OpinionOpinion: Please don’t ‘girlboss’-ify Kamala Harris

Opinion: Please don’t ‘girlboss’-ify Kamala Harris

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With Kamala Harris set to become the nation’s first female, black and Asian-American VP, people across the nation are talking about what this could mean for representation in politics. In these discussions, one uniquely bad take is starting to gain traction: that Harris, in becoming VP, has become the nation’s top “girlboss”.

Anyone familiar with the term “girlboss” probably just cringed a little at that introduction. Initially going viral as a hashtag on social media, a “girlboss” refers to any woman who is strong, confident or otherwise authoritative at work while “retaining” femininity. They are usually seen as flawless, able to remain a career woman without sacrificing personal milestones like getting married or raising kids.

But feminists have previously, and rightly, criticized this term for being condescending. They argue that the modern day “girlboss” is just an extension of the archetypical “housewife”, where women are regulated to very specific roles in order to fit into society. It’s not just enough for them to be successful in work. They also must still want to pursue a family life, or risk being seen as “cold hearted” or “greedy”.

“Have you ever heard a male worker referred to as a #boyboss?” Vicky Spratt, a frequent contributor to Refinery29, asks. “No. That’s because men’s power in the workplace is still the default. It’s the status quo and anything a woman does is still an exception, an anomaly.”

Applying this term to Harris is uniquely bad because of her prior service record. Harris rose to prominence during the late 90s and early 2000s, where criminal justice was very “tough on crime”. Said “toughness” often meant imprisoning nonviolent, first time offenders for 20 years or more, as well as severely limiting educational and job opportunities inside and outside of jail.

Consequently, Harris, though promoting herself as a “progressive prosecutor”, has followed this same thought process many times. Her track record as a prosecutor in California has been heavily scrutinized for her contradictory stances on similar issues. 

For example, Harris has openly supported LGBTQIA+ rights in the past, at one point refusing to defend a California ban on same-sex marriage in front of the Supreme Court. However, two years later, Harris would defend the state’s decision to refuse to pay for a transgender inmate’s gender reassignment surgery, explaining that, because of hormone therapy, it was “medically unnecessary”.

This is even more egregious when Harris talks about the prison system. Though she does have a track record with prison reform, such as her initial changes to California’s “three strike” system, she also failed to follow a Supreme Court order to stop overcrowding prisons.

“At one point, her lawyers argued that the state couldn’t release some prisoners because it would deplete its pool for prison labor — but Harris quickly clarified that she was not aware her office was going with that argument until it was reported by [the] media,” Vox Senior Correspondent German Lopez wrote in an article deconstructing Harris’s prosecution record.

Qualifying Harris as a “girlboss” not only diminishes the hard work she did for political reform, but conveniently glosses over the more problematic parts of her history to accommodate this view. Instead, it praises her for doing the bare minimum, thus perpetuating a cycle of nonaction and effectively halting any significant reform.
Even before officially taking office, Kamala Harris is shaping up to have a complicated legacy. She constantly flirts with progressiveness in press circuits, but rarely actualizes them in her policy work. She can fight for prisoner’s rights in one meeting and further take them away in another. Simplifying this legacy by just referring to Harris as you “#Girlboss Crush” is demeaning and wrong.

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