Jokingly saying “live, laugh, love” as a tribute to the outdated, momcore wallhangings of yore is now out. Saying “gaslight, gatekeep, girlboss” is in.
Let’s unpack the hottest new alliterative phrase that’s permeating the internet.
Where did “gaslight, gatekeep, girlboss” come from?
Like so many memes before it, the phrase originated on Tumblr and became mainstream when someone tweeted about it.
According to the internet historians at Know Your Meme, the first known instance of the phrase was in a Jan. 12, 2021, post from Tumblr user missnumber1111.
“Today’s agenda: gaslight gatekeep and most importantly girlboss,” they wrote. It has since been shared more than 44,000 times.
On Jan. 13, Tumblr user a-m-e-t-h-y-s-t-r-o-s-e shared the earlier post from missnumber1111 and included a Photoshopped image that reads “gaslight every moment, gatekeep every day, girlboss beyond words.” The imagery reflects the style of “live, laugh, love” decor, as Twitter user @loltay69 pointed out when she later shared the photo.
Over the next month, the phrase spread across Twitter. Users began sharing instances of gaslighting, gatekeeping and girlbossing throughout pop culture, including the below reference to Gone Girl, which also introduced the antithesis to gaslight, gatekeep, girlboss — manipulate, mansplain, malewife.
Eventually, the phrase began to stand alone. Someone even made a quiz to determine which word of the trifecta best represents you.
What is it — besides the rule of threes and the aforementioned parody of live, laugh, love — that makes the phrase so infectious? To understand the appeal of “gaslight, gatekeep, girlboss,” we must break it down.
What does “gaslight” mean?
Gaslighting is a form of manipulation in which someone tries to get another person or group of people to question their own reality or perceptions. It can play a role in emotional abuse, as well, which doesn’t exactly make the term ripe for “memeification,” though it has become regularly discussed in pop culture.
The popularization of the term demystifies its meaning more than it popularizes the tactic, though. If more people understand what gaslighting is, the more quickly they can identify it and call out the person attempting to gaslight them.
For instance, in December, TikToker Dana Pizzarelli went viral for calling out her boyfriend who denied doing something she saw happen with her own eyes. She identified this to her audience as gaslighting, and she told In The Know that it helped her audience realize that exact thing had been happening to them, though they didn’t know what to call it.
“Gaslight, gatekeep, girlboss” doesn’t encourage gaslighting — it pokes fun at people who do, and thus makes it easier to identify and destigmatizes calling it out.
What does “gatekeep” mean?
Gatekeeping is, according to Urban Dictionary, “when someone takes it upon themselves to decide who does or does not have access or rights to a community or identity.” It’s used to make the gatekeeper feel superior to others on the outside or more deserving of an identity.
For instance, maybe you’re wearing a Nirvana shirt from Urban Outfitters. If a punk music fan tells you that you can’t wear that shirt if you can’t name five Nirvana songs, that’s gatekeeping. There’s a whole gatekeeping subreddit dedicated to calling out this behavior.
Gatekeeping, like gaslighting, is a term that describes a manipulative behavior made popular on the internet. In the same way, the term’s popularization makes the behavior easier to call out.
What does “girlboss” mean?
Someone who gaslights and gatekeeps generally isn’t a great person, which is why the inclusion of “girlboss” in the phrase is so interesting. Being a “girlboss” in the early 2010s was considered a good and impressive thing, but now, Gen Z considers it a “cringe” sign of trying too hard to further oneself.
TikTok user @glamdemon2004 identified a recent example of being a “girlboss” or “girlbossification” in the reemergence of Gabbie Hanna, a Vine star turned YouTuber who, after months of relative silence, spent several days calling out critics of her 2017 poetry book.
Hanna’s “creating conflict out of thin air” and beefing “with everyone she’s ever interacted with” gave off an air of “taking back her power,” as a so-called girlboss does in this day and age.
Other critics of the word “girlboss” say it’s needlessly gendered “patronizing” — women who are bosses are just bosses. We shouldn’t act like it’s unusual if a woman has power, and turning everything pink and flowery to appeal to women can be “sexist and demeaning.”
These days, it’s not necessarily a good thing to be a girlboss, but it’s also a joke. The 2010s girlboss movement, still embraced by some Millennials as “cheugy,” has been teased into oblivion.
The three G’s encapsulate what young internet users hate the most, and that’s why we love it
Someone who gaslights, gatekeeps and girlbosses is the perfect target of Gen Z disdain, but that disdain is so pure, it’s almost good.
Bringing these three words together celebrates the female scammers we’ve grown to have complicated love/hate relationships with, like fictional manipulator Amy Dunne from Gone Girl, Instagram try-hard Caroline Calloway, convicted fraudster Anna Delvey and disgraced tech pioneer Elizabeth Holmes. There’s something inspiring about being so villainous in such a modern way.
“Live, laugh, love” became satirical over the years, but “gaslight, gatekeep, girlboss” has always been a joke. In a way, the phrase gaslit, gatekept and girlbossed its way into modern vernacular.
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If you enjoyed this story, read more about what “cheugy” means.
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