I really wanted to like the new Netflix series, Girlboss. I love stories about scrappy young women rising from nothing to make it in business, especially if it’s the fashion business. Sure they’re usually not realistic, and often perpetuate unhelpful stereotypes about both women and fashion (that’s right Devil Wears Prada, I see you). But they’re fun. Sadly, this show is not fun. My fellow Dismantler, Meredith Wallis, and I decided to watch it anyway, so that you don’t have to.
Here are our top 5 reasons to avoid Girlboss:
1. The whole crass, self-absorbed, perma-child millennial narrative isn’t just overdone and done better, it doesn’t even make sense here.
(and PS as a college instructor, I spend a lot of time with “millennials” and the ones I know aren’t like this. Why not tell stories about them?)
2. It’s yet another story about beautiful young, straight, middle-class white ladies just tryin’ to make it in the big city.
Remember how Girls was pilloried for being too white? And then some people were like Girls isn’t racist, TV is. Then Dunham et al made a half-hearted effort to incorporate people of color into the storylines? And remember how Broad City was too (even though the central ensemble included Hannibal Buress and Arturo Castro)? And then they wrote the characters learning about their own privilege and cultural appropriation? Several years later, Girlboss has RuPaul as the sassy Black neighbor. RuPaul’s scenes are arguably the best part of the show, but you can watch all of them in about 6 minutes (that’s a generous estimate). Other than that?? Ummmm….
3. The stakes aren’t very compelling.
I know that ratings are important to an eBay business, but it’s really hard to feel those stakes enough to watch a series about it. Especially when the economics of Sophia’s business don’t make any sense. Is she really living alone in San Francisco on income from flipping vintage clothes and checking IDs at an art school? This is one of those magic TV apartments right? Like the Friends’? And TV magic money, too? I ended up fast forwarding through some of the episode where ladyshopper99 threatens to give Sophia a bad review. And also the one that’s all about whether Sophia will put her best friend, Annie, back on her MySpace top 8 list. That’s boring, and they were both being brats.
4. The company Girlboss is based on seems to be kind of awful?
Sounds like they really need this Netflix revenue to deal with all the allegations of contracting with sweatshops and copyright infringement.
5. Brick and Mortar Vintage Stores Are Not the Enemy
Which brings me to number five. The whole show begins with the premise of a character who has no problems stealing from the poor to give to herself. It’s quirky! But in the first episode Sophia’s big epiphany comes from finding a cheap vintage jacket, rubbing her score in the store owner’s face, and then reselling the coat on eBay for a lot of money. Fine, whatever. Except the show frames the brick and mortar vintage clothing store owner (played by the always delightful Jim Rash) as stupid, and the enemy, trying to crush her dreams. Oh yes, Sophia, we’ve all been there, watching vintage clothes retailers roll by in their Porsches, heading for their mansions in the hills. Let me be clear: vintage clothing store owners aren’t the enemy. But Girlboss might be.
So. If you still want stories about ambitious, not always likeable young women (and why wouldn’t you?), here are four possibilities.
1. Election (1999).
Reese Witherspoon’s Tracy Flick is driven, focused, disciplined, ambitious and really unlikeable. But in this film, that unlikeability makes an important point about gendered double standards and white male fragility. (While you’re at it, watch Legally Blonde too. Really anything with Reese Witherspoon)
2. Joy (2015)
Or, as I googled/call it in my head “That Jennifer Lawrence mop movie.” If you want a based-on-a-true-story fantasy of a strong-willed, working-class woman conquering big business by using her lady skills, try this one instead. (Then read this Buzzfeed article about it being a movie composed of strung together gifs.)
3. Mahogany (1975)
I’ve written about this movie before. I want everyone to watch it all the time. Diana Ross plays Tracy Chambers, an aspiring designer willing to do whatever it takes to make it out of Chicago and into the world of high fashion. The movie is a brilliant disaster, helmed by Berry Gordy who was clearly doing his best to push all of Ross’s buttons both on and offscreen. Ross eventually walked off the set, and yet, she rules this film as Diana, Tracy and Tracy’s model persona, Mahogany. Gordy might have been the director, but Ross was the boss. The film is fascinating mid-century women’s melodrama complicated by late-century race and gender politics, and made gloriously weird by Ross’s own costume designs.
4. Mildred Pierce (1945)
You want a strong-willed, quick-witted entrepreneur with real stakes? Is murder real enough?? Treat yourself to some vintage Joan Crawford. In Mildred Pierce, she’s a single mom who claws her way into the middle, and eventually upper class, moving from waitress to successful restauranteur. And she does it all for her awful, self-absorbed, materialistic, sociopath daughter, Veda. If you find old movies hard to relate to, just imagine that Veda is the main character. (While you’re at it, watch Mommie Dearest (1981). Based on Christina Crawford’s hate letter to her dead mother, and played with over-the-top, scenery chewing gusto by Faye Dunaway, this Joan Crawford – the movie star and Pepsi executive – is a controlling, manipulative, business savvy, antihero girlboss for the ages.)
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