Analyzing Girl Boss in the FIMS Classroom


// Brienna French

FIMS is about critical thinking, and one of the great things about this is that there is no shortage of media to criticize; you’ll always have new problematic material for your assignments. Netflix’s recent series Girl Boss is an excellent example of media you can analyze within the FIMS classroom. Girl Boss, created by Kay Cannon, is “loosely” based off of Sophia Amoruso’s autobiography #GirlBoss, on the creation of clothing brand Nasty Gal, originally a vintage clothing site, on eBay. Girl Boss’ producers, such as Charlize Theron, boasted its ability to invoke change through female empowerment during promotions, however, many critics have found it to be everything but empowering. With a premise rooted in pop feminism, many key concepts relating to cultural studies, a key component in MIT, are applicable to Girl Boss. Here, I list MIT concepts and apply them to the disappointing first season of Girl Boss.


The Male Gaze Theory

In 1975, Laura Mulvey created the Male Gaze Theory, where audiences are forced to consume cinema through the perspective of a heterosexual man. The male gaze occurs when camera movements focus on and follow the curves of the female body. Many Hollywood films are shot from the perspective of this gaze, including many self-proclaimed feminist ones, such as Girl Boss. There are many instances of the gaze throughout the series. For example, its main character, Sophia Marlowe, is often seen trying on her products as the camera lingers on her body.


The Bechdel Test

Coined by cartoonist Alison Bechdel, the Bechdel Test is applied to cinema to measure gender inequalities. To pass, a film must have at least two women that have a conversation about anything other than a man. Despite the simplicity of these requirements, many films and series, including self-proclaimed feminist ones, do not pass. Girl Boss’ main character is a woman, who often discusses business with her female friend, so yes, the series does pass the Bechdel Test. Despite this, it is important to note that passing the Bechdel Test does not necessarily make cinema feminist.


White Feminism

The premise of Girl Boss lies within sympathizing with a narcissistic, privileged capitalist in the name of female empowerment. Essentially, this is white feminism. Girl Boss is self-branded as empowering for the sheer reason that the female main character followed her entrepreneurial dreams, while disregarding the privileged aspects of her life that allowed her meet her goals. This tone-deaf approach to feminism is dangerous, and suggests the show is trying to profit off a movement. Oh, there’s nothing I enjoy more than picking apart cinema for white feminism.


Precarious Labour

Precarious labour can be defined as unreliable employment. This is a big term in MIT, in regards to the political economy aspect, as many of the jobs within the culture industries are precarious. In Girl Boss, Sophia’s work in creating Nasty Gal and relying on selling goods online is an excellent example of precarious labour. In the early stages of Nasty Gal, her ability to pay rent is dependant on her products selling. This is an accurate portrayal of many jobs today, and ties in with neoliberalism, as participating in precarious labour is now considered a necessary step to “make it” in the professional world.


Neoliberalism

Neoliberalism tells people they can achieve anything through hard work. Girl Boss’ glorification of precarious labour for potential “success” is exactly this. When Sophia starts to generate profits off eBay, she becomes obsessed with money. From crying over it to having sex on a pile of it, Sophia’s character supports the neoliberalist ideology upon becoming “self-made”.


Mass Cultural Production

As you’ll learn when studying the work of Theodor Adorno and Max Horkheimer, mass cultural production occurs within Hollywood as standardized cinema with homogenous products, plots, and stars who dominate mainstream media. Adorno and Horkheimer argued in the 1940s that this is killing the art of cinema. I think Girl Boss counts as an example of this, as its stereotypical characters and comedic, “empowering” plot have been done in countless other cinema, despite the producers’ belief it could invoke change through its supposedly unique premise.


As you can see through this brief analysis, Girl Boss is a problematic show. While it is more than okay to consume, and even enjoy, problematic content, it is also important to remain critical. Being aware of the underlying theories and ideologies that cinema is rooted in is necessary for this, and FIMS is here to teach you this!

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