When I was 12, I loved the Spice Girls more than I could possibly say in an opening sentence. They were my favourite singers, my favourite actresses (Spice World is an awesome movie, and anybody who argues otherwise is a liar who is trying to do you wrong), and at the time, my favourite role models.
Now, I’m not going to lie: for a while, Mama Donahue was not too impressed by anything Spice. Since she’s of the “don’t show off your midriff” school of thought (what up, Eastern European family), hearing me scream-sing “2 Become 1” was not exactly her favourite past time. BUT THEN, like all good moms, she did the good mom thing: she set aside her Spice Girls bias and took me to see Spice World (on a SUNDAY). And things changed.
First, my Mom jumped right aboard the Spice Girls train, and when I began quoting them, singing them (more than I was), buying their stuff, and telling her why she’d like a certain Spice Girl best (Posh), she’d listen, and actually talk about them and what they represented with me. Important. But perhaps more so, through the Fab Five I got a taste of the “GET IT, GIRL” ethos.
I’ve told you before what most of high school was like for me (terrible). But before it, I had a few years where I was spared from the self-esteem drain that hits your early teens. Why? Because, believe it or not, through music, the Spice Girls offered me a reprieve from the cliques and cool people. Was I a Spice Girls superfan to the point of it being weird? Probably. BUT so what — that that was fine: Geri, Emma, Mel B., Mel C., and Victoria instilled the message that you could be who and however you wanted to be, and as long as you were staying true to yourself and not hurting anybody, that was okay. It is okay. Present tense. That message still rings true: YOU DO YOU, LADIES.
Truth be told, now at 27, I can absolutely see why I clung to the Spice Girls as a means of feeling cool or “in.” I knew I wasn’t actually “in” with the “in” crowd (drink every time I say “in”), but seeing those women prioritize messages of friendship and girl power gave me not only hope that one day I would have friends (seriously), but that it was okay to want to be independent as well.
Now I know, especially as someone who’s written about music for a few years, that the Spice Girls are part of a much bigger picture that spans a decade. Acts like Sleater-Kinney, Bikini Kill, Tori Amos, and Fiona Apple challenged gender convention, but also addressed political and social climates without dancing or wearing micro-minis. However, feminism is not about ranking musicians — or any woman — by a “she vs. she” sliding scale. To compare Carrie Brownstein to Mel B. doesn’t make any sense: they’re two different musicians — two different people. To look at any musical act (or person, if we want to get real) and decide that one is less feminist than the other, is degrading and unfair: there’s no wrong way to be a feminist — unless you’ve stopped believing in equality, or are shaming other women. Pitting women against each other just takes away from what we could actually be doing: working to make a difference.
And I understand that making a difference takes time. But here’s the thing: the Spice Girls actually did. Yes, they may have been writing pop music instead of congressional bills, but to hear millions of girls champion fellow girls while shouting “girl power!” can’t be the worst thing in the world. It’s actually the opposite — it’s pretty great.
Music is a terrific medium, let’s not forget that. And if “If you wannabe my lover, you gotta get with my friends” is still a song we can relate to in 2013 (and I DO, thank you very much), the Spice Girls were far more than just some ’90s novelty act. They branded themselves, and in turn, they further branded girl power.
Because being a girl (and a woman) takes power. As women, we face things like misogyny, harassment, assault, and countless other forms of sexism daily. And to get through that and to challenge it, you must be powerful. So instead of encouraging girls to play coy and live up to pre-existing social conventions, the Spice Girls demanded you scream. So scream they did, and scream we did, and scream we are still doing. There is nothing wrong with feeling powerful and proud to be a girl or a woman. And power comes in many forms. What your form is, is up to you — just don’t let anyone tell you it’s not valid.
Happy International Women’s Day! (And zig-ah-zig-ah.)
Image via RyanSeacrest.com