I’m going to say it: I love the Spice Girls. I loved them when I was 5 and I loved them when I was 10, I fell briefly out of love with them when I was 14 and thought I was too cool, but when I came to my senses as an older teenager (and realised that I almost certainly wasn’t cool) I loved them again. I maintain that, whether or not you like the phrase ‘Girl Power’, the Spice Girls were positive and empowering role models for young girls of my generation. I’m not talking about the things they’ve done afterwards – Emma Bunton and Mel C seem to have done alright but the others have all fallen victim to celebrity culture in one way or another. I’m talking about when they were like this:
The five Spice personalities: Baby, Posh, Ginger, Scary and Sporty. Of course these were contrived and exaggerated by the band’s styling and marketing team, but I think they were a positive thing. However artificial they were, they showed us that there is more than one way of being a girl: it’s ok to dress as a ‘tomboy’ if you want to because Sporty Spice does it, if you’re a young black woman you don’t need to straighten your hair because Scary Spice doesn’t and she looks great. It also showed us that people who are different to each other can get along as part of a close friendship group – Posh can be friends with Sporty, and Baby can have a laugh with Scary. At a time in my life when I was trying hard to fit in and make friends at school, this was reassuring.
One of the best things about the Spice Girls was that they promoted female solidarity and friendship, often prioritising it above romantic relationships – if you wanna be my lover, you better get with my friends etc. In a society in which women and girls are relentlessly told to judge each other, and in which the most important thing for a young girl to do is to get a boyfriend, this is an incredibly powerful thing. They were nearly always hugging or holding on to each other in their publicity photos and their lyrics preached the importance of girls sticking together. And they really loved their mums, which is great.
Sex and relationships – on our terms
Possibly the best thing about the Spice Girls, that only became really clear to me once I got older (I was 5 when I got their first album) is their attitude to sex and relationships. The Spice Girls offer a vision of women who are in control of their relationships. They won’t let men pressure them into moving too quickly: ‘Stop right now, thank you very much’. They aren’t necessarily looking for a committed relationship: ‘Don’t wanna know about the love thing’. They portray sex as something that women do, not something that is done to them: ‘I need some love like I never needed love before, wanna make love to ya baby’. They advocate the use of condoms: ‘Be a little bit wiser baby, put it on’. Their philosophy is one of empowerment; they refuse to let a man or relationship define them, and (shock horror) sometimes they have sex for fun. I recently rediscovered a line from the song ‘Do It’ which I’d sung along to a thousand times as a young girl without realising how awesome it was. The whole song is about empowerment and going your own way, especially if you’re a girl. The chorus lines ‘Come on and do it! Don’t care how you look it’s just how you feel’ are pretty great, but in the first verse something beautiful happens. The voice of Patriarchy says ‘Keep your mouth shut, keep your legs shut, get back in your place.’ This is followed by a defiant shout of ‘HA! Blameless! Shameless! Damsel in disgrace! Who cares what they say because the rules are for breaking! Who made them anyway? You’ve got to show what you feel don’t hide’. Is it me or is that not a fabulous critique of slut-shaming, set to a bouncy pop beat? Unfortunately the song was an album track, so casual Spice Girls listeners may not have encountered it. HERE YOU GO.
My love for the Spice Girls is still as ardent as it was when I was 6 years old and singing into my hairbrush. As I’ve got older I’ve found new reasons to love them, and I am so grateful for the childhood they gave me. From listening to their songs (over and over and OVER AGAIN) I learned that my friends were precious. I learned that it’s ok to have a boyfriend, and it’s ok not to. I learned that it’s fine to shout if I’m angry and be a bit ‘unladylike’ if I want to. Most importantly, I learned to believe that being a girl is something powerful – if that doesn’t make the Spice Girls feminist icons then I don’t know what does.