25 Cents’ Worth: How the girlboss stained her blazer and her empire

As the girlboss trend escapes social media, one questions if this is a new leap for feminism or a patriarchy-induced delusion.

One’s imagination can certainly recall this memory of a woman seen on screen. Her appearance is nothing but immaculate; her blazer snugly fitting and her hair not having a single tress disheveled. Heralding the position of chief executive officer (CEO), she is the archetypal girlboss. But beneath her glorious façade are the dirty hands that helped her accomplish corporate success.

From the era of enfranchisement up until the current century, the feminist movement began to give women a voice in the clamorous patriarchal arena. The rise of social media has made contributions to amplify this, with an abundance of other feminist movements following suit. Nestled in the climate of empowerment hereafter, the girlboss was born.

In response to the rise of women in the workplace, the girlboss narrative departs from the traditionalist storyline that women are exclusively bred to become mothers and homemakers. Rather, it encourages women to become careerists, assiduously working to build their empire and to advance their social status. Yet, under this so-called progressive venture is a cheapened, if not explicitly masqueraded, version of feminism—rendering women mere cogs in the capitalist machine.

Scratching the surface

The tongue-in-cheek internet alliteration “gaslight, gatekeep, girlboss” has gamely deprecated the rising movement, and perhaps rightly so. Coined in 2014, the term “#girlboss” seeks to tailor a new persona for women in the millennial age. But many have critiqued the girlboss philosophy to be half-hearted and one-dimensional in its execution, prompting the creation of the nonsensical alliteration in 2021. Ultimately, “gaslight, gatekeep, girlboss” bears no coherence—nor does the concept of the girlboss itself.

In practice, the world of the girlboss preys on the lower classes. Reined in big corporate and oligarchic positions, girlbosses take part in and celebrate an exploitative system that they can very well be the oppressors in. Perhaps this is where the original sin of girlboss-ism lies—it fails to internally critique the conundrum of capitalism ravaging beneath it.

As a result, the concept of the girlboss deradicalizes feminism; it does not serve the diverse interests of women in the community, but empowers the ones enveloped within existing exclusivist structures. Noticeably, the girlboss leans toward upper class White women. Koa Beck, writer of the book White Feminism, says it cares more about individual success such as “going to a very elite college, running your own company, exploiting other women, [and] being middle class,” she writes.

Hence, the girlboss is sheathed comfortably under her office desk and behind her CEO plaque, never gazing outside the window to see the world beyond. And in the world of ironed blazers and bright makeup, where are the people of color, indigenous people, the underprivileged, and other marginalized sectors?

Hustle kahit hassle

In the country, the concept of the girlboss has the dangerous power to resonate with Filipinas. The quest to ascend the corporate ladder has been romanticized by the macho elite, whose rags to riches stories easily strike a chord with many. While the likes of Sen. Manny Pacquiao and Manila Mayor Isko Moreno can meet career mobility, there has been a vacuum of female individuals who can boast of the same. But this reality is accompanied by a mindset that sees women being attached to their families and incapable of fully committing to their jobs.

This perception is most blatantly seen in Sen. Imee Marcos’ banters in the VinCentiments short film PAGOD LEN-LEN, audaciously invalidating the struggles of laborers with 18-hour work days or longer. “Alam niyo, time management ‘yan eh. Ang pagtatrabaho ay parang pag-inom ng kape, ‘Pag nag-timpla ka, dapat tantiya mo,” says Marcos herself, who has properties worth P922,935.16, numerous business interests, and financial connections not fully disclosed in her SALN. This comment comes from a woman who doesn’t need to work 18 hours a day to put food on her table. It is in this mentality that the girlboss can readily flout laborers in lower-income communities–many of whom must extensively toil to make ends meet.

(You know, that just needs time management. Working is like drinking coffee; you have to be precise with measuring time when you brew it.)

As she ignores the working class woman’s aspiration to attain a better life for one’s family, the girlbosses narrative disregards socioeconomic dynamics. Instead, Marcos monolithically focuses on well-off women who “need” to amass more wealth.

Similar to Beck’s claims, girlboss-ism in the Philippine context is exclusive to privileged women hustling in their sitdown jobs. They also exist in female leaders with cases of corruption, foreign debt, and exploitative millionaire companies—with its very victims being female minorities. Among these are underpaid working class women; Lumad women leaders and educators like Bayan Muna representative Eufemia Cullamat and Bakwit teacher Jeany Rose Hayahay, who champion for indigenous peoples’ right to ancestral lands and education; LGBTQ+ activists who call for their rights in the public sphere; and women journalists and lawmakers who shun misogyny to uphold truth and justice.

A real crowd pleaser

People woke up to the girlboss’ corporate-colored glasses with the internet’s new muse, #ThatGirl. Because of the absence of the traditional workplace setting during the COVID-19 pandemic, #ThatGirl transitioned from the professional to the personal by prioritizing self-improvement activities. Tracing its origins from morning routine vlogs on YouTube and Pinterest’s clean aesthetics, #ThatGirl wakes up at 7 am, does pilates in her sports bra, drinks a cup of matcha latté, and of course, posts her morning routine on TikTok.

From the work savvy girlboss to the wellness savvy #ThatGirl, she is empowered when she has the resources to get her life together. Although there’s nothing invalid with striving for self-betterment, the girlboss and #ThatGirl blueprints cater solely to the top of the pyramid. Compartmentalizing our understanding of the modern female in hashtags may reduce our understanding of what feminism is for. If the patriarchal arena leaves space for women only to aspire and not interrogate, the male-centered society can still feast on getting away with their sins.

Dismissing the complex interplay of societal accessibility and identity, the girlboss’ bids for a more progressive society fall short. In a video by The Financial Diet titled The Dangerous Myth Of The #Girlboss, they say, “No empire was ever built without stepping on someone else.” Perhaps Marcos was right, we do have to mix it up and kick the oppressive girlboss outside the window. She could try doing so, if she wishes to speak on behalf of the ordinary Filipino.

Womanhood is never a commodity nor a personality trait—she is the face of an uphill battle of injustices that continue to affect her today. This is not a battle of the sexes. Cooperation with the patriarchy is much welcome—as the feminist movement is, ultimately, for the benefit of all.

By Summer Sanares

By Bea Cruz

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