I just finished binge-watching the 13-episode-long Netflix series, Girlboss, which claims to loosely follow the ups and downs of Nasty Gal’s entrepreneur Sophia Amoruso on her journey into the business of thrifting and online shopping. I loved it for a number of reasons, many of which are attributed to Britt Robertson’s spunky, take-no-bullshit attitude and the comfort in knowing that it is possible for a post-grad (or a drop-out like Sophia) to successfully launch and live an anything but conventional lifestyle.
Lately though, I’ve gotten the sense that few people share this opinion. I want to make myself clear in acknowledging that Girlboss falls short – and sometimes, downright flat on its face – in a number of areas and in a myriad of ways. Capitalism. High price inflations on old, used goods. A self-serving and self-centred female protagonist. And of course, every older generation’s favourite new insult buzzword; a millennial, yuck!
So, like our world (and everyone on it), Girlboss has its issues and shortcomings, but apparently because it incorporates a feminist character insofar as she’s an independent woman doing her thing, it’s held to a ridiculously high standard that it will inevitably fail to reach. This is where the word feminist is quickly transformed from the dirty F-word to a weapon that is intended to undermine the entire movement and meaning. Women like Sophia are always set up to fail, because if she’s too feminist she’s a man-hating, bra-burning brat, and if she isn’t feminist enough, then she’s just an entitled wannabe CEO tainting the very essence of feminism. The latter seems to be critics’ argument du jour, and it is weak, to say the least. However, to hitch the entirety of feminism to Girlboss‘s carriage and have it careen off a cliff if the series doesn’t check every single god-damned box and jump through every single god-damn hoop of feminism and entrepreneurship and good TV is an ill-informed, and yet somewhat unsurprising response from critics. Why does a show that is about one thing have to cover everything?
Let’s take the words of The Economist blogger R.L., someone who is so secure in their opinion they decided to initial their name rather than spell it out for all to see. Well, here is what I will spell out for them; just because Sophia isn’t likeable as an apparently “narcissistic, irresponsible kleptomaniac driven mostly by money and sex”, does not mean that Nasty Gal is not an innovative or compelling venture founded by an innovative and compelling 23-year-old. This problem with female characters needing to be likeable in order for the audience to root for them is so bizarre to me, and I will demonstrate exactly why using the wise words of Roxane Gay and the less-than wise words of the elusive R.L.
Let’s start with the latter. R.L. claims that not only is Sophia a “bad stereotype of a millennial” in that she is vapid and annoying, they also claim she is not doing anything remotely new or life-altering, and therefor her business is a definite meh on the Impressive Scale. Um, put your money where your mouth is baby cakes, because according to Forbes, Nasty Gal made over $300 million in 2015 (by the way, the company was less than 10-years-old at that time), and beat out the double A elites, Apple and Amazon, with its 92.4% five-year compound annual growth rate. Oh, Forbes also named Sophia “fashion’s new phenom” in 2012, when Nasty Gal was making a mere $100 mil in revenues, so I guess she did and has done something right since starting her “nothing-burger” business from literally nothing. And yet, R.L. finds Sophia’s personality so unpalatable “it becomes nigh impossible to cheer her on”. To borrow Gay’s words, “why is likability even a question? Why are we so concerned with whether, in fact or fiction, someone is likeable?” (Gay, Bad Feminist, 2014). If likability is “a very elaborate lie, a performance, a code of conduct dictating the proper way to be” (Gay, Bad Feminist, 2014), shouldn’t R.L. be commending Sophia for being so innovative in breaking the arbitrary boundaries that define what a likeable woman is? Shouldn’t R.L. be applauding her rather than trying to tear her down?
And yet, R.L. doesn’t. Instead, R.L. goes on to ineptly demonstrate how The Wolf of Wall Street is the “good” to the “bad” of Sophia’s uninspiring story, praising the former’s innovative and compelling storyline. Hm, correct me if I’m wrong, but wasn’t Leo portraying the notoriously drugged-out, law-breaking, money-laundering, serial-cheating Jordan Belfort on his self-serving quest to indulge in every sin known to humankind? Sounds like a real charmer. Wait, who was it that said being “[an] irresponsible kleptomaniac driven mostly by money and sex” is unbecoming? I’m sure it wasn’t R.L., and if it was, I’m sure they have a very good reason for making Belfort an exception to that rule. Oh wait, they don’t.
It seems a bit odd to me that R.L. has no problem batting their big doe eyes at Leo, but Sophia drops a couple F-bombs, doesn’t want to lead a cookie-cutter life, makes a fortune from thrifting, and suddenly we’re supposed to be “[pleased] to watch her fail”? Something doesn’t quite work with R.L.’s warped logic. Oh, and did I mention Belfort went to prison? Like, prison-prison, the place you get sent to for 22 months after you’ve defrauded hundreds of investors with your pump-and-dump scams to the tune of US$200 million. However, Belfort has a penis, so his behaviour is totes kosher. Damn, if only our little klepto Sophia had managed to get her sticky fingers on one of those, she may have escaped R.L.’s flimsy attempt at character assassination.
But let me give them the benefit of the doubt. Maybe R.L. never actually got around to watching The Wolf of Wall Street. Maybe R.L. just assumed that a guy who sleeps with models, has a pathological problem with cheating on not one but both of his wives, is regularly coked out in the presence of his young children, hosts drug-fuelled orgies aboard airplanes and makes a lot of money scamming people for a living looked way too cool to possibly be an unlikable dude doing a lot of despicable, illegal, and unlikable things. Maybe.
Let’s try that again. R.L. goes on to praise The Social Network and by extension, its billionaire founder Mark Zuckerberg for “[changing] our lives indelibly”, and claims “Zuckerberg’s personal shortcomings were somehow part of [his] brilliance”. Hm. What exactly were his personal shortcomings again? Was it that in the film, Zuckerberg and his bruised ego write an insulting public blog post about Erica Albright, an ex-girlfriend who had the audacity to dump him in 2003? Was it his creation of a campus website called Facesmash, a site which enabled him to hack into college databases, steal female students’ photos, and then allow site users to rate their attractiveness from the comfort of their homes, probably sitting on beer-stained couches bought from Craigslist, slurping leftover ramen and scratching their crusty balls? Or was it the fact that the concept of Facebook was actually initiated by Cameron and Tyler Winklevosson and their business partner Divya Narendra, an idea that was later stolen by the now-billionaire Zuckerberg?
I don’t know about R.L., but I fail to see how Zuckerberg’s character is innovative, brilliant, or at the very least, likeable. He proved himself to be cruel and callous with women, shallow and shady with his supposed business partners, and yes, smart – if you consider it smart to con three colleagues into stealing their idea for a social media site, which I consider more illicit than innovative. Again, did R.L. even watch this film, or were they too busy eagerly browsing the web to see if Facesmash was still up and running?
This is all to say that I’m sick and tired of watching respectability standards drop for shitty dudes, and watch those same standards soar for sassy women. Did all three of the characters I describe make a great living off of their business ventures, at least for a while? Yeah. Did all three of them make mistakes along the way? Hell yeah. So stop saying that Sophia is not a feminist, or isn’t a “compelling entrepreneur” just because she had the nerve to be snarky and self-serving when it came to building a business – a business, by the way, that she created without scamming people out of hundreds of thousands of millions of dollars, without accepting handouts from her disbelieving father, and without taking someone’s hard work and sticking her name on it. That’s more than I can say for Jordan Belfort and Mark Zuckerberg, and if you fail to see the blatant hypocrisy in articles like R.L.’s or Alyssa Bereznack’s, then you’re nasty – and not in a good way.
Cover image obtained from: https://www.google.ca/url?sa=i&rct=j&q=&esrc=s&source=images&cd=&ved=0ahUKEwiDorGg6_fTAhUBZlAKHZf-CEoQjxwIAw&url=http%3A%2F%2Fwww.independent.co.uk%2Farts-entertainment%2Ftv%2Fnews%2Fgirlboss-trailer-netflix-bestseller-autobiography-sophia-amoruso-nasty-gal-britt-robertson-a7664886.html&psig=AFQjCNHc5K7VwXopRkxIfIaes72VTpX5XQ&ust=1495141755980287
Quotes from articles linked in-text.