July 18, 2011

Sincerely, Unconvinced Spice Girl Fan

When I was younger I lived and died for the Spice Girls. I loved their sparkly outfits, their sassy personalities and I loved their message: Girl Power. I remember when I was in first grade I dressed up as a brunette Baby Spice for Halloween, donning thigh-highs, a “Baby” nameplate necklace and a t-shirt which my mother wrote “GIRL POWER” on in big black letters. As a kid I ate it up, but once I got older I started to think about the idea of Girl Power in a different way.

The basic idea behind the phrase is that girls are powerful. We can do anything we want and if you’re a lady then life is pretty good. Unfortunately, I think there are some problems with teaching these kinds of blind positives to young women.

The first problem that I find with this whole idea is the word choice: Girl Power, power to girls. Actually I’m not a girl, I’m a woman and I would appreciate being addressed that way. It is bizarre to me that within a phrase that is supposed to empower me there is a term used for a child. Kind of demeaning, don’t you think?

To me, the most obvious reason to why the whole idea of girl power is kind of an issue is that it teaches girls and women that it’s all good. It tells us that everything is fine and our position in the world is one of strength and power and everything is awesome. When guess what, women are far from holding such a place in our society. I think the idea of Girl Power encourages complacency in our position, when really we should be telling our young women to get angry, stand up and fight for what we deserve.

I started thinking about this more when Beyonce came out with her song, Run The World. The hook is, “Who run the world? GIRLS” and the song is all about how girls run the world and can make men do whatever they want. This is obviously ridiculous and again teaches girls the same complacency and comfort with their marginalized position in society that Girl Power does.

When the song came out I found this awesome video. This woman is saying exactly what I was thinking, and exactly what I hope people listening to the song start thinking about too.

So as much as it kills me to go against my childhood idols, I don’t think that the Spice Girls’ message to young women was actually so helpful. Maybe we should come up with a new phrase to encourage women to fight for equality, not simply affirm them for no reason.

Blog contributor Julia A. Birnbaum is a 19-year old student at Sarah Lawrence College. Having lived outside the city since she was 3, Julia is a proud Philadelphian who has begun a recent love affair with New York. Though she is not entirely sure of what she’d like to major in during her collegiate years, Julia anticipates focusing on something involving writing and art. Julia suffers from an addiction to reality television and likes to spend her time with friends, writing poetry or blowing bubbles for her cat to pop.

1 comment:

  1. I think that "girl power" is a double edge sword. For the most part, I think that the girl power movement starting in the 1990's and now a popular used cultural term, suggests that girls have innate worth. That is to say that girls, who then grow up to be women, have many things inherently great to contribute to our society and should not be made to feel anything less than just because they are girls. This was a movement of empowerment, to have girls find their own voice and honor their own development before they become women. Girl power, in its most grassroots form, gives girls opportunities to recognize their own agency, identity, and voice earlier than previous generations - it is was previous generations who fought for and are passing down this knowledge and action to younger girls.

    However, this notion of girl power in its most fundamental form became (like most everything else) co-opted by popular culture and media. As such, it has become a watered-down notion of empowerment, often stripped from its original cultural and grassroots context and even more problematic used to further objectify, sexualize and therefore disempower girls. With that said, I think that Beyonce's song and message of "who runs the world, girls" could be case in point.

    When I first heard the song and moved beyond its catchy beat, I was horrified. Girls certainly do not run the world and to think that they do is giving girls a sense of false empowerment and like Julia said, perhaps a sense of complacency. On closer listen,I started to wonder if this was some form of a prophetic foreshadowing or rather an apocalyptic vision of the future... girls will run the world "in the end" and then it will be destroyed. In either case, it is not pretty. While I enjoy Beyonce as an artist, I am also concerned about her over-sexualization in the video while she sings about "who runs the world." Can girls only run the world in in scantily clad outfits, while dancing behind men in their bras and panties? Again, I have nothing against Beyonce, but I think a message of girl power needs to be embedded within a context of positive action. Girls need to be educated about their inherent self-worth, abilities and power and then followed up with action. Organizations such as Girls, Inc. and Do Something.org support this mission.

    In the end, I believe that girls who are severely undervalued globally to the point of attempted extinction (I am referring here to femicide and/or gendercide), need our continued support, education and advocacy. They needs us, the women who stand before them with our own knowledge of the difficulties and stuggles of being a woman in our world. Let's help our girls grow to be their best!


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