This article contains mild spoilers.
“Girlboss” is a Netflix series loosely based on the story of Nasty Gal clothing company founder and “#Girlboss” autobiographer Sophia Amoruso. It’s helmed by “Pitch Perfect’s” Kay Cannon and suffers some of the manic pixie nightmare millennial character setup typical of “Pitch Perfect” characters.
Episodes one to three largely focus on setting up “Sophia Marlowe,” the character, as unlikable, rebellious, and somehow failing towards success. She doesn’t show a bit of evidence of earning success until episode four, where dedication to preserving her positive online customer ratings leads Sophia to face her fear of bridges and run across the Golden Gate Bridge to keep her promise to LadyShopper99. This character, who until then hadn’t hesitated to share every single thought, bites her tongue at multiple wrongs from a customer because she knows it matters more to deliver than to be right about a triviality.
This pivot and passion for building her business and brand are when the show is at its best and, despite all contrary reviews, the most feminist. The band in the bar at the end of episode one may mutter into the microphone “The basic tenets of capitalism and democracy contradict each other,” but the audience can roll their eyes, because Sophia is here to be her own boss and that’s only going to happen right where she is.
While saying she’s building a passion, not a “business,” Sophia focuses relentlessly on growing her company. She’s a capitalist whose main luck was growing up in the right country that allowed her to build a better brand in the early days of e-commerce. The series tries so hard to make her a cool anti-hero until this moment, but her discovery of her drive to succeed is authentically cool.
Feminists Should Love Capitalism Because It Frees Women
Feminism is supposed to mean women can choose to do what they want, even be entrepreneurs focused on their own vision. Sophia fervently believes in her own vision and ruthlessly pursues her goals. The series doesn’t ignore that flaw, and her behavior causes serious rifts with those who love her the most.
In that way, Sophia is similar to many entrepreneurs, who focus more on their vision than others’ feelings. Silicon Valley is rife with success stories and thought leaders who followed their own vision first and worried about people second. Frankly, the kind of person who starts a business from scratch isn’t often the best person to run that business once it’s successful.
That plays out in the real-life fate of Nasty Gal. Amoruso has stepped down, and the company once worth more than $300 million is now in bankruptcy court. The majority of reviews for the show are struggling with how, then, this can be a “feminist success story.” But not every tale of female success has to be insulated from reality. If feminism needs every woman to be a “Mary Sue,” then feminism isn’t really for any actual women.
Capitalism is a wonderful equalizer of access for women that created a moment where Sophia’s talents could provide unique value to her customers and create a successful business. Not all businesses are meant to last, and that creative destruction is positive for people, too. Why continue to work at something that is no longer providing value? Why try to preserve something that others have started to do better? That’s not valuable for society, nor is it a place to cage up a creative person like Sophia in perpetuity.
The Girlboss Is Too Creative to Be a ‘Good’ Feminist
The Girlboss herself doesn’t seem like she’d make a good feminist if you follow her book’s advice. To quote her, “You don’t get taken seriously by asking someone to take you seriously. You’ve got to show up and own it. If this is a man’s world, who cares? I’m still really glad to be a girl in it.” This isn’t a woman who thinks the way to get ahead is to beg the government for “equal pay,” let alone take time to worry about the patriarchy. Think what American women could accomplish if, like Amoruso, they stopped worrying about who’s to blame.
It gets worse. She actually suggests women ask for things they want. Crazy, right? “If you’re frustrated because you’re not getting what you want, stop for a second: Have you actually flat-out asked for it? If you haven’t, stop complaining. You can’t expect the world to read your mind. You have to put it out there, and sometimes putting it out there is as simple as just saying, ‘Hey, can I have that?’”
Even better, it’s clear that she believes her success came from hard work and never being above packing boxes or doing the best job even if no one is watching.
“Even with no manager watching to give me a gold star, it was important to do my best. Who cares if a tree falls in a forest and no one hears it? The tree still falls. If you believe that what you’re doing will have positive results, it will—even if it’s not immediately obvious. When you hold yourself to the same standard in your work that you do as a friend, girlfriend, student, or otherwise, it pays off,” Amoruso says.
She’s said a lot more about personal responsibility and creating your own future. It’s all here and all so different from today’s feminists, who assume women are owed a living.
Neither Entertainment Nor Women Have to Serve Ideology
After reading these, seeing how every review notes her business ran into trouble over maternity leave policies, and how The Guardian was most irritated by how the main character in the Netflix show wanted to make money, largely everyone seems let down that the show or Sophia herself didn’t do enough for the cause.
If you don’t think every show or woman must serve a partisan cause, you might give “Girlboss” a shot. It picks up after episode three and displays some really great work from costars RuPaul, Norm McDonald, and Melanie Lynskey that brighten the show considerably. Those to whom 2006 was a super long time ago will enjoy the jokes about the OC and Britney and the music that’s now more than a decade old. The well-placed use of “Let the River Run” at a pivot point in the series also might just lift your heart a little.
While the show doesn’t hit it out of the park, it’s at its best in episodes like “Vintage Fashion Forum” that have a lot of fun bringing message boards to life in a way that makes this episode probably one of the best of the first season. Every decade has its growth stories, and this small study of early e-commerce is also a particularly interesting part of the series.
In the end, both Amoruso and her reimagining in Marlowe are flawed characters with a vision to build something bigger than themselves. Sophia saw an opportunity and took it. Even better, this country has space for women to build themselves up from nothing to a huge success that brings joy to customers and creates jobs for a time.
Bankruptcy is part of the cycle of creative destruction and a reason that people start more businesses here than in most countries. This paves the way for the next successes. The next girlbosses get their shot, and their female customers win. I can’t think of anything more feminist than that.