The Spice Girls

It’s probably a fair assumption to say that “zigazig-ha” is not Spice shorthand for “subvert the dominant paradigm.”

Jennifer L.Pozner, in Soujourner (1998)

Q. Would you say you are a feminist?

A. No I wouldn’t. We all admire strong, independent women, but I’m a romantic. I like a man who opens doors for me, takes me out to dinner, buys me flowers. I like men to treat women like women, and I think many other women do too.

Interview with Victoria Beckham, Cosmopolitan March 2002 Issue

Girl Power is …when you reply to wolf whistles by shouting “Get your arse out!”

Spice Girls, “Girl Power” (London, 1997)

Riot Girl is inspiring, empowering and a whole fucking lot of fun… We’re talking REAL Girl Power, not insipid Spice Girl shit.

Riot Girl Manifesto c.2001

Just exactly who coined the phrase ‘Girl Power’ is up for dispute, but it definitely wasn’t the Spice Girls. Both the Swansea band Helen Love (in 1993) and Plumstead duo Shampoo (in 1995) beat them to it in terms of song lyrics, and Grrrl Power can obviously be seen to pre-date Girl Power, so this is not a chicken and egg issue…

“It’s funny” wrote Karen Ablaze! “Simone (Ivatts) pointed out to me that she’s still wearing a Girl Power t shirt we made in ’92. 4 years later you could buy such things at any branch of Woolworths.”

Cazz Blase, “But What of Us?” in Real Girls zine (c.2001/2)

…the Spice Girls make for a pretty thin definition of feminist because they are only the fun kind. …And yet preteen girls dancing around freely in their living rooms or at concerts singing “Wannabe,” rock music made just for them, can be nothing short of empowering.

Jennifer Baumgardner & Amy Richards, Manifesta (2000)

As “Scary Spice” Mel B put it in a recent Entertainment Weekly interview: “You can wear your Wonderbra, you can wear your mascara, but you’ve got a bit of intelligence… Don’t rely on your sexuality, but don’t be afraid of it.”

“Just because you’ve got a short skirt on and a pair of tits, you can still say what you want to say. We’re still very strong,” Baby Spice Emma chimed in. Heavy.

The Spice Girls have been annointed a feminist pop outfit by more than a few writers. The Spicies themselves prefer the term Girl Power: personal, and especially sexual, empowerment is central to their act. And sexy feminism certainly works as a marketing approach (the fact that the quintet churning out the prefab Brit-pop also have good abs and producers helps, too). They take feminism’s shell, and fill it up with lip gloss, ribbed condoms, and girls-on-top innuendo. Nobody tells the Spice Girls what to do. They’re young and stylish and sexy as they wannabe. …[but] Girl Power has its limits. Take away the sexual freedom and the guiltless push-up bras and you’re not left with much.

Yvonne Abraham, Lipstick Liberation in the Worcester Phoenix (1997)

I didn’t really know that much history, but I knew about the Suffragettes. They fought. It wasn’t that long ago. They died to get a vote. The women’s vote. You remember that and you think, fucking hell.

Geri Halliwell, quoted in Kathy Acker, “All Girls Together” in The Guardian (3 May 1997)

Feminist responses to the Spice Girls depended upon whether their activities were perceived as self-regulating or whether they had been manipulated into acting out a marketing concept. …Charlotte Raven wrote rancorously of these ‘ever-so-zeit-geisty chicks’: ‘The boys want to fuck them, the girls want to be them and feminists want to hail them as the feisty new exponents of that post-oppression jive.’ Raven fulminated that ‘having a giggle has come to be seen as a protopolitical act’ and denounced the young women as ‘a bunch of charmless never-weres’. Vivienne Westwood also slagged them off quite unnecessarily. The five, who were known to most of their public only as Posh Spice, Baby Spice, Ginger Spice, Sporty Spice and Scary Spice, and were given little chance of displaying individual personalities to go with their mix-and-match image, were quite anodyne. They danced energetically if not well and they had a reasonable amount of flesh on their bones – and they had achieved an educational level not aimed at by the dead-eyed emaciated models who are featured in More.

The only feminist actually to hail the Spice Girls’ line about ‘being who you wanna’ and ‘not taking any shit’ as revolutionary was American Kathy Acker. Acker felt that… in the Eighties feminism had entered a dark age until the constellation Spice Girls arose in the Heavens to show by their radiance that feminism can be fun. The Spice Girls did make a difference because their most passionate fans were eight-year-old girls. In April 1998 a conference on children’s oral culture learned that whereas half the space in school playgrounds used to be taken up by a self-selecting group of boys playing football, girls’ clapping and dancing games were taking over. …Attagirls!

Germaine Greer, The Whole Woman (2000)

…whatever you think about the Spice Girls, they showed that feminism could be repackaged and sold. Instead of looking down our noses at this phenomenon we need to think about how to harness and use it.

Geethika Jayatilaka, talk at ICA, 2001

Our band is a projection of female power.

Geri Halliwell quoted in article by Caroline Sullivan, “Girls just wanna be loaded” in The Guardian (26 July 1996)

There have been some amazingly lavish excuses made for women’s behaviour when it is thought to make a contributions to changing perceptions of and opportunities for women. The rhetoric of ‘girl power’ is a good instance. The Spice Girls coined the phrase as a bit of promotional fun but it passed quickly into the wider culture as a good label to use in any situation in which girls might be putting themselves forward in new, brash and ‘unfeminine’ ways. ‘Challenging the stereotypes’, though, can cover a multitude of sins. Some challenges might be useful for easing the constraints which some girls and women still experience, but others might be ways of adding moral justification to behaviour which is just self-seeking.

Rosalind Coward, Sacred Cows (2000)

The Spice Girls’… message rarely gets more complicated than: ‘If it feels good, do it!’ Suddenly feminism is all about how the individual feels right here, right now, rather than the bigger picture. The idea of doing something for the greater good… has become an anachronism.

Katharine Viner, “The Personal is Still Political” in On The Move (1999)

“Girl Power,” co-opted from the Riot Grrrl movement, has come to mean for many young girls encountering it for the first time the celebration of “girl things”; fun tied to conventional definitions of femininity that is often dependent upon consumption. In its mainstream permutations it cannot be confused with feminism: even the former Ginger Spice, Geri Halliwell, describes “feminism” as “a dirty word.” However, less “serious” than feminism, Girl Power is playful and does not “threaten boys.”

Jennifer Harris, “Betty Friedan’s Granddaughters” in Turbo Chicks (Sumach Press, 2001)

I don’t think Girl Power and feminism are the same thing, because Girl Power is just a marketing ploy and feminism has been going on for years.

Momtaz, “You Go Girl!” in On The Move (1999)