The Vagenda

What the Spice Girls Did For Us

(This morning I wrote a piece about the Spice Girls, then Grace Dent wrote a piece about the Spice Girls for the Independent. So this may now be considered my response, offering a generationally different perspective.)

I have a deep and profound love for the Spice Girls. Their remarkable debut album, ’Spice’ (which I have on cassette btw) the soundtrack to my formative years answered many important questions about being a woman; who do you think you are? Who should come first, friends or boys? And, how do I get on with my mum? Now that these songs are once again to be heard on stage in the musical Viva Forever! I COULD NOT BE more excited.

Whilst Grace remembers an ecstasy and Heather Small stained decade, I was far too young for Hacienda but too old for Aaron Carter. Making me a first generation Spice fan. They were mine.

I’m also an unemployed graduate, back at home, with a lot of time to think. Too much time maybe. Which is how I have come to the conclusion that the Spice Girls did more for us as girls in one pop hit than Germaine Greer, Simone de Beauvoir and Doris Lessing put together.

Once you’ve stopped reeling I’ll explain myself.

Think about when you became a feminist. “I’ve always been one!” You shout. “I’m more friendly with my flaps and female psyche than Bert was with Ernie. I AM WOMAN”. All right, calm down. That is exactly my point. You see my theory is, that as we grew up with these five girls, our generation have always known what it is to be women. Nurture beating nature down with a stick, we have never known how not to be strong, independent, leopard print clad women. All you need is positivity!

The Spice Girls paved the way for us to show the world what we want, what we really, really want – platform trainers and our own tour bus driven by Meatloaf preferably – and to be proud of it. Many feminists/people may disagree with me entirely arguing the Spice Girls commercialisation of sex set back the movement by twenty years but to them I say, zigazig Ha! I don’t think so.

To me, the Spice Girls represent the sexless innocence of my childhood. Which happened to be in the nineties, the last time we really did anything new. Socially, culturally, interestingly. Until now. Now girl power is back, in the papers, on the telly, on twitter as “new wave” Feminism. A term I use loosely because it’s crap. It’s no surprise our style is reverting back to that of our youth (leggings are both comfortable and practical I shall wear them till I die) and Tony Blair wants back in to Number 10, things were just better in the nineties. Well for us, we were children.

Our frame of reference largely came from Girl Talk Magazine, and our playground worth was decided by trying to ’find out who likes you’ on our Dream Phones. For a girl that liked to play with Mighty Max and Polly Pocket it was reassuring to find out you could like both, and Dream Phone Steve could still fancy you AND that there was more to life than hamster posters and glittery Alice bands.

For a while, I was worried about the girls. The patriarchy reconvened and blue hair mascara went out of fashion, they all went their separate ways. Particularly my cultural and sartorial touchstone Mel B (knocked up and jilted by Eddie Murphy and now the face of Jenny Craig diet meals). But I shouldn’t have been.

When I hear ’Too Much’ I’m flashed back. I can still smell the limited edition Impulse that I wore so proudly with my Spice Girls platform trainers from Asda – the ownership of which was fraught by the lie that they didn’t really fit but as the last pair in the shop my mum could never know. I’m ten again and a little white girl proudly dressed as Scary Spice. Mel B would never let skin colour get in the way of fashion, feminism or taste and neither will I.

Yes my perspective on the nineties is naive but let me suggest one final argument for the Spice Girls as feminist icons; it’s not our fault! Who else did we have to choose from?

Most TV presenters spent Saturday mornings writhing around our TV screens waiting for last night’s line to wear off and this morning’s to take hold. As for other pop stars, there were the boy bands but they just reinforced the message we should be at home waiting for the Dream Phone to ring. (As it was my relationship with Dream Phone Steve was very one dimensional and didn’t last.) And even at ten years old it was obvious to me Barbie had body issues.

So, to the Greer school, the Second Sex-ers, and with respect Grace, I say; Stop right now, thank you very much. Do not deride the Princesses of pop, they made me what I am today. Vive la difference. Viva, forever.

- KB

Are you a child of the nineties? Do you think the Spice Girls were helpful to the cause? Let us know in the comments’ section

33 thoughts on “What the Spice Girls Did For Us

  1. I was a teenager in the nineties and very into bands like Placebo, Oasis and Nirvana. To be into the Spice Girls was a big no-no but I was. I loved what they stood for, Girl Power. Ok, yeah, maybe it wasn’t a totally flawless image of strong women (Baby Spice…) but it still empowered me as a young woman along the same lines as Alanis Morissette. I remember having heated discussions with my grungy buddies over the merits of the Spice Girls and their message to young females. Personally, I agree with you and think the Spice Girls played an important part in empowering a lot of women, young and old.

    Spice Girls Rule! :-)

  2. They were incredibly cheesy, but I loved them. I was in the UK for the latter half of 1997 and it certainly rubbed off on me. Did anyone else collect the promotional ring pulls from cans to get their ‘Bonus Single’? I think you needed over 20. I scavenged these from what people left on the trains :P Dedication! Not to mention my determination to wear the necklace with a ‘Girlpower’ pendent from Shout Magazine.

    In hindsight, it was blatantly commercial, but I was 10 and I just liked how they looked and what they said. The messages were very simple, but at least they were good. However, if someone wants to be my lover they also have to be my friend…so you can build on them.

    Haters ‘gonna hate’, but I think they did more for young girls directly than any other prominent group (at the time). Absolutely no disrespect to those who were fighting the good fight before, I am so grateful to be a feminist born in the 80′s and not the 40′s.

    Ps. Leggings aren’t trousers/pants, I can’t believe that this has been allowed. Can’t we have cargoes back instead? Pockets are useful.

    • My family got free tickets to the grand prix and I spent the whole day collecting ring pulls from pepsi cans people had thrown on the floor. Managed to get enough ring pulls for a CD for me AND my best friend. I’m glad to find someone else who was as dedicated as me!

      Ah, and the limited editon impulse. I can still smell it now.

      Not sure where I stand on the ‘Spice Girls as feminist icons’ view point – I was too young at the time to really consider my fandom in feminist terms and I think I’m too nostalgic now when I look back! But I do remember reading some quote along the lines of ‘Feminism has become a dirty word, Girl Power is a new way of saying that’ and for the first time really considering what ‘feminsim’ was. Whether or not you agree with the quote, it got me thinking.

  3. Agree wholeheartedly. When I hear a Spice Girls song I am reminded of a time when I felt the world was small enough for me to conquer and I wasn’t restricted just because I had/have(?) a vagina. More empowered women role models are desperately needed.

  4. They are feminist icons no doubt. Their brand of feminism wasn’t exactly profoundly deep, Feminism For Children if you will, but nobody sneers at JK Rowling because she’s only written books for kids.

  5. i was the absolute number one spice girls fan. i literally learned english by translating all their songs into my language. frankly i didn’t think much of the lyrics, because i couldn’t always understand them. but i loved their joie de vivre. for me they bridged the gap between children’s music and the more grown up stuff which i eventually got into later on in life. i think what i loved was the idea that each of them was different, i guess that was what i found empowering – it didn’t matter who or what you were, whether you were sporty or posh, you could still be friends. back then i didn’t realise it may have been a publicity stunt, and frankly i would not have cared – what it mattered to me was that i enjoye their music and i wished i could have had a group of friends like that.

    in indsight one of the things that i really appreciate about the spice g. was that they were sexy but not sexual. as a girl growing up I was coming to terms with my body changing and it was natural that i took an interest in my physical appearance. ‘dressing ip’ like one of them helped me to do that, because it made me feel like yes i was a girl but i never went out dressed like a slut and pulling boys was never the point – the point was being happy with who i was and having that camaraderie with my best (girl) friends. we used to go out feeling that together we could be strong and that friendship was the most importnat thing to us. i can frankly say that in terms of friendship, those days were the best of my life.

  6. i agree entirely. i believe that the spice girls were a band for girls that celebrated girldom, rather than a bunch of sex dolls that tendered towards the male gaze. the primary message here was sisterhood, or at least that’s how i always read it, and in retrospect i still think that was the case. few popstars have managed to do this – the only other girlband that managed to do something similar were TLC. i think because of them ‘girl power’ practically defined the nineties and teaching girls to stick their tongue out and stamp their feet at stupid boys is no bad thing!

  7. Oh man, my mum totally did not let me get the platforms (too young) and I swear I can still smell the impulse.
    Anyway, I caught a bit of Spiceworld on Viva the other day, and was struck by how relatively little make up they wear, how their crop tops were about as sexy as they got, and how (still slim) not skinny they were. They looked more normal that actual normal work a day young girls in town centres do nowadays. Can’t imagine a sporty spice in the Pussycat Dolls or whatever oiled up girl band is current at the mo.

  8. I loved them! I had the tapes, the pencil box and stationery, the bag, and I even tied my hair in pigtails like ‘Baby Spice’, and called the hairstyle ‘The Spice Girls Ponytails’. I’m not really contributing to the discussion at all, am I? I just wanted to share my Spice Girls fangirl story.

  9. I was a little too old to like the Spice Girls without irony, but I loved them anyway. They were so much fun… and they looked like they were having such a laugh all the time. Who wouldn’t be into that?? I wanted to have massive hair and leopard prints and cackling laughs with my best friends, too! They had a boys-have-cooties quality about them, but maybe that’s another reason they were so popular. It was all very fun, very accessible, very catchy, and very Girlz Only. Brilliant. I will always love them.

  10. Oh my god I had a dream phone! Paha I forgot what I ridiculous game that was. And yes the spice girls were awesome. Also the fact that they weren’t just a one dimensional band. You could be Baby Spice or Sporty Spice- it didnt matter and it wasn’t so pigeon holed. Try and separate and categorize the identities the pussy cat dolls or Little Mix….

    Spice Girls rocked.

  11. I agree wholeheartedly! As a child of the nineties (born in the late 80s) the Spice Girls were my first pre-pubescent impression of the world of pop music, and I think they had a significant effect. Many of this might look different now, and recollections of my first fan-passion are probably tinged with nostalgia and naiveté, but here’s what I think the Spice Girls showed me as a little girl that other pop stars didn’t:
    1.) They were pretty, and sexy, and stylish, without being completely oversexualised. Anyone who disagrees should watch one of their later shows (I found a clip from 2007 on youtube), where they’re strutting around in high-heels and mini-skirts that are much more sexualized than their original looks.
    2.) They were all different. Of course it was a cleverly fabricated marketing strategy, but the mere idea that there are actually many different ways to be a girl was empowering: You can be wild and outgoing or shy and aloof; you can be sporty or have a sweet tooth (or both).
    3.) To a naive young fan believing the whole sisterhood angle, they showed that girls can in fact have lasting friendships that they place great value on. Contrary to what many media want to make us believe, women are not naturally illoyal, bitchy, jealous and spineless.
    4.) Their songs were not all about men and relationships. It sounds ridiculous, but I don’t think all pop starlets today can say the same about their albums. The Spice Girls at least also sang about their friends and their mothers, occasionally.

    As to the two articles cited: I’m not even going to go into detail about the Daily Mail one because of its completely harebrained reasoning (the Spice Girls are the cause of binge-drinking, promiscuous women and paedophiles? Really?), but I think you’re very right in saying that the way one sees the Spice Girls is a matter of age, and Grace Dent’s opinions represent a different generation. I believe my generation profited from Girl Power.

  12. Spice Girls were awesome! Sure they were limited in the fact that they were a pop group commercialised to sell records, but at least the message was right. Girl Power! Fun! Friends! What have we got now – Rihanna’s S&M? Spice Girls may not have overthrown the patriarchy but I’d say their overall effect was a good one and far less worrying than what goes down now.

  13. I love the Spice Girls as much as any girl born in 1988, but to me, they have nothing to do with feminism. I would never even connect those two subjects, it’s like they’re in different time zones. The Spice Girls were cheesy and the epitomes of commercialised music, but frankly, who cares? They were the very first band I got into, purely because all of my girlfriends were into them. I think you could spin them either way – feminist because of the ‘friends before boys’-thing, not very feminist because while they may have incorporated different types of girls, they were still pretty afwul girly stereotypes. Sure, they had Sporty Spice, but she still wore tiny crop tops. All they got asked about in interviews were clothes and which boy they liked best, Damon Albarn or Noel Gallagher. Anyway. The Spice Girls were just some good old fun, not very feminist maybe, but pretty harmless all in all.

  14. I was twelve when their songs hit Australia, and even then I understood that what they were doing was good for girls — their emphasis on friendship between women is what has stood out for me looking back. There were definitely flaws in them if you take a feminist reading of them (the commercialisation waters it all down), but as a bit of a “My First Taste of Feminism”, it doesn’t leave a bad taste in the mouth. and it’s been mentioned, they’re miles away from who girls have to look up to now!

  15. Hmmm, I’ve always felt the Spice Girls stood for the start of the ugly ‘entitlement’ feel of all the pop culture now with young women. I was 18 in ’95 and I was entertained by them, I guess maybe I had just missed what it was you guys are so passionate about. I saw them as a bit silly and although they sung about girl power, I didn’t find it empowering. They were all one dimensional (one is scary, one is ‘posh’ (who wasn’t), one is baby etc… drove me nuts) – a bit like the Sex and The City girls. But yeah… I was probably just that little bit too old for it!

  16. This is a very poorly written article, and I really don’t think that the Spice Girls have anything profound or interesting to say about feminism. Do better, Vagenda, you’re usually a lot funnier and more relevant than this.

    • Totally agree, the Spice Girls were appalling- not feminist or ‘empowering’- but a thinly-veiled attempt at targeting an under-exploited market (at the time) of ‘tweenies’, while wearing not many clothes (hence also appealing to the 90′s lads’ mags demographic too), peddling some really poor music and vocal stylings, and making a ton of cash from endorsements. I normally agree with nearly everything else Vagenda has to say, but on this subject I really couldn’t.

  17. The Spice Girls weren’t feminists and nor were their followers. Their fan base wasn’t brimming with empowered ten year olds poised to burn their trainer bras at a moments notice. They weren’t destined for and haven’t gone on to bright careers in the political arena – the one place, if ever, to make a difference. Instead they were the genesis of a superficial feminist hysteria that held no real credibility as personified by the characters the band members assumed – Baby Spice?

    I loved the Spice Girls and do to this day. I moved to the UK from Canada at 9 where Alanis Morissette was the big thing. At 9 I didn’t love her for being doyenne of an empowered movement instead, over there, she was shit hot and I liked her music. The same applied to the Spice Girls. I wasn’t moved by their lyrics or message but it was their cult of poptastic followers that persuaded me. If it weren’t for pressure from my cool cousins to quickly choose which Spice I liked best [my catastrophically uncool choice was Posh having not heard the album and understanding she was the most boring - oh how it's paid off now!] I wouldn’t have run off to make an emergency purchase of their album.

    The Spice Girls aren’t feminists and Girl Power wasn’t a feminist movement. Their huge and worldwide popularity did however direct a fair bit of exposure to the issues women face and that’s no bad thing. A great thing in fact and whether my generation went out to fight the corner of equal rights or not, the Spice Girls were a constant reminder that women are strong and women are equal.

  18. The kind of ‘feminism’ the Spice Girls stood for isn’t anything I’d go for now, and I can see why you might be reluctant to even call it feminist. But I was 6 when Wannabe came out, and I don’t think anything else would have been accessible.

    I’m lucky enough to have a totally awesome mum and was exposed to ‘proper’ feminism from around the age of 8, but before that the Spice Girls were my heroes. Just being exposed to the idea that there was this thing, ‘girl power’, that some people thought I didn’t have, but Emma, Victoria, the Mels, and Geri knew I did, was an important thing to be aware of. Sure, by itself it’s not enough. I’m not going to say the Spice Girls lyrics embody a comprehensive feminist manifesto. But they were a bloody good start.

  19. They were mine too. I was exactly the right age (about 8 when Wannabe came out, I think, and riding the glory years as a pre-teen) and I loved them. They trumped all the rubbish boybands and completely suited my personal ideology at that time – girls are awesome, boys smell. I can’t imagine being an older girl when they hit though. I don’t think I could have enjoyed them as a 16 year old. My lasting nostalgic adoration aside, I suspect that their one dimensional quasi-feminism was only really empowering to the under 10s. (Maybe?).

  20. Although quite tongue in cheek, I think this article makes some really good points. Personally, I remember listening to the spice girls and destiny’s child and thinking how great it was to be a girl and that clearly, being a girl was loads better than being a boy. Sadly, however, there was almost a decade (I’m thinking from age 15 to 23) where I apparently forgot all about this, was seriously miserable at several points, until I had to read the second sex for my MA. Which I didn’t really understand at the time, but which compelled me to find out more about this ‘feminism’ thing. I genuinely remember thinking – do we really need feminism anymore? Aren’t we all happy and equal and shit? Needless to say I was walking round in DARKNESS. Now feminist debate and writing helps me understand more and more about the way things are… Hopefully with a view to being… Less miserable?!

  21. Oh my. I only just discovered Vagenda tonight and already a salute to the Spice Girls? Thank you!! I have my reading material for the next…forever.

    I was 11 years old when the girls launched – their perfect market. And I loved them. I actually watched my life, school and mates change under their influence. We petitioned to have a girls footie team and held spice girl parties just to celebrate our awesomeness. Now as an adult I can see they were a controlled, commerical entity but who cares if that entity is encouraging girls to be their best, love their mates over boys and dress how it makes them happy? Modern shit box commercial crap like TOWIE teaches girls to use their phones not brains, and have nothing to talk about but diets, fashion and men who look more like girls than men. all hail the girls – im with you there. p.s i too was the only white kid who insisted on dressing like Mel B and trying to grow my own afro. legend.

  22. The Spice Girls were definitely a positive influence for girls! I was so excited about being a girl, and not needing boys to be happy, when I was way into them…around 10-13 I think…and yes, I also forgot it all over again had low self esteem for the next four years…wow, it felt a lot longer than that!

    You know, it was empowering just to have a band of GIRLS singing about how awesome it was to be GIRLS to listen to, vs. the stupid boy bands that I was only supposed to like because of how cute they were.

  23. They had a great ethos and message. most of their lyrics were about friendship and having a laugh as opposed to worrying about some guy whilst dropping in practical messages about safe sex (put it on, put it put it on now) Yes they wore some revealing outfits, but mixed up with more casual and customised clothing that suggested a fun approach to fashion instead of the need to be done up at all times and styled by someone else. They also didn’t rely on a boring and heavily rehearsed appearance (girls aloud anyone?) which suggests complete lack of individual thought. What’s more, in a musical world saturated with manufactured pop artists, they actually wrote many of their songs and had the confidence, empowerment and solidarity to stand up for their own views and dictate their careers, thus ended up sacking two management teams who they deemed unacceptable. yes laydeez, GIRL POWER.

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