June 14, 2021

The girlboss has left the chat

The girlboss has left the chat

We’re deconstructing the girlboss to determine what troublesome behavior she’s hiding under that power suit and perfect haircut. It’s a conversation for everyone, and it’s one about archetypes, ideas, labels, and really good stories of really toxic people.

These days, which have been more populated with critiques of late-stage capitalism than most, the girlboss is facing a reckoning for one major reason: Instead of reinventing a system that put her down, she learned to play by the rules of her oppressors.


What does that mean for the future of our social and economic frameworks? This week on Thinking Is Cool, we’re going to find out.


What you can expect from this episode of Thinking Is Cool:

  • An exploration of the archetypical girlboss character and how she ascended to such power
  • Context and insight from women who’ve certainly avoided the trappings of girlbossery at a masterful level
  • Some digs at men I’ve worked with before (yolo)
  • The inspiration (I think! And hope!) to reconsider the ways we tend to put each other in boxes, regardless of gender identity


We’ve got some really great insight in this episode thanks to two women who are all boss, no girlboss. Here are the guests in this episode:

  • Molly Maloney is a Senior Associate at PwC consulting on tech and program management. She’s incredibly bright and motivated, and I’m glad we’re now friends.
  • Carolyn Childers is the cofounder and CEO of Chief, a private network designed specifically for women leaders. Despite what you might think of private networks, Carolyn and her business are worth keeping an eye on. I loved speaking with and learning from her.



Season 1 of Thinking Is Cool is brought to you by HMBradley, our exclusive launch sponsor. Deposit accounts are provided by Hatch Bank, Member FDIC. Credit cards are issued by Hatch Bank under a license with MasterCard. This is a paid endorsement.


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*Roll pull quote*


*Roll intro music*


Hello to all of my girlbosses and go-getters and grinders out there. Today is the perfect day to hustle your way to the top, crush your goals, and make a life you’ve always dreamed of.


I’m kidding. I’m Kinsey Grant, not Glennon Doyle. And this is Thinking Is Cool, not Unlocking Us with Brene Brown. I grew up wanting to be a journalist—from the time I was a little girl, all I wanted to do was tell stories to people. Now, I’m doing that on my own terms with my own business, Thinking Is Cool. 


And you can accomplish anything you put your mind to as well! Wait, sorry, that was Brene again. Here at Thinking Is Cool, I’m all about doing that shit—making goals and reaching them and having fun—but let’s be realistic about it. That hustle stuff is so 2014.


But it’s a big part of what we’re talking about today. I’ll explain more in just a moment, but first...shout out to our exclusive launch sponsor, HMBradley.


And shout out to all of you. This episode marks the halfway point for Season 1 of Thinking Is Cool. The conversations we’ve had and topics we’ve tackled have been varied, but one constant has persisted: all of you and your willingness to think differently. Thank you so much, and here’s to the future.


Which, of course, is female. Right? Today, we’ll find out. 


Nothing is off limits. Everything is on the table. Take it anywhere...and remember, thinking is cool. And so are you.


*Fade out music*


When I walk down the street at night, I hold one of my keys in between my knuckles just in case I need a weapon to defend myself. 


I carry pepper spray.


I always look around before I walk into my apartment building to ensure that no one can follow me inside.


I pretend to be a little less intelligent and ambitious than I really am on first dates so as not to intimidate the man across the table.


I have been asked how old I am and whether I am qualified by numerous male sources. Jordan Belfort, the actual wolf of wall street, once told me that he could be my father, and then stopped answering my interview questions seriously upon finding out I was, in fact, the same age as his daughter.


I have been stonewalled by male managers for asking questions and derided for being too emotional in the workplace.


I have consistently been judged on my appearance or the sound of my voice rather than the quality of my work. I have been told I shouldn’t have a podcast because I have vocal fry.


I have been asked “are you in the right place sweetie?” when I was most certainly in the right place.


And that’s just a little bit about me. It’s hard to describe precisely what it’s like to be a woman today to anyone who has not been a woman today. I love women and I love being one myself, but this shit is hard. I rattled off that list as a small sample of what it’s like. What things women have to think about that many men don’t.


What I wear. How I sound. What I say and how I say it. Whether I was nice enough. Whether I was too nice. Where I sit in the office or on the train or in a restaurant. My brain is constantly computing, searching just as much for opportunity as it is for danger. Where can I carve out space to prove myself? But how can I do that in a way that doesn’t jeopardize my career or livelihood?


For the women out there, I’m not describing anything new. From childhood, we’ve been taught to tailor our behavior to fit into a man’s world with precision and efficiency. And that’s just been the way of the world for as long as anyone, really, can remember. 


Women like Kamala Harris and Ruth Bader Ginsburg have ascended to positions of power our predecessors would only dream of...only to be judged more harshly than men for things that have nothing to do with the job description. Women finally became the majority of the US workforce...only to be paid on average just 84% of what men earn.


Inequity like this has always existed, and in complicated layers. I know that you know that—I’m not breaking any news here. But as far as I can tell, it never hurts to reiterate stats like these, which come from the World Economic Forum:

  • Women are 47% more likely to suffer severe injuries in car crashes because safety features are designed for men
  • Globally, 33,000 girls under the age of 18 become child brides every day
  • At the current rate of progress, it will take another 108 years to reach gender parity
  • Only 6 countries give women equal legal work rights as men


You don’t have to identify as a woman to understand how deeply troubling that is. It should piss you off. It should shock you. It should make you want something to change. 


Historically, it has. Throughout history, responses to inequality have been as varied as the inequality itself, from actions as small as wearing suffragette white to marching in the streets en masse.


Today, I want to talk about one specific response to centuries of gender inequality: the advent of the girlboss. To me, the girlboss represents everything we love and hate about late-stage capitalism, branding, social media, and political discourse. It’s a concept so enormously interesting, and yet so hard to fully describe.


It’s Sheryl Sandberg from Facebook. Audrey Gelman from The Wing. Steph Korey from Away. It’s most certainly Sophia Amoruso, the one-time Nasty Gal leader who effectively brought the hashtag girlboss to the mainstream in her 2014 memoir of the same name.


The #girlboss (interchangable with she-e-o, boss babe, and badass) was a concept marketed to young women like me as the paragon for the girly-pop on a mission—she would stop at nothing to make a name and career for herself. She was Leaning In™ and she didn’t think twice about anyone who might stop her.


All that glitters on Instagram is, of course, not gold. So today, here’s what we’re thinking about: We’re exploring the complicated means by which the girlboss movement has uniquely functioned as both cause and symptom of a broader illness—inequality on the basis of sex.


It’s a disparity that costs all of us, women or not, every single day. It’s a human problem, an economic one, and a deeply interesting one. I want to think deeper and harder about this today because it feels there’s little time to waste. A pandemic that disproportionately set women back in their careers compounded by the culmination of a presidency that did very little for women…? Now is the time for something new. Now is the time for something better.


So today, let’s talk about it. Let’s think about what the hashtag girlboss means, and how hustle culture has put us all in boxes. Let’s consider how we got here and what reckoning might lie on the horizon. Let’s figure out what the future might hold, if it is in fact female.


Let’s do it.


*Roll transition music*


But first, a brief interlude to talk about feminism. Let’s cleanse our palates before we really get into the girlboss of it all. This is important.


Feminism is, in the absolute, most-Uggs wearing basic way, this: a political ideology that advocates for women's rights on the basis of the equality of the sexes. It’s so much more than that, though. It’s been through numerous waves, it’s experienced crises of leadership, it’s hit the mainstream, it’s failed, it’s succeeded, and it’s been debated passionately for decades. To be a feminist has always meant occupying a specific role. The role changes—finding the next Gloria Steinem or Betty Friedan doesn’t come easily. But at the core, feminism is simple.


I was recently sent this quote from Maisie Williams, the talented actress who played Arya Stark on Game of Thrones. Maisie didn’t send it to me. Maisie said it. Anyway, here it is:


“I also feel like we should stop calling feminists “feminists” and just start calling people who aren’t feminist “sexist” — and then everyone else is just a human. You are either a normal person or a sexist.”


I know a lot of men listen to this show. I’m sure many of you would cop to being feminists, but I’m also sure a lot of you might not mean it. Despite its prevalence this last century, feminism still stirs in some people a sense of rage. 


There are still people, mostly men, out there who think a woman’s place really is in the kitchen. More troublingly, though, they ascribe to the belief that men are the oppressed. Some men are oppressed—that is certain. But rarely are men oppressed on the basis of sex. As a woman, I am almost every day. And I have it good—I’m white, conventionally attractive, and employed. Sexism haunts me every single day.


And yet, some men will say that they’re the ones struggling most. Here’s a bit from a 2015 Vox article I found incredibly compelling.


“Men's rights activism has been in the undercurrent of American culture since at least the 1970s and has been largely explicit in its role as a backlash against feminism. The movement has neither a central platform nor any acclimated leaders, but the central themes are consistent: It is men, not women, who are oppressed. Men are required to enter the selective service; women are immune. Men typically lose their children in otherwise equal custody disputes. Men are expected to work dangerous and difficult jobs in construction and agriculture. 


“Beyond these overt disadvantages, they claim more subtle systemic disrespect from a culture increasingly focused on what they take to be feminine values, from emotional expressiveness to total sexual and reproductive liberation. When they vary, it is in extremity, with some merely decrying the "anti-male" attitude of feminism and others seeking, for example, to reverse the criminalization of marital rape.”


I bring up the idea of this shocking backlash to feminism because it highlights the struggles that persist today, some 170 years after the first visible public demand for women’s suffrage. I’m going to talk about the failures of the girlboss movement and its penchant for commoditizing feminist ideals...but I want you to remember that behind this movement, there remains an enormous war yet to be won. It’s fought in small and large battles for equality, both constitutional and social.


No two battles are the same. Just as no two feminists or men’s rights activists are the same.


Though there is this idea that all men’s rights activists are the same—obese, conventionally unattractive, and generally without the opportunity to find sexual or romantic partners. The incels you read about online.


I reject that. I don’t know any men who openly admit to being men’s rights activists, but I read quite a lot about them in writing this episode. I came to understand that they, in essence, live among us normal people. They have normal jobs and might dress well and might even pass as attractive.


It’s a lesson in labeling. For a very long time, the idea of being a feminist was taboo. Even to my parents, it was a shock when I started calling myself a feminist. Their generation viewed feminism as a reactionary movement. In some ways it was, but there’s an important distinction to be made...


Not all feminists are angry. Not all feminists are lonely. Not all feminists are barren lands on which male colonizers have chosen not to plant their flag. I’m a feminist, and I will happily idenitfy as such. I get plenty of action, trust me. I don’t hate men, in fact I would argue I love men to a fault.


I just want to be respected the way I respect anyone else, man, woman, or nonbinary. That’s what this conversation is about—the ways women have had to fight for their seat at the table. The ways that fight has failed. The ways it’s succeeded. The ways we view it in modern, contemporary culture. And the ways it’s come to be something...for everyone. Maybe not forever, but certainly for a short while.


*Roll transition music*


In 2015, I read the book Hashtag Girlboss by Sophia Amoruso. It was the first piece of nonfiction I remember reading that spoke to the person I was becoming—someone who is, as my parents have put it, a raging feminist liberal.


Before I devoured the works of Joan Didion, before I pored over Vagina by Naomi Wolf, before I became a Lisa Taddeo evangelist...I read Girlboss. It served as the entry point for many young feminists like me—easy to stomach, perfectly branded, and ever so slightly hinting at the kind of life that only now seems like an option...one in which career comes first. 


In Girlboss, Sophia Amoruso told the story of her ascent from wayward anarchist to hashtag boss babe. She flung open a door Sheryl Sandberg of Facebook fame had already cracked. And after them came an onslaught of women looking to be the next well-dressed she-e-o.


I read quite a lot of pieces on Girlboss culture in preparing for this episode, and none spoke to the phenomenon as eloquently and precisely as Amanda Mull’s work for The Atlantic. Here’s what she said of the early Girlboss days: 


“Instead of dismantling the power men had long wielded in America, career women could simply take it for themselves at the office. Like Sheryl Sandberg’s self-help hit Lean In before it, #Girlboss argued that the professional success of ambitious young women was a two-birds-one-stone type of activism: Their pursuit of power could be rebranded as a righteous quest for equality, and the success of female executives and entrepreneurs would lift up the women below them.”


Being a girlboss meant clamoring for power and respect...but doing it in a way that felt palatable enough for the mainstream. In 2014 when this revolution found its footing, it would have been too radical for a woman to simply state that she wanted to excel in her career and be fairly compensated for it, even if it meant men might lose out on opportunities because of it.


Instead, the girlboss approached the quest for power from a place of perceived poise. The girlboss was dually armed with a perfectly tailored power suit and a formidable sense of ambition. She liked millennial pink and used social media to empower other women, at least on paper.


In 2015, when I was 20 years old, the idea of the girlboss was profoundly intriguing and attractive. She did it all—she worked her ass off and made a name for herself. If I bought into this idea, I could be the next Katie Couric or Barbara Walters. I just needed to do what they did.


And doing what they did meant being something to become someone. It wasn’t enough to show up. It took more than being smart and good at your job to be successful as a woman. 


I needed to be a boss babe. I needed to be a badass—that’s what women like Katie Couris and Barbara Walters were labeled as. I had to fit into a tightly defined ideal in order to get somewhere, even if that somewhere was achieving the bare minimum of respect in the workplace.


If you, like me, have ever been alive...you can probably guess where the girlboss story goes next: capitalism, baby.


In the years following the publication of books like Girlboss and Sheryl Sandberg’s Lean In, women like me were inundated with girlboss consumerism. There were Instagram accounts to follow, workbooks to buy, outfits to wear, you name it...there was commodification of girlboss feminism happening everywhere.


Take, for example, businesses like The Wing. The Wing labels itself as a coworking space these days with the mission to “reinvent spaces for the many versions of you by creating a sanctuary for productivity, creativity and inspiration.”


That’s very 2021. When The Wing was founded by Audrey Gelman and Lauren Kassan in 2016, it was the solution for a problem Gelman identified: She needed a space to change her clothes and freshen up in between meetings.


I know podcasts aren’t a visual medium, but please...do me a favor. At some point today, go to our Thinking Is Cool instagram to see photos of The Wing’s early locations. It looked like a girlboss threw up in there, and women were paying hundreds of dollars to gain membership. Said membership earned you a spot on a roster of boss babes, women, mostly affluent, who appeared fully bought into the idea of the girlboss.


Here’s another, non-coworking example from LA Mag: “Sophia Amoruso, founder of the online fast-fashion retailer Nasty Gal, helped coin the term “girl boss” when she founded Girlboss Media and began hosting weekend-long events for Millennial entrepreneurs starting at $350. Amoruso wrote a book titled #Girlboss and executive produced a TV show by the same name.”


One idea, countless ways to profit from it. Within five years of its publishing, Amoruso’s Girlboss memoir had sold 500,000 copies to people like me. Looking back now, I can scarcely imagine that I actually *liked* what I was reading. I would love to go back in time to tell 20-year-old Kinsey that there’s something better, something more intellectual out there.


I couldn’t find my old copy of Girlboss, but I took the liberty of Googling some of the book’s and Sophia’s best quotes. 


“No matter where you are in life, you’ll save a lot of time by not worrying too much about what other people think about you. The earlier in your life that you can learn that, the easier the rest of it will be.”


“Money looks better in the bank than on your feet.”


“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.”


“#GIRLBOSS, when your time spent making money is significantly greater than your time spent spending money, you will be amazed at how much you can save without even really thinking about it.”


Truly, truly groundbreaking stuff. Save money and don’t think about other people? That was my first indoctrination into what I thought was feminism? It’s like Gary Vee or Tim Ferriss or Joe Rogan, but pink. And it’s really, really dumb.


Now, I tried to get Sophia on this episode, but she’s busy promoting her new project called Business Class these days. See, she’s no longer involved with either of her companies, Nasty Gal or Girlboss.


That’s because Girlboss became insolvent and was acquired for $20 million despite once being valued north of $200 million. And four former Nasty Gal employees accused Amoruso of firing them right before they took maternity leave, or as the internet interpreted it, fired them for getting pregnant.


In a statement, Nasty Gal deemed those accusations “false, defamatory, and taken completely out of context.”


But they’re not altogether uncommon for the Sophia Amorusos of the world.


There’s the one-time girlboss we just talked about, Audrey Gelman. She resigned from her role as The Wing’s CEO after what Vanity Fair aptly described as an “uproar over low pay and poor treatment of the people, largely women of color, tasked with the day-to-day operations of the company’s membership clubs.”


There’s also Steph Korey, another of the girlboss cohort and CEO of the luggage brand Away. She was accused of incredibly toxic and borderline tyrannical management, and after a good deal of back and forth and assertions that any reporting was “inaccurate,” she left the company.


There’s also Miki Agrawal, founder of the Thinx period underwear brand and, in my one-time circle of the New York startup scene, a branding goddess. She was forced out of her company in 2017 after former employees accused her of sexual harassment, claims she denied. 


These women represent one of girlboss culture’s biggest failures: Doing what men do breeds the same bad behavior men have for centuries perpetrated.


It turns out, girlboss culture was effectively created and absolutely perpetuated by women who probably could get away with the status quo. They already had a fighting chance in the man’s world. They were thin, beautiful, and—this one matters most—white.


Instead of dismantling a system that so desperately needed it, girlbosses thrived within its cramped boundaries. Let’s return to that Amanda Mull piece in The Atlantic I referenced before:

  • “Over time, accusations of sinister labor practices among prominent businesswomen who fit the girlboss template became more common. The confident, hardworking, camera-ready young woman of a publicist’s dreams apparently had an evil twin: a woman, pedigreed and usually white, who was not only as accomplished as her male counterparts, but just as cruel and demanding too.”


I have a habit of keeping audio diary entries. Whenever a thought pops into my head that I think is worth coming back to, I make a voice memo. I’m about to play a voice memo from my phone that I recorded on March 25, 2021 right before I went to bed. It sounds weird because I was trying not to wake up my roommate. But here it is:


KINSEY: “I constantly justify actions that make me feel uncomfortable by saying, well, a man would do it, like when I ask for a raise or try to hardball my contract, my inclination is or his well, a man would ask for more. And that's why a man has gotten more. And when I read this book, a little weird page, honestly, is what we're doing now that has done no one any good. We are up to our eyeballs in problems. The Earth is burning, inequity is persistent and systemic and not going anywhere despite our best efforts or at least veiled best efforts. But what other choice do I have? I know that the patriarchy hasn't done any good for society, but what other choice do I have other than doing what a man would do?”


There are other choices, of course. But in that moment after reading an essay by Jenny Slate, I was overcome with frustration that I had justified aggression by saying “a man would do it.” I’ve told so many friends to ask for more money and definitely more equity because men aren’t thinking twice about whether they’ll be perceived as a bitch for asking.


If the rules men created were really working, do you think those statistics I rattled off at the top of this episode would be real? 


Here’s Amanda Mull’s work again: “Making women the new men within corporations was never going to be enough to address systemic racism and sexism, the erosion of labor rights, or the accumulation of wealth in just a few of the country’s millions of hands—the broad abuses of power that afflict the daily lives of most people.”


Clearly, the system needs change. And by doing what’s convenient—playing within that system’s rules—the girlbosses of the world aren’t accomplishing some paradigm-shifting good for humanity. They’re just not.


They’re leaving people of color behind, they’re leaving neurodivergent women behind, they’re leaving nonbinary people behind. Girlbosses said “we’re in this together...if you buy my book and attend my summit and look and act just like me, otherwise you’re on your own.”


Women can’t be permitted to get away with anything they want under the guise of feminism. Especially white women. Their actions, as boss babe as they may be, can be harmful. And no amount of Twitter followers or VC backing can save your business if you created an untenable place to work.


What’s more, the ideals of the girlboss told women there was only one option: 100% on, 100% of the time. It perpetuated hustle culture and told young women that the only way they could achieve their goals was to become one of these so-called badasses. You couldn’t just be someone’s boss...you had to be their girlboss. 


These failures, my friends, are what led to where we are today and what we’re going to talk about in just a minute: the girlboss reckoning. The tidal wave of backlash that has strewn these women far from their millennial pink thrones. 


Let’s take a short break to hear from our partner, HMBradley, then we will be back.


*Roll HMB ad here*


Thanks as always to our friends at HMBradley. 


The girlbosses were false goddesses and they spread what we’re about to explore: the Girlboss Fallacy...the suggestion that the only way to succeed in your career is by offering 120% of yourself to the man’s world. That...ain’t it.


But first, I think it’s important to say this: To me, the Girlboss revolution was an answer to the struggles women have always faced in the workplace. Girlbosses were and are looking for opportunity. After generations of being trapped by a system designed by and for men, women had to do something. In the case of the girlboss, it was to play by the men’s rules.


It was getting a foot in the door. It was fighting for the bare minimum in equality of opportunity. Now, we let everyone else in that metaphorical door. 


I was the perfect target consumer for girlboss feminism. Young, educated, white, conventionally attractive. I ate that shit up.


But now, I’m my own boss. I have my own business. I have the most enormous opportunity in front of me: I can now decide to do more than just buy into the commodification of feminism and equality. I can make it happen...and you can too.


Now, before that break...I told you we were going to talk about the reckoning that has come for girlboss culture. Let’s rock n roll.


The obvious place to start is, of course, TikTok. 


Perhaps nowhere else is the backlash to girlboss culture as evident as it is on TikTok, where the “girlboss” hashtag has more than 1.2 billion views. Unfortunately for all of us, some of the videos are not highbrow commentary on the commodification of feminism in the workplace and rather genuine content about MLMs.


But the ones that are highbrow commentary? They’re chef’s kiss. See, as young people especially have come to recognize the simultaneous danger and futility of working 100 hours a week, they’ve waged a war on hustle culture writ large. That means everyone from Sophia Amoruso and the girlbosses to every white dude on Twitter who talks about how hard he works at UBS is subject to their humor.


There are plenty of creators raging against the girlboss machine, and one such is Rania Blaik. She started what has become a widespread trend of ironically calling women like Elizabeth Holmes of Theranos infamy a girlboss. 


Here’s what Blaik told LA Mag: “Having a fraudulent healthcare company with an awful culture and simultaneously being named Glamour’s Woman of the Year is deeply funny.” 


Funny enough for Blaik to start selling Elizabeth Holmes girlboss merch on Etsy. Merch I, Kinsey Grant, have seriously considered buying.


I’m not a therapist, but I think that might be a coping mechanism. We’ve been force fed the idea that all our problems might be solved if we replaced men with women at the top of the power pyramids that have gotten us to this godforsaken point already. 


Now, we can see how wrong that assertion is.


I came to recognize that being a “bad ass” or a “girlboss” or a “boss babe” wasn’t a prerequisite for achieving success, or at least it shouldn’t be. And that’s mostly because I started working, and working with mostly men.


Here’s part of a conversation I had with Molly Malloney, who does tech consulting at PwC, where she formed a practice-wide Women’s Network.


MOLLY: “I definitely kind of grew up with. Not really questioning like women can do anything right? I think that I only saw strong women around me kind of doing what they, you know, whatever they kind of wanted and achieving and kind of different spaces and did not really ever question, you know, do I have equal opportunity next to next to a man? Like I just think that my in my DNA was just kind of strong girl boss mentality. And I don't think that was fully checked until I graduated college and started my career in tech consulting in Silicon Valley. And I think immediately joining the firm that I'm at, the tech consulting firm I met, I looked around and I was like, huh, there is eight women in our 400 person practice and not even 10 percent of our practice was female.”


From the time I first picked up my copy of Girlboss, I thought that I would be able to hustle my way to the top. The reality is so much more complicated. Real life work is full of warts the millennial girlbosses don’t want you to see. It’s full of men who doubt you in ways you can’t really describe. It’s full of choices and sacrifices that are terrible. 


Here’s Carolyn Childers, the founder and CEO of Chief, an organization trying to help women advance their careers.


CAROLYN: “You never know if you're being put in that box or not, like every once in a while you'll have something where you're, like, explicitly put in a box and you're like, OK, that felt sexist. But it's actually the question that always goes through your mind, which is you'll have an interaction or you'll have a discussion or, you know, something will will play out in a certain way. And it's not that you are like I just definitely got put in a box. It is the question of did you get put in a box having to put that filter out of like, would this have happened if I were a different CEO? And I think that is a just like an extra mental thing that that happens for you as a as a woman leader that can have like it. It gets really exhausting to have that extra filter in your mind is like is would this have happened if I were a different CEO? So I guess the answer is yes. I but more importantly, it's the. Feeling like you have to ask that question frequently and all intentions could be really good, but you still ask yourself that question.”


There are so many things women have to do, consciously or unconsciously, that our male counterparts don’t. By not accounting for those disparities and instead acting like men with better haircuts and vaginas, the girlbosses failed to craft what would have been a more specific and more impactful movement. 


Because the truth is this: Whatever your mom told you about feminism and career and life? It’s probably not entirely true.


I came to recognize that women can’t have it all, and the only reason we’ve been told we can is because the power structures set forth generations back were not designed for us. They bred our struggle. 


Here’s what a Thinking Is Cool reader and listener told me. Her name is Lani Assaf, and she leads marketing at Elpha, the online community for women to build careers together. 

  • “From the women's perspective, I do think telling us we could work more hours, hustle harder, and achieve more, yet still spend plenty of time taking care of our families and personal health... was ultimately harmful to us. I think #Girlboss contributed to too many women holding themselves to life and time management standards that are simply impossible. Men aren't doing this!”


We’re taught that we can have it all, but we can’t. I can’t give 100% to my career and 100% to the family I’m expected by society to so desperately want. But I’ve been taught that I can. Sheryl Sandberg has promised me I can, hasn’t she?


*Roll transition music*


Well, Sheryl was working in a system that was made more for her than it is for most women. You can put lipstick on a pig. But at the end of the day, you’ve ruined your lipstick and you’re still staring at a pig.


So what are we to do instead if we want to create a world in which everyone has the same kinds of opportunities men have always had? I’ve got some ideas.


*Fade out transition music*


Many of you identify as women and many of the rest are people who work with women. What are you going to do to make it suck less for people who identify as women in the workplace and subsequently the world?


It starts by recognizing that feminism is for everyone. I got more texts from female friends about making this episode than anything I’ve made for Thinking Is Cool thus far. For them, I’m preaching to the choir. 


I’d like to take a moment to preach to those not in the choir. Those who might not feel the sting of sexism every day. You’re a part of this conversation as much as I am, and you can accomplish change in a way that others can’t. Here’s Carolyn again.


CAROLYN: “I think the biggest thing that you can do is create the right north star for yourself as a company. And our North Star is to change the face of leadership. And we we actually don't specifically say women in that phrase at all. And it makes it helps to make sure that, you know, as we were going and tackling each of these problems or what we are trying to do, we are truly trying to support people to have real growth and advancement in their careers. That changes the face of leadership and allows for that representation to happen. And so when you have a North Star and a mission that that really ties to something that is driving that impact, it helps you stay away from some of the more, you know, commodification or Tropeano.”


If that doesn’t entice you...how about the economy. It usually gets people to, idk, give a shit. I offer you this from the Institute for Women’s Policy Research:

  • In the United States as a whole, if working women aged 18 and older were paid the same as comparable men—men who are of the same age, have the same level of education, work the same number of hours, and have the same urban/rural status—the poverty rate among all working women would fall from 8.2 to 4.0 percent.
  • If all working adult women in the United States were paid the same as comparable men, women’s average earnings would increase from $37,358 to $43,909. Added up across all working women in the United States, this would amount to an earnings increase of $482.2 billion.


We know that solving problems around gender equality will make all of our lives better. It might not be the girlbosses who do the solving, but at least they’ve gotten us talking. 


I wish that 20-year-old Kinsey had a better role model than Sophia Amoruso and Sheryl Sandberg. I wish that I had recognized my privilege in devoutly following them sooner. And I think I might have, had I understood what else was out there.


It’s not just women role models we need, though. We need people who identify as men to do the opposite of stepping up to the plate. Step back. Sit down. Say one less thing in your next meeting. Be the role model you didn’t have for future generations. Ask the women you work with what their experiences and expectations are like. And listen when they tell you.


These ideas should span more than just the gender pay and promotion gap. Men, women, nonbinary people—everyone should feel safe and respected and valued at work and when they’re walking down the street. I know it’s idealistic, but I see a world in which it’s possible.


108 years is a long time. That’s how long it’ll take to close the gender pay gap if we continue at the pace we’re moving today. But guess what? We’ve never been much for sticking to the status quo. Social media, technology, commerce, and good old fashioned human ingenuity have propelled us lightyears past where we thought we’d be at this point. What if we harnessed that power to solve problems bigger and bolder than an edit button for your tweets?


The world would be a different, better place. And the ways we get those in power to make the change we so desperately need? Talking. Collaborating. Emoting and not feeling guilty about it. Standing up and calling out bullshit when you can. Stop calling women girlbosses and just call them what they are—smart, capable, and really fucking good at what they do.


I don’t curse the mere existence of girlbosses. Growth is uncomfortable, and it should be. I hate that people were hurt during their reigns, but I do simultaneously recognize that evolving past the era of the girlboss has equipped us so much more to actually do something about inequality on the basis of sex.


Because today, I look to a future that excites me. I have a genuine and empathic male cofounder and a circle of all kinds of people in my corner. None of them have ever called me a boss babe. I want to keep it that way. 


I want to be respected and supported in turn for the respect and support I offer others. And I don’t want to be on these ridiculous lists of “boss babe women in their bag.” Forget the 50 Most Powerful Women CEOs. Put me on the list of the 50 Most Powerful People.


Don’t collect names of badass women in business, like I know so many men in power are want to do. Fund them. Promote them. Invest in them. Listen to them.


And just be nice. It’s a good strategy.


Remember, thinking is cool...and so are you.


See you next time.