Girlboss, gaslight, gatekeep

17 Jun 2021

This week: What does it mean to be an ambitious woman in 2021?

girlboss, gaslight, gatekeep


The future was supposed to be female. Then came COVID.

While the pandemic has wrought untold suffering – it’s women who are bearing the brunt. They lost the majority of jobs when the layoffs hit, and have disappeared in droves from all levels in the workforce. Though the gender gap existed pre-pandemic, it’s turned into a chasm.

It’s nearly mid-way through the new year. How are businesswomen faring?

• A recent report by Harvard Business School found that Black female entrepreneurs are launching businesses at higher rates than white men, BUT only a small percentage end up staying in the game. One of the reasons why? The inability to access long-term funding resources. “It’s not that we as Black women do not know who to go to for funding. It’s more that they will not have meetings with us because we are Black women,” said entrepreneur Nikki Porcher.

• Female founders make up a third of entrepreneurs in the UK, yet receive less than 3% of venture funding. Women’s accelerator We Are Radikl just penned an open letter to the UK Gov asking them to extend their funding deadlines for start-ups, with a focus on the difference it would make to female business founders. “Research… shows that in the last decade, less than 1% of venture capital went to all-women teams at Seed stage and just one Black woman CEO secured Series A funding,” said co-founder Sarah King.

• Female firsts abound this year, which is both encouraging and depressing. While fundraising for her lingerie brand Knix, CEO Joanna Griffiths made headlines when she decided to rule out investors who questioned her ability to lead while pregnant. Heather Hasson and Trina Spear, co-founders of Figs, were the first women co-CEOs to take a company public with their IPO last month. The recently opened Talea Beer Co. is NYC’s first women-owned and operated brewery. (Speaking of female firsts, our inaugural Space for Change winnersOur Sisterhood – are launching in Covent Garden with us on Tuesday, and you’re all invited).

Gender parity is now being prioritized by prominent voices, from the United Nations to the International Monetary Fund. “World leaders must put women at the centre of Covid-19 recovery,” noted the World Economic Forum. At the G7 summit, Boris declared his vision of a post-pandemic world as both “more gender-neutral” and “more feminine”. It gives us hope, when even BoJo’s seen the light.


Since we’re talking “fempreneurs” (what a word) – let’s check in with the #Girlboss.

If you internet, you’ve probably seen the “Girlboss, Gaslight, Gatekeep” memes on your screen. And if you haven’t, it’s a “slogan that has become the ‘Live, Laugh, Love’ of nihilist zoomers and millennials,” wrote Katherine Gillespie in Paper.

• You remember the original Girlbosses, circa 2015. It was the era when Nasty Gal’s Sophia Amoruso published that book, Tyler Haney started Outdoor Voices, Stephanie Korey co-founded Away, and Audrey Gelman established The Wing. (Many have since resigned from their C-suite roles). “[The Girlboss] was almost always white, thin, and charming,” wrote Kate Knibbs in Wired. “She would break the glass ceiling, and the shards would fly into the eyes of her haters”.

• She was also shamed when she failed. The past few years have seen an avalanche of high-profile corporate reckonings, with employees at women-led brands like Glossier, Reformation, and Man Repeller alleging a toxic mix of workplace discrimination and abusive behavior. While responsibility unquestionably lies with leadership, what does it say about society’s expectation that female founders should be better behaved than their male counterparts? “Women are held to account for how ethical and virtuous they are as leaders in a way that men are not,” pointed out Leigh Stein, author of Self Care.

• “Now, we have ‘Gaslight, Gatekeep, Girlboss,’ a counter-meme against the overwhelming pressure to forge ahead, to progress at all costs,” wrote Michelle Santiago Cortés in Refinery 29. It’s also Z’s scathing roast of hitching feminism to capitalism’s wagon. “Maybe mocking the girlboss to the point of redefinition takes back a little of that power,” wrote Alex Abad-Santos in Vox. So what do we want that redefinition to mean?

Since last year, working women have reported drops in career ambition. But is that a bad thing? “It is a cruel irony that ambition is what’s often sold to women as an inextricable ingredient in our eventual liberation,” observed Kelli Maria Korducki in The New York Times.

Even framing post-pandemic global success as female-centered rings hollow. Women aren’t here to fix your problems. If it’s still a man’s world, they should clean up their mess.

Words by Amy Tai, creative consultant and native New Yorker now based in London.