Why the Spice Girls’s school of feminism still guides us in 2018
The term “third-wave feminism” was coined by Rebecca Walker, who, in a 1992 Ms. magazine article wrote, “Let this dismissal of a woman’s experience move you to anger. Turn that outrage into political power. Do not vote for them unless they work for us. Do not have sex with them, do not break bread with them, do not nurture them if they don’t prioritize our freedom to control our bodies and our lives. I am not a post-feminism feminist. I am the Third Wave.”
Being five years old at the time, I admittedly missed those words initially. Luckily, five years later — a mere month before my 10th birthday — a compact disc, packaged with a white booklet and ornamented with bold, brightly colored text in all caps, made its way into my Discman.
With the first press of the play button, I experienced the same message that Walker was sharing, but through a channel my pre-adolescent mind could comprehend.
By the time the lyrics, “If you wanna be my lover / you gotta get with my friends” hit my ears, my barely formed ego was already soaking it all up like a sponge. I got to work, meticulously plastering posters of the Spice Girls all over my bedroom walls, yelling “Girl Power,” and even talking my parents into buying me their Barbie dolls (the boxes are still in pristine, unopened condition in the attic, by the way).
The ’90s were the launch pad of third-wave feminism, and for me, the Spice Girls were surfing it.
With each new track, music video, and interview, I realized that I could wear what I wanted, be who I wanted, and still demand respect from my peers and men. They showed me how to embrace a version of feminism that otherwise may not have made its way to a Baptist preacher’s daughter’s bedroom in the deep south, a feminism that preached that I could be who I wanted and still be bursting at my shiny mini dress seams with “Girl Power.”
The Spice Girls planted a seed that continued to grow through my formative years.
As a young Black woman starting to build her identity, seeing Mel B — with her untamed hair, loud leopard bodysuits, and inclination towards outspokenness — was a godsend.
She literally got the nickname “Scary” from Peter Loraine of British magazine Top of the Pops, who called her out for being so loud and trying to take over a photo shoot. How powerful an act as a Black woman to embrace a nickname based on you being loud and bossy? And never forget when the Spice Girls stood up to a sexist director, or the radio interview where the deejay asked the formative ladies about “picking up guys” and Scary Spice shouted in rebuttal:
“Excuse me! This is about girl power; this isn’t about picking up guys… we don’t need men to control our lives. We control our lives anyway.
Last year, Merriam Webster announced “feminism” as the word of the year, defining it as “the theory of political, economic, and social equality of the sexes” and “organized activity on behalf of women’s rights and interest” — so by that definition, it makes sense that the Spice Girls were my foray into feminism; they were feminism incarnate. However, definitions of feminism have always varied. For example, last year when the ethereal Emma Watson posed in a sheer top for a Vanity Fair article that centered around her work as a UN ambassador, she got backlash in the form of “I thought you were a feminist?!” Her response was in line with what my mind believed, having been shaped by hours of listening to “Say You’ll Be There.”
Watson replied that, “Feminism is about giving women choice. Feminism is not a stick with which to beat other women with. It’s about freedom, it’s about liberation, it’s about equality. I really don’t know what my tits have to do with it. It’s very confusing.
So, you can understand my elation turned heartbreak at learning that the Spice Girls might be going on tour (hell yes!), then finding out through our poised leader Posh Spice that they were, in fact, just hanging out (without me). And it’s all just too bad because, in 2018, we could all use some Spice Girl-tinged feminism. A dash of intersectionality, a pinch of body autonomy, a sprinkle of shamelessly embracing sexuality, and five full servings of letting women tell (and sing) their own stories.