There Was No Girlboss Era
Sheryl Sandberg's Meta departure marks the end of nothing
Meta, the company formerly known as Facebook, announced yesterday the “leaning out” of its chief operating officer, Sheryl Sandberg, who’d been with the company for nearly 15 years. Sandberg’s departure, in conjunction with Glossier CEO Emily Weiss’s announcement last month that she was stepping down, has given way to a flood of headlines about the conclusion of the “girlboss era,” a phenomenon that did and does not exist.
Everyone, at the very least, is having fun with their synonyms about all of this. Axios calls it the “end”; The New York Times calls it the “sunsetting.” The Guardian calls it the “decline” of the girlboss era; Insider calls it the “fall.” Well, that’s fine. Women are over! We’ve known that for a minute.
In The New York Times piece, the one that likens the departure of Weiss to a person who is slowly dying, the girlboss era is defined as something that “[in the span of a few years, [...] moved from earnest to ironic and barbed.” If you took girlboss as earnest, that’s on you. A phrase that came into notoriety behind a hashtag, “girlboss” is perhaps most affiliated with Nasty Gal founder Sophia Amoruso whose book and subsequent television show shared the name. Now, Amoruso runs “girlboss rallies,” instructional events for young women that cost anywhere from $500 to $1,400. The @girlbossrally Instagram stopped updating in March of 2020, signaling a much older toppling of the girlboss empire.
If it was anything, the girlboss era was a successful baiting and reeling of the media, which profiled these women ad nauseum, putting them on covers and letting them write books and using their pull quotes to bully other women in the workplace. The New York Times surveyed women five years after Sandberg’s Lean In was published to see whether it was helping women. Amy Klobuchar, known best for not becoming president and second best for being a bad girlboss (perhaps the original “nasty gal”), said: “Ten years ago, there were 16 women in the Senate — and they were calling them the “sweet 16.” Now there are 22. This doesn’t sound like a lot, and it’s not — but that number is almost half the number of women who’ve been in the Senate in the entire history of our country.” Okay, so ten years ago, there were 16 women in the Senate, and then five years ago, Lean In was published, and now there are six more women. Got it!
The girlboss era, which didn’t exist, was never earnest. It was always ironic and barbed: they had to put “girl” in front of the word “boss.” And most of the founders or CEOs, as cited in The New York Times, left their companies due to labor disputes or toxic leadership. Perhaps what was most notable about the “girlboss era” was how easy it was to remember who they were because there were so few of them. I couldn’t tell you the name of a single boy boss out there, committing rampant fraud and labor exploitation, sometimes DJing on weekends. Time will pass, fake eras will “topple,” but it will be easy to remember which girlboss ran which girlbrand and what girlmalpractice they did to get girlousted or girlfired. Only when their girlcrimes go un-girlpunished, un-girlremarked upon, will the girlboss era come to its girlend.