It's alarming how quickly a crappy day can get turned around by something small and delightful. Finding a fiver you forgot you had. Getting an extra Twix out of the vending maching when you only paid for one. Gaining the respect of a street cat you've been trying to woo for months. Yesterday, the thing that turned my day around was The Spice Girls, and a 20-year-old video that finally became public.
Please watch the below, and agree that it's the cultural equivalent of an extra fiver.
Is it weird to find this exciting? Here are my childhood heroes, whose “Girl Power” slogan has been relegated to the junkyard of women’s history, standing up for themselves with the vigour and viciousness of a herd of panthers. Geri, in pigtails and a school uniform, calling their director a chauvinist while he smiles and tells them that showing midriff and cleavage is “just showbiz.” “That is such a cop out,” she says, furious, while Victoria stomps into frame. “Why are you wearing sunglasses? Are you trying to look cool? It’s not even sunny.”
I wanted to scream in delight. Yes. Finally. Finally everyone has to admit that The Spice Girls really were feminists, even if they couldn’t say so at the time. Because if you were around in the 1990s, you’ll know exactly why they couldn’t say so at the time.
Here were our childhood heroes, whose “Girl Power” slogan has been relegated to the junkyard of women’s history, standing up for themselves
The 1990s is a really good example of how social progress can be immediately followed by a backlash. The 1970s saw the rise of second-wave feminism, and the women of the 1980s were able to reap the benefits. Shoulder pads! Power lunches! The Supreme Court finds that sexual harassment is a form of illegal job discrimination! Melanie Griffith!
And then, the 1990s. Britney Spears’ virginity is a matter of international concern. Jennifer Lopez’s arse is reported on like it’s her loveable, fun sidekick. Being a Page 3 girl is seen as subversive. A woman is something you mum is, and what you want to be is a “girl”, or a ladette. The kind of female who hates other women and loves wearing her boyfriend’s Liverpool jersey to bed. In a recent documentary about the all-female publishing house Virago, the founders confess to having struggled during the 1990s, as the public consensus seemed to be that feminism was dead.
Enter The Spice Girls. Enter Girl Power, a form of commercial feminism that was dismissed by “proper feminists” as a bastardisation of the original movement. That Emma Bunton’s lollypops and Geri Halliwell’s rubber Union Jack dress were direct contradictions of what “empowerment” was supposed to mean. And to be honest, I think that’s kinda bullshit.
Yes, The Spice Girls wore hot pants and school uniforms and basically played right into the candy-coloured sexuality of the era. But if you’ve ever watched a few Spice Girls videos in a row, you’ll notice that a strong theme runs throughout. A sizeable chunk of them seem to take place in some kind of pop dystopia where The Spice Girls rule the earth and men cower in fear of them. Say You’ll Be There features a dude tied to a car, while Spice Up Your Life is some kind of tripped-out goth nightmare where the girls punish people from the safety of their space ship. Lyrically, they always seemed to be demanding more, or better of the men in their lives: you need to value my friendships, you need to ease off, you need to treat me better because, hey, I’m giving you everything. The Spice Girls were too pop to make eloquent speeches about the gender pay gap, but that doesn’t mean they weren’t feminist.
The 1990s was not the most inspiring time to be a girl. Hell, 2016 isn’t the most inspiring time to be a woman. But my heart soars for the covert, jolly-hockey-sticks feminism of The Spice Girls. Girl Power might not have been the most complex message for women, but given the time it came out, it’s amazing we heard the message at all.