Is Girlboss Saying We Can't Have It All?

Photo: Courtesy of Netflix
This article contains Girlboss spoilers. You've been warned.
Juggling long hours, high-maintenance customers, and vicious eBay wars, Girlboss' protagonist Sophia Marlowe (Britt Robertson) can barely stay in the saddle of her rapidly expanding vintage clothing business. Though Sophia had scoffed at her prior full-time jobs — one at a shoe store and the other as a security monitor — running Nasty Gal requires far more commitment than a conventional 9-to-5.
In order to portray a reinvigorated, ambitious Sophia, Girlboss presents us with a montage of our exhausted heroine flopping into bed, night after night. That capitalist spirit would be fine — encouraged, even — were Sophia not getting in bed next to her boyfriend, Shane (Johnny Simmons), disgruntled from evenings spent alone. As Sophia's intense schedule wears on, their intimacy stales and their warm banter stiffens. The relationship ends after Sophia catches Shane receiving a blowjob from his bandmate.
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With this dichotomy of an overworked girlfriend and a neglected, cheating boyfriend, Girlboss implies all those nights spent working finally caught up to bite Sophia in the ass. And that is an unsettling conclusion, especially from a show that prides itself on championing women and their careers.
After all, Sophia’s not the only one in the relationship to struggle with work-life balance. As a music manager, Shane’s tied to his band’s demanding schedule. At one point, he hits the road for a number of months. When Sophia visits him in L.A. after a long stint apart, Shane’s bound to the whims and whimsies of the band’s petulant frontman, much to Sophia's disappointment.
Clearly, both Sophia and Shane struggle with boundaries between work and life. But only Sophia is punished for it.
Unfortunately, this is far from the first example of an ambitious woman being cheated on by her wounded partner. Girlboss’ story arc bears striking similarity to The Intern, a 2015 film in which Anne Hathaway plays Jules Ostin, CEO of a successful fashion startup. While Jules struggles with the reins on her rapidly expanding fashion startup, her husband Matt raises their daughter. Jules’ long hours and hands-on approach to her career put extra pressure on their marriage. Eventually, it’s revealed that Matt is having an affair with another parent, a direct cause of Jules’ hours spent away.
What’s a woman CEO to do when her husband cheats? In The Intern, Jules decides to to give up her position at the helm of her own business in order to work on her marriage — until the heroic Matt steps in, and says he’s willing to find a solution, even if she stays on as CEO.
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Anne Hathaway and Anders Holm in The Intern
While I appreciate Matt’s team spirit, I doubt this argument would come up were the genders reversed. I’ve never seen a career man on film or TV consider leaving his job to spend more time with his family — except, perhaps, for Randall on NBC's This Is Us. In that case, Beth, who gave up her career as a lawyer to raise the couple’s daughters, is concerned about her husband’s demanding schedule, but accepts his long hours as a fact of their relationship. When Randall eventually quits, it’s his own choice – not because Beth cheated on him as a “wake-up call.”
The bottom line is the dynamic is different if the overworked party is a man. Both The Intern and Girlboss imply that a woman's professional success has negative repercussions on her relationship.
But whereas The Intern spends time unpacking the question of whether a woman can “have it all,” Girlboss refrains from contributing to the debate. Instead, Shane cheats, Sophia dumps him, and the simmering, disturbing implication that he cheated because of her ambition is left unsaid — much to the detriment of this show’s feminist message. Hopefully, being in relationships with disgruntled partners isn’t the price all #Girlbosses have to pay in order to achieve their #goals.
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