How could a show named Girlboss disappoint me as a feminist Simpsons fan?
1) The first character to explicitly criticize sexism is shown as an unreasonable screaming obstacle and quickly silenced.
In Episode 3, contemporary styled Sophia scopes for inventory with Shane, her dashing gentleman caller. They encounter a shrieking caricature of queer feminist stereotypes, down to a studded vest and chunky collars at least a decade behind the queer women’s fashion of that era.
The caricature verbally assaults Shane with slogans that sound like they came off AM radio’s idea of how feminists talk, not like the powerful words of my trans-inclusive intersectional feminist comrades:
“Another ignorant man walking around like he owns the place!”
“SHE? You got a problem with female power words? Fucking hold my ovaries.”
“You come at me like some dumb bitch!”
Sophia silences the caricature with a sandwich, like a mother silencing an out-of-control child. After dispatching first character in the show to explicitly discuss sexism, our intrepid girl boss continues her romantic/professional goals.
Why did Girlboss distance itself from the movement that has fought up-hill for decades for women’s economic equality?
2) Queer people in Girlboss are either screaming caricatures or thankless sources of emotional labor.
Funny seeing a clearly altered vest with sharpied resistance slogans and fraying cut-off sleeves in episode 3’s caricature of queer women activist’s aesthetic, because later Sophia is portrayed as visionary for cutting sleeves off a delicate see-through dress.
Then again, Sophia’s reuse of queer fashion is semi-realistic. Despite mainstream heteropatriarchy’s rejection of queer feminist expression, corporations eagerly repackage our fashion for profit because everyone knows we feel powerful dressing as we do.
The only other explicitly queer woman in the series is much more obedient. She wears whatever Sophia tells her to wear as a model and even offers to convince her girlfriend to gift Nasty Gal a commercial space in episode 9. She has fewer than five lines in the entire series.
Queer men fit much better into Sophia’s life as undeveloped supporting characters. Sophia rips off Mobias to jump-start her business, Lionel is more guardian angel than fully fleshed character, and Nathan’s years of unrecognized emotional labor becomes a gag in episode 12 when two colleagues cannot even remember his name.
In Girlboss, queer people are thankless sources of emotional labor and financial support.
And queers who refuse to play along are annoyances to be quickly silenced.
3) Girlboss praises white ambition, but frames a woman of color’s refusal to provide free labor as a betrayal.
Consider Annie’s months of unpaid emotional, intellectual and physical labor to Nasty Gal:
Emotional labor: countless hours listening and encouraging Sophia over several months in nearly every episode
Physical labor: It’s implied that Annie helps Sophia organize and hang up her inventory in episode 10. Annie also inspects a warehouse to assist Sophia’s hunt for commercial real estate in episode 9, offering free physical labor–cleaning the windows, fumigating, clearing junk out of the warehouse. In episode 10, Sophia says “You make this place look cool as shit.”
Administrative services: Annie organizes Sophia’s files and reminds her to stay on top of an international order at the beginning of episode 10.
Fashion consulting: Sophia’s first foray into the repurposed vintage that defines her brand? Cutting Annie’s personal clothing with permission, despite Annie’s explicit discomfort–“Oh right, going right for it. I don’t know if the sleeves were the problem.” And afterwards, Annie immediately recognizes Sophia’s creativity and shares positive feedback. Episode 3.
Inventory: After Sophia cuts the sleeves off Annie’s dress (ignoring Annie’s protests), Annie immediately gives her the dress to sell in episode 3
Public Relations: brainstorming brand names in episode 3, advising Sophia on reputation management at the beginning of episode 10, then later taking time away from the job that actually compensates her services to manage a public relations crisis in an online forum (huge potential personal risk, which Sophia should know since her computer usage was one of several behaviors that led to her termination from a shoe store in episode 1)
Real estate:Annie helps Sophia browse commercial real estate listings and keeps track of unpaid business advice that Sophia ignores from Dax at the beginning of episode 10. Annie helps convince her boyfriend (another person of color) to provide a free detailed business plan to Sophia. After Sophia refuses to accept her father’s financial support, Annie physically inspects a warehouse and then instructs Sophia on how to repurpose the warehouse for her business’s needs. Annie then advises Sophia on negotiating a lease with the landlord.
Sophia arguably owes Nasty Gal’s success to Annie’s months of unpaid office management, yet Sophia reaps the profits while Annie still works entry-level retail. If Sophia will not compensate Annie, she has no right to demand this woman of color’s continued emotional, intellectual and physical labor. It is also unfair for Sophia to accuse Annie of disloyalty for cutting off the free office management for this international business, and Annie understandably ends the obviously one-sided friendship.
Annie rightfully feels exploited for being cut off from the profits of the company she helped build, yet the script lingers on this white woman’s sadness that a woman of color has ceased providing free services to her wildly profitable business.
After Sophia begs Annie to come back, it’s unclear if she returns to Nasty Gal as a paid employee or continues to work for free.
Girlboss missed a huge opportunity here to encourage ambition in all women, not just white women.
4) Girlboss provides an uncommon positive portrayal of a woman’s business ambition, but it otherwise derides women for diverging from gender norms.
Consider the punk-clothed screaming feminist stereotype in episode 3, the rogue’s gallery of eccentrically dressed rival vintage merchants in episode 10 and the down-to-business woman web developer jabbed with “no plus one?” in episode 12.
5) Girlboss appears to have lifted the ocean sounds gag (episodes 1 and 11) off The Simpsons Season 8 Episode 6 “A Milhouse Divided.”
Watch the clip. I struggle to believe that this is a coincidence.
I couldn’t wait to marathon a Netflix series about a woman entrepreneur, but this feminist Simpsons fan thinks that Girlboss missed the mark.
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