In a bid to make you feel old, the Spice Girls’ first hit single, “Wannabe”, comes of age today. Birthed back in 1996 it was meant to herald a fresh future for young women. Or at least that was the promise. The song was touted as the poster tune for a new era of female empowerment, an era where women weren’t told what to want, but told the world what it was they wanted. Well before Beyonce was sampling Chimamanda Ngozi Adiche the Spice Girls were running about in spandex and glorying in the joys of female friendship.
For anyone who wasn’t an ebullient 11 year old in 1996 (ahem), it’s probably no surprise that the capitalist co-opting of the riot grrrl message never really got anywhere. The Spice Girls themselves weren’t about female empowerment any more than Jared Leto is about trans gender advocacy. Like Leto, the Spice Girls were parasites. They filled their pockets and fucked off to be “Victoria Beckham”, or the one-who-can-sing-but-everyone-got-bored-of. And Girl Power was left in their expensive wake.
And yet, as a child of the 90s – a kid who thought nothing of buying the Wannabe single at the same time as No Doubt’s “Tragic Kingdom” – I can’t help but see Girl Power everywhere, for better or worse. The Girl Effect is in the ascendent in International Development. Recent years have seen a sudden boon in publishing, with Kat Banyard, Caitlin Moran, Ariel Levy and the Everyday Sexism Project showing that the idea of of Girl Power – if that’s the right word for it – didn’t die with Baby Spice.
And yet, is it just me, or is the film industry singularly tenacious in this respect? Has it resisted, more so than any other part of the pop culture industry, the pressure from Women and Girls to be heard? A brief reminder of Meliisa Silverstein’s recent, unhappy statistics:
The women who were brought up under The Spice Girls, or those who came of age themselves as ‘Wannabe’ was being released, aren’t getting their voices heard. This, more than anything, is a sign of the false promise of those lyrics. Perhaps, 18 years later, we should reimagine it as a plaintive cry to the Film Industry: if you want our money, you have got to give …. us rich representations of Women of Color, of Trans Women, of Women struggling to get their voices heard in a world which so often silences them. Girl Power is all grown up, and it’s time the film industry realize that it won’t go away as easily as The Spice Girls did.