When I entered the working world, my aim was to become a “girl boss”. I had read the stories, clinging softly to Sophia Amoroso’s depiction of a girlboss smashing stereotypes, breaking the glass ceiling and making space for women in the workforce. Printed across pretty pink t-shirts and shiny emblazoned notebooks, “boss bitch”, “girl boss”, “she-e-o” — the terms all created a cookie cutter image of success that most people would not be able to follow. They added glitter and sparkles and the word “girl” to inherently showcase something that was meant to define a strong, independent woman. That was when I finally understood why girlboss feminism is so problematic, especially in a place like Pakistan.
Pakistan is ranked 153rd out of 156 on the Global Gender Index and in a society like this one, our reality is far from the doing-it-all-regardless-of-the-consequences feminism practiced abroad. That’s not to say women aren’t thriving, creating and empowering — my point is leaning more towards the notion that in a country with a rigid patriarchal system and an appalling disregard for women’s rights, women do not have the liberty to simply girlbossify it up. There are so many other factors to consider; from understanding the very landscape of capitalism within the country, to fighting for respect within the workplace to finding one’s own unique voice.
Girlbossification strives to create a niche for women who can — specifically, women who have the opportunity to “achieve it all”. And not everyone can. Not everyone can give their world to their work, everyone has a different priority so preaching “if they can do it, why can’t I?” is inherently flawed in nature and it isn’t intersectional at all. Girlboss feminism sells the American dream — it is a privileged white woman who can have it all and when you come from Pakistan and yearn for respect and freedom to occupy for your body, that narrative can be both toxic and harmful.
The problem with capitalism is the system and when workers continue to be exploited, that goes against the very fundamentals of feminism that calls for equality across genders and structures. Aside from the term's connection to capitalism, it also ignores numerous social issues. Fighting one oppressive system just for another one is not the way forward — if you’re getting your power through an ignorance of inequality, that power is problematic. Does girlboss feminism change the system or is it just a loophole in the patriarchal contours we must abide by to be both successful and good Pakistani women?
The girlboss is not the average woman and she is surely not the average Pakistani woman. It’s important to consider the marginalised groups within our own country. Gender is fluid and justice needs to take that into account if we ever want to work towards feminist futures. Girlboss feminism is not expansive, it is not inclusive — it diminishes the struggles of womanhood without taking into account how nuanced this discourse really is. It promotes hustle culture, overexertion and a prioritisation of career over everything else. And while it does so, it overlooks the plight of women of colour, who have their own struggles that haven't been accounted for within this empty narrative.
When you live in a society like ours, the most important element is choice — a woman can choose to have a career and be a mother. She can choose to stay at home. She can choose to be an entrepreneur. But those ideals should never be forced upon her. She should never feel like she isn’t doing “enough” because enough is different for every individual. There is already a deep imbalance when there’s a different expectation from female journalists, when women in positions of power are either “otherised” or made to be the villain. When a Pakistani woman gives more time to her job, she is labeled a bad mother and when she spends too much time working from home and not enough physically within the workplace she is labelled someone who doesn’t take her job seriously enough. But we need to understand that these standards were created to be unfair — they don’t even take into account other marginalised communities. The past few years of the pandemic have sparked the downfall of girlboss-ification and now it isn’t about who can do it all, it’s about how much you choose to do and how much you want to give.
Existing within a workforce that primarily values the work of men over women has always been toxic. I saw it when I worked at an international newspaper and the most senior editor (a woman) was passed up for a promotion in place of a man. I saw it when I taught at a high school and I was referred to as “beti” (little one) but the men were referred to as “sir”. It went so much deeper than that as well — a senior teacher apparently stated that she didn’t like hiring young single women because they might get married, pregnant and eventually leave. Women are asked about their marital status as soon as they join a workplace, which is both inappropriate and completely irrelevant. On my first day as a teacher at a local school, an older teacher came up to me and asked, “Miss or Mrs?” I remember a co-worker was told she shouldn’t take on too many classes because she had children to look after.
Girlboss feminism extends over the narrative that a woman can juggle every duty and balance everything efficiently but in Pakistan, where boundaries don’t seem to exist and the expectations placed upon women are increasingly insurmountable — this ideology will not cut it. Rest is integral for us to evolve and since we are currently living through “The Great Resignation” it is all the more important to note how hustle culture has no place in a life of reflection, growth and greater peace.
I see it with women who aren’t allowed to work at all and that can lead to the argument that having this conversation is the very first step, an acknowledgement that yes, in fact, girlboss feminism is flawed, but how do we move forward from it? Can women solve the problems that exist within a capitalist society? Can we change the very fabric of it all? Girlboss feminism puts the onus of solving this structural problem upon us when it is almost impossible to do so.
This year’s Aurat March follows the theme of Asal Insaf (real justice). A culture of care is essential within Pakistan’s workspace and the manifesto outlines the importance of rest when it comes to labour. There is a certain burden placed upon us that makes us value labour more than anything and that can be closely linked to girlbossification and the notion of “doing it all” without rest. We deserve rest, we earn it and adding fuel to the fire of hustle culture is not helping anyone. As women, we have already begun to carve out a space for ourselves within the workforce but stepping over issues of race, ethnicity, gender and religion is not the way to go about it.
We have set unhealthy standards for women — yes women can do everything they want to but in their own individual ways. Having a woman in a position of power isn’t enough, it starts from the ground up.
Problematic systems were meant to be broken, and girlboss feminism is one of those systems. The girlboss got to where she was because she found a way through sexist and capitalist structures. Because if it wasn’t a man’s game, the term would have simply been boss. There shouldn’t be an infantilisation of women in power — of course advocating for one’s worth is essential to get to where one wants, but the root of the problem stays the same regardless of who’s in charge. It highlights the individual over the greater society and in honour of this year’s Aurat March, I march for the people. I march for providing value to every form of labour. I march for a feminist future that is intersectional and worthy of everyone.