Controversial life coach Rachel Hollis says, “When you really want something, you will find a way. When you don’t really want something, you’ll find an excuse.”
Aside from the irony in this quote allegedly being plagiarized, when did growing tired of trying to find a way out of no way become an excuse? When prosperity preaching wasn’t enough, hustle culture clearly picked up right when where it left off.
It could be argued that hustle culture is even more manipulative than typical bootstrapping, as it stresses that working ourselves to death (sometimes literally) is a virtue. Meanwhile, things beyond our control — mental health issues, disabilities, and poverty — are somehow traits of an unmotivated person. It should not come as a shock that hustle culture doesn’t scrutinize a system that makes these issues an obstacle or possibility, but instead emphasizes that the people navigating this system the best they can are the issue.
But what happens when abusive elements of capitalism are sold as feminism? Enter #girlboss and #bossbabe culture, which essentially harms the very people it claims to be empowering.
Boss Babes: Exploitation, But Make It Feminist.
Simply put, boss babes are what happens when cutthroat ambition masquerades as women’s empowerment. There is no shortage of talking heads and self-help books that claim that oppressive systems are simply mental obstacles you must overcome. That wealth in a capitalistic society is infinite but you, due to your own misdoings, just haven’t tapped into it yet.
Oftentimes, those who are peddling and benefitting from boss babe culture encourage others to “think like a man,” as if that’s an actual thing.
Not only does this attribute harmful, destructive traits to masculinity, but it encourages women to embrace and perpetuate them instead of scrutinizing and dismantling them.
So What’s the Issue?
In action, boss babe and girlboss culture are harmful.
Where this culture thrives possibly the most is in multilevel marketing or MLMs. Sometimes called direct marketing or sales, the American Association of Retired Persons (AARP) defines it as when “an individual seller earns commissions in two ways: (1) from direct sales and (2) from sales generated by others recruited by the seller. The seller’s recruits may have recruits of their own, and the original seller receives commissions from those sales as well.”
Typically, MLMs will expect a seller to pay a buy-in fee and meet quotas. This may seem innocuous, but vendors are often required to purchase the products or inventory from the company to either promote the item so others can buy it or to directly sell it to a potential buyer.
Where boss babe culture especially runs rampant is in beauty and health MLMs, as they are mainly marketed as a way for mothers to earn a living or extra income for their household. The harsh reality is that 99 percent of people in MLMs will lose money, per the Federal Trade Commission. That does not account for vendors who will barely make a profit, especially given how much time they dedicate to promoting and selling items.
Essentially, people who buy into MLMs are customers, but they are tricked into believing they’re business owners. Meanwhile, they are told that naysayers just don’t have the drive to do what they’re doing. In a business structure that is built on recruiting other women, those who rebuff these offers to join or buy are also deemed “haters,” ignorant, and even anti-feminist. “Women supporting women” becomes a selling point, not a mantra.
Hustle culture hidden and hawked as self-improvement is especially destructive when considering how many frontline and essential workers died during the pandemic, in addition to how many were affected by it.
Take for instance Lelani Jordan, a 27-year-old Black woman with cerebral palsy who died of the coronavirus in April 2020. Jordan worked at a Giant Food store in Maryland, and she continued to come in for work because she wanted to help others even when her co-workers didn’t show up, her mother said. Lelani died a week after developing symptoms, and her mother claimed her employer allegedly didn’t provide basic protections, including proper PPE and gloves.
Lelani “hustled” until it killed her. Her final check — the one she essentially died for — was reportedly for $20.64.
When does boss babe culture, girlboss culture, hustle culture, or whatever you want to call it ever get around to addressing that we are expected to overachieve when most of us are simply trying to survive? It appears it’s easier for many to accept the idea that people are intrinsically flawed, unmotivated, and weak — all while the actual culprit, greed and capitalism, continue to strip us of our humanity.
Nickel and Dimed: On (Not) Getting By In America by Barbara Ehrenreich
When the ‘Hustle’ Isn’t Enough (Article) by NPR
Hood Feminism: Notes from the Women That a Movement Forgot by Mikki Kendall
“You’re Not A Girlboss, You’re Just Trapped in An MLM Scheme” (Video) by The Financial Diet