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YouTuber and film critic Lindsay Ellis takes over the TFD YouTube channel to dissect the role of the "#Girlboss" in pop culture — and what our depictions of women in roles of power say about gender, money, and corporate culture on a larger scale.

The Financial Diet site:


Lindsay Ellis' YouTube:

Written by Princess Weekes:
Edited by Angelina Meehan & Lindsay Ellis:

United Nations report:

Men aren't making up for imbalance in domestic work:

Fortune 500 companies with women CEOs:
[MUSIC PLAYING] Hey guys, I'm Lindsay Ellis.

I am a Youtuber, film critic, and author. And for the month of January, I'm taking over Chelsea's Tuesday show here on The Financial Diet.

And every week, we are talking about a different topic surrounding pop culture and money. And this week, we are talking about the archetypal girlboss. Don't you see?

If Angelica is ever going to make it in a male-dominated power structure, she's got to eat, breathe, drink, and sweat self-esteem. When it comes to personal branding, coffee mugs that say yas queen, or still building my empire sure are a thing. But in media, we still struggle to show women being professionally fulfilled without making them sex-starved, relationship-damaged dragon ladies, who we adore in meme form, but are secretly kind of afraid of becoming in reality.

If we're talking about boss bitch career women in media, the most emblematic are characters like The Devil Wears Prada's as Miranda Priestly. You have no style or sense of fashion. Well, um, I think that depends on what your-- No, no.

Cold, distant, type A, and while excelling in business, poor romantic partners, and worse still, unmaternal. Miranda Priestly is based on Vogue Editor-in-Chief Anna Wintour, the embodiment of a successful career woman. But, you know, her husband gets upset because he's Mr.

Miranda Priestly. There he is, waiting for her again. Rather than putting the focus on his insecurities, this is framed more as evidence that Miranda's methods of dealing with people are toxic, because career first.

The film frames Andy as more sympathetic-- the enthusiastic protagonist who spends most of the film as Miranda's assistant, to ultimately leave the fashion industry altogether to choose a new career path, because she doesn't want to end up like Miranda. We can trace this archetype to proto-Miranda characters, like Cruella de Vil from 101 Dalmatians, and Alex Forrest from Fatal Attraction, who herself is basically peak '80s feminist backlash. You know that guy I've been obsessed with?

Well, I finally got up the courage to throw acid on his car. The successful, accomplished Alex is driven mad by her obsession with Michael Douglas's weekend penis, and becomes obsessed with the idea of having a baby with him. You're not going to have a baby.

Why not? There's plenty of one-parent families. At least they don't end in divorce.

She thought she could have it all. Well, she was wrong, and she just had to satisfy those biological urges through any means necessary. Daddy?

What? [SCREAMING] As Cruella de Vil once said-- More good women have been lost to marriage than to war, famine, disease, and disaster. Wrapped up in characters like this is the idea that for a woman to succeed in business, ultimately it comes at the expense of her children, her partner, and her humanity. In 1982, Helen Gurley Brown, the Editor-in-Chief of Cosmopolitan magazine released the book Having it All-- Love, Success, Sex, Money, Even if You're Starting With Nothing.

It is a very dated, and in many ways, shallow exploration of how an average woman could make it in business, even if they were plain. Despite the progress women have made in creating equality in parenting, women are still usually the primary caretaker in cis heteronormative relationships, and end up doing most, if not all, of the actual child rearing. A report from the United Nations found that women still shoulder nearly three times more of the work associated with the home than men-- child care, elder care, cooking, cleaning, transportation, and usually for zero pay.

And so while women now comprise almost half of the American labor force, men aren't making up for the imbalance in domestic work-- not always-- #NotAllMen-- but on average, which means that child rearing still falls under the label of women's work. So there's the cliche of having it all. But the reality isn't much easier now than it was in the '80s.

And owing to other forces, like rising childcare costs and an unstable job market, in a lot of ways, today it's actually harder. The idea of having it all has by now evolved into the equally editorially manufactured concept of the girlboss. The term girlboss came into widespread use with Sophia Amoruso's 2014 autobiography #Girlboss, which charted Amoruso's beginnings living what she called a nomadic lifestyle to becoming at one of the richest self-made women in the world.

The book told a rags to riches story that was lauded as one of the defining books for female entrepreneurs. For Amoruso, being a girlboss was a mix of humility, hard work, and gumption. According to the book, the girlboss who is willing to do a job that is below her-- and above-- is the one who stands out.

It's that attitude and behavior that will get you ahead. Yep, that always pays off. Right now, women make up 58% of the American workforce.

But when it comes to leadership positions at top companies, only 25 of the 2018 Fortune 500 companies had women CEOs. And for women of color or LGBTQ women, the numbers are even more dismal. Most of our mainstream depictions of female CEOs or women in high positions are white cis women.

Therefore, most of our girlboss images come from that depiction, which is not only limiting, but ignores the fact that many women of color have long been expected to work hard and play hard. Under capitalism, women's societal progress is often confused with putting women in positions of power that enabled them to do basically the exact same toxic things that male CEOs have done forever, but, you know, it's OK, because girlboss. Money equals empowerment.

And while material wealth can be invested into building communities, it is more often than not a way for individual people to elevate themselves. Also, a lot of the advice that we give women to become a girlboss assumes that they have the means and the freedom to do so. One of the pieces of advice that Sophia Amoruso gave in #Girlboss was "in many ways, money spells freedom.

If you learn to control your finances, you won't find yourself stuck in jobs, places, or relationships that you hate just because you can't afford to go elsewhere." While this is trueish, how many women are actually able to have that much control over their finances? What if they have medical expenses that aren't covered by insurance? What if they don't have insurance to begin with?

So despite all this leaning in and girlbossing, the jobs with the largest wage gaps are still in business, management, sales, and the law. Women also tend to move up the career ladder at a slower pace than men. We call this phenomenon the opportunity gap.

At the start of their careers, 74% of men and 75% of women are in individual contributor roles. However, a much smaller proportion of women reach the manager or supervisor level or higher by the middle of their career. So there remains this particularly odious paradox in that when a woman does try to advocate for herself, her behavior gets her labeled as a betch, even if that same behavior would get her male counterpart labeled as a boss.

However, the respect of her male counterparts demands that she still act like one in order to be seen as an equal. In the most recent season of Insecure, the character Molly goes to work at a black legal firm, and starts heavily asserting herself in the way that her male colleagues do. It's great to have a teammate as aggressive as Molly.

METRO will appreciate that. At first, this draws the ire of her female co-workers, because she aligns herself with male power. But by the end of the third season, when she attempts to usurp her male co-worker's top spot, both sides turn against her.

By attempting to be a boss, she ends up being scolded for being too much, which is not something an ambitious man would deal with. Don Draper on Mad Men, for example, basically talks his way into a financially successful career in advertising, even though he is a fraud. Meanwhile, Peggy Olson is constantly sacrificing and giving up pieces of herself to be good at her job.

She gives away her child in season one after getting pregnant by Pete Campbell. And as she rises from Junior Copywriter to Copy Chief, she struggles with Don's expectations that she handles things like a man, and fears that she might be turning into him. I give you money.

You give me ideas. But you never say thank you. That's what the money is for.

In these situations, it is the man who has to give the reins to the woman. Don is Peggy's mentor, because who else is it going to be? Yet we do not see Peggy actively bringing women up with her.

Women are expected to be better than that. We expect them to be maternal, to be kind and reassuring. They are hard on you for growth.

Which means not only are we often holding these women to a much higher standard, but we also have not given them any blueprint of what a good female boss even looks like. This is not all there is to the story, though. For instance, the '90s series Living Single featured four girlbosses.

Throughout the show, all of these women date and go in and out of relationships. But it's very clear that they are looking for relationships where men fit into their world. Bottom line is men are nothing but speed bumps on the road to happiness.

There is no Ross-Rachel dynamic a la Friends, where Rachel gives up her dream job for Ross. Maxine and her love interest Kyle both start off the series as almost too career-focused. Maxine Shaw from Evans, Bell, & Associates.

Yes? And both end up mellowing out. When we see them again in the spin-off, Half & Half, Maxine is still a bad ass lawyer.

This is is my co-star, Kyle Barker and his aggressive bulldog of a wife. But now she has a child. Their family is based on a dynamic of equality, where no one needs to lose themselves solely to family or career.

It is one of the few representations of women actually getting to have their cake and eat it too. So we can't pretend that on the whole, the whole family versus career dichotomy is a construct, because the reality is that in most cases, it is harder for women to find that balance. But at the same time, pursuing your dreams and becoming a leader in your field doesn't mean that women should copy the toxic behavior of their male counterparts.

Yes, girlbosses are still building their empire. Here I am. I got what I wanted.

But the thing about that is that no empire was ever built without stepping on somebody else, and that is a rather patriarchal approach to power. So perhaps that's a blueprint that we should consider throwing away all together, even if it doesn't fit into a convenient hashtag. So thank you for watching.

You can see the rest of the series linked in the description when the episodes come out. And you can also see more of my stuff on my YouTube channel, which is just my name. And also, you can see me on PBS Digital Studios, It's Lit!