The GuardianThe Guardian

‘Girlboss’ used to suggest a kind of role model. How did it become a sexist putdown?

By Martha Gill

21 Aug 2022 · 4 min read

Editor's Note

This opinion piece looks at the evolution of the term "girl boss" and explains why the phrase underwent a shift from being positive to negative, relating it to various movements of feminist thought.

What’s the difference between a girlboss and a career woman? The simplest answer, perhaps, is time. Once it was the term “career woman” that translated female ambition as selfish, immoral and slightly ridiculous; now, “girlboss” does the job. The morals in question have changed. The effect is the same.

You may not have heard the word. It traces the rise and fall of a particular movement in feminism. Girlboss originated around 2014 as an approving description of the type of success epitomised by Sheryl Sandberg’s “lean in” approach. It cheered on the rugged individualist making it in a man’s world through “moxie” and “hustle”.

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