Where My Gurls At? Girl Power.

Emily Mulenga
Latest posts by Emily Mulenga (see all)

Sticking to the 90s revival theme of late, and as a kind of (but not really and way less silly) follow-up to my piece on the cheese factor within culture, I now feel compelled to address another topic that ran throughout the 90s: GIRL POWER.

Whilst the most famous image relating to the phrase is that of Geri Halliwell honking it through a microphone and half-squatting in PVC platforms, subsequently losing all meaning owing to the barrage of fabulous, the concept of Girl Power can be pretty much summed up as a then-new kind of feminism. It had a particular emphasis on unity and sisterhood, and a go-getting ambition alongside the power of being an individual.

Girl Power is synonymous with the musical artists who were springing up around the same time and can be traced back to the riot grrrl movement. However, it was first popularised by pop-punk duo Shampoo, and then positively yodelled about by the Spice Girls a few years later.

However, the overwhelming bandying-about of the term did raise some questions. Did Girl Power serve as feminism in a new package- a gift given to a generation for which feminism had become a taboo, disgraced word, soiled with connotative images of frumpy, grumpy buzz-kills in knitted waistcoats? Or did it start out with good intentions but along the way somehow get bogged down in its own slogan? Was it purely used as a marketing tool to flog records?

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It is also debatable how much the flagships of girl power – the Spice Girls themselves – actually believed in what they were saying. Sure, I’m still a massive fan, and each member had their own strong individual look and persona, but the exaggeration of these was nothing but a marketing tool used under a record company’s watchful eye. This is on top of the questionable pertaining to stereotypes (the cute one, the vamp, the sporty one nobody really liked etc.).

Recently,via Twitter, Geri Halliwell anointed Margaret Thatcher as the “first lady of Girl Power”. There was a huge backlash, followed by another one when Halliwell deleted the tweet in a moment of self-doubt. After regretting this last decision, Halliwell stated “Now I realise that I do admire a woman, whether she is right or wrong, regardless of her opinions.”

“She had the courage to stand by her convictions. Not like me. I look at my behaviour, which exposed how weak I was under fire, not like Margaret Thatcher. Rest in peace.”

As I gather from reading various accounts of her life and times, I find it hard to believe that Thatcher stood up for women in such a way. I also wonder whether, for Geri Halliwell, Girl Power stands for something more than being a woman pushy enough to elbow others out of the way, at any cost.

However, the core values of Girl Power are both in short supply and desperately needed right now, at a time when female Cabinet ministers are scandalously scarce, a time when there have still been no arrests made in the whole 30 years that female genital mutilation has been illegal in Britain, with authorities perhaps prioritising ‘cultural sensitivity’ over gender equality.

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Whatever your take on girl power, I believe that now is as good a time as any to chuck up some ‘peace’ signs, grab your like-minded mates and make some noise.

About Emily Mulenga

I am a visual artist and writer, although I should probably have a degree in doing silly faces instead. Despite this, I have some solid opinions on serious things such as consumer culture, the concepts of kitsch and bad taste, and which flavour Fruit Pastille to avoid.