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We're Living in the Era of the Hypocritical 'Feminist' Boss

From Nasty Gal's "Girl Boss" to Thinx's "She-E. O.", female executives have taken to branding themselves as outspoken feminist role models—but what good is that if their employees are allegedly denied basic rights and protections?

by Lena Solow
Apr 25 2017, 10:07pm

She's saucy, savvy, and determined to build a fashion empire." So reads the tagline for Girlboss, a new Netflix show loosely based on the story of Sophia Amoruso, founder of clothing company Nasty Gal. The show sticks to the narrative Amoruso created for herself: a quirky, entrepreneurial woman succeeding at a business despite all odds, and succeeding precisely because she's a woman—a Girl Boss!—who understands and believes in other women.

What's not covered? In 2015, former Nasty Gal employees filed a series of lawsuits alleging that the company wasn't the girl power haven Amoroso presented. According to a complaint obtained by Jezebel, the company had fired "four pregnant women, as well as a man about to take paternity leave" in violation of California law. (A Nasty Gal spokesperson called the accusations "defamatory" in a statement to Jezebel, adding that the lawsuits were "frivolous and without merit.") In subsequent anonymous interviews, other employees spoke of an atmosphere of fear, where layoffs were abundant and Amoruso was described as "vengeful."

With the rising popularity and visibility of feminism in pop culture—and the movement's increasing lucrativeness—the narrative featured in Girlboss has become fairly widespread. Increasingly, we're hearing celebratory stories about women rising to corporate power by branding themselves and their companies as feminist, and framing both their products and their workplaces as hubs for empowerment and progressive values. But, as several high profile-scandals in recent months have shown, the figure of the self-proclaimed feminist CEO is much more complex than most breathless media coverage would suggest. What good is designating a business as feminist if it doesn't treat workers fairly?

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