With the Spice Girls making a return in 2019, I feel the women of tomorrow would be better served not taking them to heart as I did.
In 1996, five young British women exploded onto the airwaves with their catchy pop explosion, “Wannabe.” Within weeks, the song was number one in 31 countries and the Spice Girls overtook both the music world and the bedrooms of young girls everywhere.
If you were a pre-teen in the ’90s, chances are you loved them. How could you not? It was all about girl power, right? These five women—Sporty, Scary, Baby, Posh, and Ginger—showed us that we could kick any guy’s arse who dared to make us cry. While we take for granted today our power to speak out, back when the Spice Girls burst onto the scene, it was still frowned upon for girls to be loud and empowered.
Now, we’re going nuts over the reunion tour and an animated film is being talked up as in our near future, but the question that really sparks my interest is, how does the “Girl Power” phenomenon of the Spice Girls stand up to 2020 ideals? The band’s manager, Simon Fuller, would like us to believe that “they’re more timely now than ever” but I don’t buy it.
Novelist Fay Weldon has been scathing in her opinion on the band. “‘Girl Power’ was a sham … the aspirations and attitudes of these five women go hand-in-hand with the decline of our culture over the past decade.”
We had the fierce and loud Scary Spice (because, if you’re a woman who stands up for herself, you must be scary, right?); a prim and proper bitch in Posh Spice (you can’t possibly be well groomed and, God forbid, nice); tattooed and bogan tomboy Sporty Spice (if you give up glitter and frills, you’re giving up your womanhood entirely); brainless sex icon Baby Spice (there’s something really, really wrong about that one); and, of course, the fiery red-head, Ginger Spice (yes, let’s base someone’s personality entirely around their hair color).
“Girl Power” for the Spice Girls was about embracing your personality and being you. That’s a noble goal, sure. But right from the get-go, I’m finding it hard to swallow the fact that these characters weren’t even their own creation.
In an interview with Cosmopolitan Magazine in 2013, band member Melanie Brown (a.k.a. Scary Spice) admitted that the characters the women took on were not an original part of the Spice Girls dream:
“It was actually a teeny bopper magazine called Top of the Pops who gave us our names. We were already established as the Spice Girls, but they wrote a story about us and, within it, they called us each something different. The names stuck, so we went with it!”
Yep. The characters we were told to embody weren’t even the girl’s own; they were fabricated by male Top of the Pops editor, Peter Loraine, who said, “I simply said it would be a good idea if they had some nicknames. The girls liked the idea, so I had an editorial meeting back at the office and about four of us started thinking of names.”
That’s not fighting against the patriarchy. That’s playing right into their hands.
So, what else did they give us then (other than earworms we’ll never get rid of)?
Can you hear those crickets?
At the height of their fame, Victoria Beckham, when asked if she considered herself a feminist, responded with, “I wouldn’t. I like a man who opens a door for me and buys me flowers.” Melanie Brown has made similar remarks. The long history of bickering and scathing attacks between the estranged bandmates also speaks against any idea of women sticking together to build each other up.
Novelist Fay Weldon has been scathing in her opinion on the band. “I believe the aspirations and attitudes of these five women go hand-in-hand with the decline of our culture over the past decade,” she is quoted as saying. “‘Girl Power’ was a sham, and its five proponents nothing more than desperate wannabes, desperate for a quick fix of fame.”
In 2020, “Girl Power” is about a whole lot more than just a catchphrase and a few trendy lyrics. “Sisterhood” is a better reference point, with strong women standing with each other to fight the injustices we will no longer ignore. Social networking has given us the power to reach across boundaries and borders more than ever before, and we are using that power to come together and call out the misogyny and sexism that groups like the Spice Girls actually helped to build.
With role models like Michelle Obama, Malala Yousafzai, and Jameela Jamil to look up to, the Spice Girls’ brand of Girl Power would be lost in a sea of activism that actually makes a difference.
My verdict? Stop right now, thank you very much.