How Netflix's 'Girlboss' Perpetuates Negative Stereotypes

I really wanted to love it.
05/10/2017 10:38 am ET Updated May 10, 2017
Sophia Amoruso, Founder of Nasty Gal
Photo via Wikipedia
Sophia Amoruso, Founder of Nasty Gal

I recently wrote a commentary for Inc Magazine on my reaction as a woman in tech entrepreneur after viewing the new Netflix series “Girlboss.”

Much to my surprise, the piece ended up as Google’s top news item for “Girlboss” for several days, and I was even more surprised when the column was viewed over 32,500 times in nine days and shared hundreds of times on social media. While conventional wisdom would advise that it is never wise to read the comments section, I have found it quite interesting to learn about others’ reactions to the series, whether they were in agreement with my own or vehemently opposed to my assessment.

Here is what I wrote:

I really wanted to love “Girlboss.”

“Girlboss” is the new original series which finally found a home at Netflix after being turned down by several other networks.

It tells the coming-of-age story of a young woman who pursues her dreams, overcomes the odds, and becomes a wildly successful entrepreneur.

As a woman entrepreneur, I’m sure you can understand why I really wanted to love the show.

The series is loosely based on the experiences of Sophia Amoruso, the founder of Nasty Gal, and the story of her actual entrepreneurial journey is quite incredible.

Amoruso was a solopreneur when she launched Nasty Gal as an online marketplace that sold vintage clothing with a modern twist. She led the company for almost a decade before stepping down as CEO in 2015. Nasty Gal reported sales of an impressive $300 million in 2016, the same year the company downsized and filed for bankruptcy. Nasty Gal was acquired by Boohoo in 2017.

Because I had followed Amoruso’s wild ride with Nasty Gal, I was excited that a broader audience would have the chance to witness the messy, raw journey of entrepreneurship in a story that could explore the challenges faced by women entrepreneurs.

Like most entrepreneurs, Sophia Amoruso experienced the personal and financial toll of the ups and downs of growing a company. She enjoyed the exhilaration of seeing her vision come to fruition, but also faced extreme difficulties as the founder of her company.

Because “Girlboss” was based on Amoruso’s story, the plot could have easily avoided the all-too-prevalent pop culture stereotypes while still taking viewers along for the wild, unpredictable rollercoaster ride of entrepreneurship.

“Girlboss”’s long list of executive producers are almost all female and include such powerhouses as Charlize Theron, Kay Cannon, and Sophia Amoruso herself. One would assume a series developed by women would result in something that would show the rest of the entertainment world what was possible when women had a bigger voice in how a story was told.

While the series gets a few moments right, such as celebrating a successful milestone as an entrepreneur while simultaneously riding the waves of personal grief, “Girlboss” is mostly just a glib, breezy tale about a shallow, self-centered, and often unkind girl who behaves erratically, is willing to steal, and is still somehow surrounded by people who forgive her of all her misdeeds in order to help her build her empire.

Girlboss not only fails to deliver something better, it actually helps perpetuate several negative stereotypes.

One of the more disappointing portrayals in the show are those of the business owners in direct competition with the main character. Every single one of these entrepreneurs are portrayed as awkward, inept, and inexperienced.

It is disappointing that the creators chose to perpetuate these stereotypes instead of creating a supporting cast of diverse, interesting, and worthy competitors.

But the most egregious stereotype in Girlboss is the depiction of women in tech.

The show’s only character who is a woman in tech wears drab clothes, is socially awkward and fails to stand up for herself.

It is hard for me to fathom that this demeaning portrayal of women in tech was OK with the women producing Girlboss. It’s bad enough when we have to point out how male-dominated industries are perpetuating hurtful stereotypes about women, but how do we as women continue to perpetuate things like this?

The women I know who are working in technology fields are nothing like this character. They are among the most varied, diverse, complex, interesting, dynamic, brilliant and articulate individuals I’ve had the privilege of knowing.

Why can’t we create tech women characters who might actually inspire younger generations of girls to see careers in technical fields in a more positive light?

I have no idea how so many women involved in this project got it so wrong, but I am still hoping that someone in Hollywood will get brave enough to tell stories that compel us to see women in a better light than what is offered in Girlboss.

CONVERSATIONS