unironically uses phrases like ‘work hard, play harder’, or flexes that he only sleeps four hours a night, all in the name of his “empire.”
A recurring and friendly motto within the girlboss culture is that ‘girls support girls’ (whether it’s true or not is a whole other topic). Boybosses, on the other hand, like to shut others out—they grind non-stop, do not allow themselves to get vulnerable, and do not believe in any type of human relationships that come in the way between them and money. On top of all this, you will find some boybosses express misogynistic views that all women are gold diggers who only want them for their money. Ironic, isn’t it?
So, what is the common connection between the two? Both are a byproduct of hustle culture, and both base their entire personalities and livelihoods off of their career and monetary success. Both display questionable and cringy behaviour. But here is the thing—the memes and jokes are mainly directed at girlbosses, not their male counterparts.
Yes, girlboss-ism is outdated and sexist in itself as it is built on stereotypes. It’s not helpful, and it is the perfect example of white and toxic feminism. But what we cannot ignore is its origins—the fact is, when it comes to work, women have had it much harder than men for a very long time. The wage gap still exists. And sure, adding glitter and a few inspiration slogans will not fix it, but how is it that women are the ones to get the short end to the stick yet again? Why do we not question why some people seek or need motivation in the form of girlboss-ism in the first place?
The memes are funny, no doubt. But perhaps we should also seek to try and understand the systems that created a need for girlboss-ism in the first place.
Many months ago, B.C (before COVID, as I like to say), I, like so many of us, always had my heart set on the milestones; the ones that have been entrenched into us from day one. Milestones we were taught we must reach in order to succeed at life. Starting with GCSEs then moving swiftly on to A levels, university degrees, followed by a good job. Let me rephrase that; followed by your first ‘proper job’. Here’s how I finally pushed the career woman off her ladder, and because of it, she’s never been happier.
These jobs usually allow you to develop practical skills and gain experience to begin this initial part of your career. But somewhere down the line, a lot of us start to feel helpless because it turns out, the job isn’t really what we dreamt we would be doing. The chances are you feel undervalued, underrepresented or misplaced. Overcome with restlessness and a fast-approaching quarter-life crisis, you wonder how following all the how-to steps have left you feeling lost.
We are all undoubtedly products of our environment and our generation is told that our careers represent who we are. To live the London lifestyle is to become a part of an all-encompassing, infinite optical illusion with new patterns emerging and blending into each other every second of the day. You become absorbed—and you must keep up. The competition is fierce, now more than ever, and it is everywhere. It’s invigorating, which is probably why we are so drawn to it. Queue the universally-dreaded, predictable pre-drinks question ‘So what is it you do?’.
This kind of competition has its downsides as you can certainly be made to feel inadequate if you are not ‘keeping up’. London doesn’t care how far you’ve come because it wants you to keep going and not take your eyes off the ball for one second. Throughout the hiring-freeze rut, I’ve had moments of feeling like a total failure for not having found myself a shiny new job as if this was the basis for my capabilities, self-worth or intelligence. It was as though, without having those words that made up a job role, the image I had of myself had been slightly shattered.
With such huge emphasis in our culture on being underpaid and overworked in order to achieve our goals, what is it that we are actually achieving? A high salary or experience in an industry you’re passionate about? But what if you’re not experiencing either, because like so many others, you’re just starting out? Why should we, at this stage, be continually forcing ourselves through fear-inducing jobs or striving for ‘the next thing’ when we haven’t even taken the time to check ourselves?
How can you be even sure of what it is you want if your judgement is always clouded by a relentless work culture? Does this lifestyle allow enough space for genuine, authentic thought? I highly doubt it.
Most of us have grown up subject to the unrealistic, burdening expectation to have to know exactly what we want in life from such a young age. Or as a friend of mine likes to say “just choose something and stick with it,” translating into the very British concept of enduring adversity because ultimately, it will pay off. I call bullshit and my response to this argument is always the same. How am I supposed to know what I want or even what I’m good at, without having experienced it?
While a career is an element of life, it is not our whole life. We are made to feel like the career ladder is everything yet there is no evidence to suggest that this is a reflection of our truest selves. In the same way that it would be inappropriate to say that someone who is single is in any way ‘incomplete’ or ‘lacking’ by not being in a relationship, it seems absurd that a person would judge another entirely on one element of their lives.
It’s no wonder the side hustle took off as it did when people are starting to realise that the career chase isn’t going to scratch every itch they have, such as the creative kind. Still, it has been instilled into our wiring that attaining the perfect, sophisticated job will complete us. In the same way that women ‘should’ feel maternal, we all ‘should’ want to be career people.
I implore those placing such an emphasis on their career alone to critically consider why they feel that way. Does this come from within themselves or is it possible we have been conditioned to feel like this? If one’s job is one’s dream and purpose then, by all means, keep going. My concern is that we have been systematically taught to chase an invisible and false sense of security, status and value that supposedly goes hand in hand with a so-called career. There is no miraculous end to a system perpetuating the notion that a person’s worth is determined by their job role because there will always be a better job. Or as our old pal St Augustine put it, “Desire hath no rest.”
Don’t be afraid to unashamedly cut the ties that link your sense of self to your career. As individuals, we are continuously changing and it would be ignorant to suggest that any job would ‘fix’ the way in which we interpret and face the world. After all, it’s as much about handling things as it is about having things. I have now dimmed the spotlight on the glamorised career woman image in my head as I’ve concluded that it is crucial to remember that you are not your career. Just as you are not your sexuality, your race, your worst days or your mistakes. Let that be something we all keep in mind as the UK Kickstart jobs scheme finally opens for application…