On April 21st Netflix debuted Girlboss, the semi-fictionalized account of Nasty Gal founder Sophia Amoruso’s rise. Of course names were changed, and hopefully some of the character flaws can be explained by their choice to try to package the story into 13 half hour episodes. However, from all the allegations around Nasty Gal and Sophia Amoruso I wouldn’t be hopeful.
Girlboss seems to be Netflix’s attempt to create a girl power perky Taylor Swift capitalist, oh wait I mean feminist, show. It is the exact same brand of feminism used in Amazon’s Good Girls Revolt (which hasn’t been renewed). While television, movies, and other forms of stories are under no obligation to provide likable characters, Girlboss’ Sophia Marlowe (Britt Robertson) is an atrocious human being. The show tries to pass her theft, poor treatment of friends and family, selfishness, narcism, and pretty much every reason you’ve ever heard about why millennials are terrible off as quirky. Everyone has quirks, but I’m pretty sure quirks are like needing to eat only food that is white, not going into stores and just taking what you want before leaving. The most telling and potentially motivating question about Sophia as a character is summed up shortly into episode one when she asks herself “why am I such an asshole?” Then for the rest of the season the writers refuse to answer or even acknowledge the question.
Even when Sophia is screaming at her boyfriend, and anyone in the audience that is still watching the show at this point, to just call her a bitch you want to. You want him to, but that feminist rhetoric comes in and somehow you, and he, know that we’re being dared to diminish this business woman. But that’s the problem, she’s a businesswoman, not a feminist (not that the two can’t mix). Her concern is in making the most money and using people to get what she wants. When she’s not lying or stealing, she’s disregarding the feelings and lives of those around her. And if she was a man, we’d be comparing her to Travis Kalanick rather than trying to celebrate her.
The only woman Sophia wants to empower is herself, and she’ll try to sell us on her empowerment as long as it makes her money. Viewers get the benefit, or perhaps the hinderance, of knowing how the story ends. Viewers know that Nasty Gal files for bankruptcy, that several employees sue because they were fired for getting pregnant, that an employee was fired when they took medical leave, the general toxicity of the workplace, and that many started speaking out about how Sophia Amoruso did not do it by herself as her biography proclaims.
Sophia Marlowe is an asshole, treats people like shit, lies, steals and would probably sell her soul to get ahead in business. For every accomplishment there is a lot of dirty or morally ambiguous steps taken to get there. What’s worse is that this is the “feminism” people keep trying to sell to viewers. And that’s the key component, sell. Well, I’m not sold. There is nothing wrong with a character we’re supposed to hate, but don’t try to convince viewers that the character is actually the hip and quirky badass #girlboss that we’re supposed to grow up to be.