Last weekend during the Olympics Closing Ceremony performance, five taxicabs with the license plate “SPICE” pulled up, to turn me into a giddy child again… The Spice Girls were back! As a 90’s kid, the Spice Girls were the soundtrack to most of my favorite childhood memories. They were the five best friends and heroes who decorated my bedroom walls. They were the songs that I would sing, dance, and laugh to with my own best friends. The Spice Girls told us that friendship was forever, to stay positive, and that Girl Power was all we needed. If those strong, sassy, independent women could take over the world, why couldn’t all girls do the same?
Having not taken over the world like the Spice Girls, and grown up (somewhat) I’ve become more cynical. I’ve taken college women’s studies classes and learned about feminism. My view of the Spice Girls should probably be far more negative, as I have a deeper understanding of the media’s effect on me. There are plenty of feminist critiques out there of the Spice Girls. I do see the problems and agree with a lot of it… For example, it’s problematic that they were all given one adjective to boil themselves down to as a nickname. These women were all so much more than just “Scary” or “Sporty.” The nicknames were certainly diminishing and somewhat demeaning, especially “Baby.” Talk about infantilizing, I could probably write a whole other blog post just on Emma Bunton’s choices of wardrobe. With a critical eye I see a lot about the Spice Girls I never would have noticed as a kid. However I also see that with their Girl Power, they gave me the kind of feminism that I needed as a kid.
Everything about the Spice Girls was very loud and very feminine; their voices, their themed skimpy outfits, and of course the music itself. You had to blast their music, and you still have to blast it to fully revel in it’s fun, catchy tunes. I always felt like the Spice Girls gave their fans permission to be as loud as they were, and that there was no shame in it. Maybe shouting, “Girl Power,” or singing their songs wasn’t code for smashing the patriarchy, but it was still meaningful. In a brilliant article for Rookie Magazine, Sady Doyle writes:
“There was lots of giggling, with the Spice Girls; there was lots of hugging; there were a lot of bright, colorful outfits; there was a lot of hyper, bubbly silliness, and sometimes it would just wear a cynical person right out. But the Spice Girls weren’t for cynical people. They were for very young girls—sometimes girls who were still in grade school. (Those Spice Girl dolls weren’t selling to 22-year-old gender-studies majors. At least not unironically.) And in the moment that those girls were starting to figure out what “girlhood” meant, to them, they were relying on an image of ladies having fun together and supporting one another.”
Those confident, fun, talented, independent women with their silly platform sneakers loved and supported each other. And they were exactly the right image for me and my friends.
Our culture continues to promote snark, competition, and to and make women feel bad about themselves, and the Spice Girls countered that. Where’s anything like that message in today’s media culture?
Doyle goes on to say that, “We were scared that the Spice Girls would make feminism too mainstream and commercial. Well, good news: feminism is totally unpopular now, hurray!” This is, of course, true as well. The Spice Girls were a phenomenon, and it’s probably safe to say the most popular all-women music group of all time. They were the closest thing media culture has gotten to mainstream feminism.
Many of the Spice Girls songs were also simply about respect. Respecting yourself, your friends, and even one song about respecting your mother. When I think of every women’s issue, this may be simplifying but a lot of it does boil down to a disrespect of women. Women are disrespected when they aren’t given their right to reproductive choices. Women are disrespected when they are treated like objects by the media. Women are disrespected when they are dehumanized by Republicans. Maybe I’m too much of an idealist, but I like to think that most of the boys and girls who loved the Spice Girls in the 90’s, grew up to have some respect for women.
If the Spice Girls were a brand new band today, I’m not sure how I’d feel about them or if the media would portray them differently. All I know is that I grew up with their Girl Power, and I’m glad that I did.