The new Netflix show “Girlboss” promised fun, fashion and feminism. The series, which premiered Friday, is loosely based on the “#Girlboss” book by Nasty Gal founder Sophia Amoruso.
The show had been hailed by publications like Glamour for refusing to dilute its feminist message, and Business Insider once praised Amoruso herself for “making feminism cool again.” So it would be reasonable to expect that this show might carry a feminist message.
“Girlboss” may be fun, and there’s a lot of fashion in it, but the show is nothing but a disservice to feminism.
The series centers around the antics of Sophia, a 23-year-old San Francisco native who begins styling vintage clothing and reselling it on eBay. Eventually, she goes on to start her own Web site, Nasty Gal, to hawk the wares. In the process, she makes some money, upsets some of the old guard, and wears an extremely cool motorcycle jacket.
Making a lot of money reselling goods seems pretty fun. The show definitely paints it as such. We’re certainly meant to roll our eyes at the band in the first episode that ends its act by quietly stating, “The basic tenets of capitalism and democracy contradict each other.”
It’s cool that the main character is making money. Good for her! But being rich isn’t necessarily a feminist act. Marie Antoinette, Leona Helmsley and Imelda Marcos aren’t remembered as great feminist icons. If that wealth isn’t used to advance other women’s lives, then it’s just . . . a nice situation for the person who is rich.
Here’s the thing about feminism that some people in the 21st century seem to have forgotten: Feminism is about trying to improve life, not just for yourself, but for others. Gloria Steinem probably said it best when she noted that “feminism has never been about getting a job for one woman. It’s about making life more fair for women everywhere.”
Sophia doesn’t really seem interested in doing that. In fact, she seems so uninterested in doing that, that when her best (female) friend asks if she could be paid for the work she’s doing for Sophia, Sophia responds with outrage. She then suggests that she could replace her with an unpaid intern. That is not something Gloria Steinem would do. That is something Ebenezer Scrooge would do.
It doesn’t seem like Sophia will be campaigning for equal pay for all women anytime soon. And it doesn’t help that the real-life Nasty Gal company went bankrupt following a lawsuit alleging that it fired women for becoming pregnant.
While the show’s Sophia has the freedom to do a great deal, that’s just a product of being 23. Feminism is not “doing whatever you want, whenever you want to.” Nor is it just about “making a lot of money.” It requires thinking about others in the world.
Doing so seems completely antithetical to the character on “Girlboss.”
This is a character who, in the first episode, casually steals a rug from a store. Her action prompts a man off screen to wonder, “Is she going to pay for that? No, I guess she’s not!” In the context of the show, the theft seems cheeky and fun-loving. But if the program were about anyone but a very pretty young white woman, this plot point would be depicting a mentally ill person who doesn’t understand how payment works.
(In future episodes, she goes on to steal a book, sodas and a Christmas tree. There are no repercussions! Seemingly, the cool feminist message here is that you need never pay for anything ever again.)
If “Girlboss” is just intended to be a show about a not-great person, that’s fine. There are plenty of people in the world who are not great people and also make a lot of money. Some of them are women. But it isn’t empowering, any more than a woman being a mass murderer would be a bold step forward for women.
At the end of the series, Sophia does note that her accomplishments were all because of the people who helped her. That sentiment is somewhat diminished by the fact that in the prior scene she does not pay the person who decorated her launch party, but does reluctantly treat them to a Snickers bar.
If you want to watch a show about fashion, “Girlboss” may be a worthy pick. If you want to watch a show about feminism, hold out for “The Handmaid’s Tale.” The outfits may not be quite as cool, but the message will resonate a lot more.
This article was originally published in the New York Post.