Girl power: who's buying it?

Raunchy music by girls, `filthy' books by girls ... They call it the new feminism, so why is it aimed at 7-year-olds instead of grown-up women? Eleanor Bailey reports

The Spice Girls are more important than Jesus. We know this because they get better Christmas publicity. Mobbed by a crowd of hundreds when they switched on the Oxford Street lights, they are this year's agenda: Power to the Girls! Control your sexuality! Rip your clothes off, the Spice Girls have something to say. What does it matter that their disciples are almost exclusively seven to 12-year-old girls?

Cultural phenomena are like haircuts. They used to last for years but now experts recommend that you get a new one every six weeks. The latest in the phenomenon line is Girl Power. Personified by the Spice Girls and vilifed by the over-40s, girl power is the babeish answer to the Loaded Lad: girls going wild, showing their knickers and going on drinking sprees, on behalf of women and record companies everywhere.

What is Girl (or, correctly, Grrrl) Power all about? It is raunchy music by girls, "filthy" books by girls, defiant statements about men by girls in provocative clothes. It is about marketing men making money, it is about media folk filling ravenous newspapers. It is about thirtysomethings clucking over the collapse of the principles they valued in the punk era, and about pre-teenyboppers enjoying themselves. "I love the Spice Girls'' says Laura, aged seven and a half, who has seen them in concert." They are as good as The Beatles. I just love their music and I especially love their clothes. I want to look like Melanie. I have a knitted red T-shirt like her. But I am a bit cynical. They are just another pop group, really."

Confusingly, some girl power is good and some is bad, hereinafter (G) and (B). Then there is, of course, some bad that comes out ironically good (IG) and some of the ought-to-be-good that is unintentionally very bad (UB).

The Spice Girls (G, or perhaps B) are five nice, middle-class girls who have been transformed into hell-raising international pop superstars in five months. Their cultural output includes ``Wannabe'', a number one single in 23 countries which features the neo-feminist refrain, ``If you wanna be my lover, you gotta get on with my friends'', and the my-body- is-my-tool statement by singer Victoria Adams when she flashed all in an American hotel. They perform girl power salutes (B) and shout obscenities to workmen (IG).

The jaundiced newspaper world enjoyed revealing that the Spice Girls are middle-class fakes. But the Spice Girls don't mind. Their defiance isn't real anyway. For defiance these days is a form of obedience, since it is playing by the rules of the media. As Mel C explained in the Daily Mail: "To be a feminist in the Nineties means having something to say for yourself. You can look like a babe and make as much of a point as if you burnt your bra. There's no way I'm ever burning my Wonderbra. I couldn't; I'm nothing without it." Is this gender politics or vital statistics? Who knows? Who cares? Certainly not the 7-year-olds who are busy trying to attach the item in question to their 7-year-old chests.

The makers of Wonderbra are laughing. In fact a lot of large companies are sitting quietly in the background raking it in. You won't catch Virgin, record company of the Spice Girls, saying much about their feisty clients except that they see girl power as a massive positive force. And they'll stick to that until it's time to sell the fans something new.

If it is anything positive for women, girl power claims to be about girls having the last laugh. ``The whole cultural shift now means that women can wear a baby-doll dress and see-though clothes, and still - if a man touches you - tell him to F off," says Richard Benson, editor of The Face. "There is a massive generation gap between those in their mid-thirties and those who are younger. The younger generation want the escapism of glamorous fashion magazines and hedonism while being aware of the irony. If someone's a fake and middle-class really - so what?"

"There is always something real behind a marketing hype,'' agrees Al Deakin, lecturer in Cultural Studies at Westminster University, ``if it is truly manufactured, the audience doesn't fall for it. Surely the Spice Girls are a better role model for young girls, being feisty and humorous, than Mariah Carey?'' Yet if girl power really is the new feminism, why is it that pre-pubescent girls and middle-aged men are so far the main beneficiaries?

Where the Spice Girls lead, many are eager to follow. Tampasm is a Brighton based all-girl band made up of girls who have just finished their A-levels. Their first single ``Taxi Head Butt'' (B-side ``Glorified Vibrator'') has just come out. They, too, know that the pop game is played on many levels, that outrageous is the ticket to stardom. ``Since we've been going our bass player died of an overdose and apparently I've had an abortion with a rusty coathanger,'' says Charlotte Clark, 18, cheerily. ``We'd rather have the rumours, you need them to get noticed.''

To this end guitarist Oli says ``my guitar's not a penis extension but it makes a damn good vibrator''. Charlotte has threatened to kill somebody if she doesn't achieve huge stardom and talks lovingly about her porn video collection. "I love porn," she says. "I want to be a porn star."

What they all really, really want, they say, is to get taken seriously and they know that this is the way to do it. Likewise they are really feminists, but they can't admit it. ``If you say you're a feminist,'' says Charlotte, then everyone says, "Oh, she thinks all men are walking abortions. But feminist ideals - ie that we want to be equal - are taken for granted, really.''

This view is typical of this generation, according to Christine Griffin, social psychologist at Birmingham University, who has researched young women's attitudes here and in the States. ``Young women don't call themselves feminists, but they espouse feminist ideas and call themselves Girl Power,'' she explains. ``They say: `I'm not a women's libber, but all rapists should be castrated'. The point is that there isn't any one definition of feminism: it's a construct that changes over time.'' Griffin links girl power to the Riot Girls phenomenon in the States, where young women form groups and write fanzines supporting "girl" issues and outrageous behaviour without linking up with traditional feminist groups.

Those who support it say it's not the fault of girl power that the (male) establishment makes a packet out of it too. It is simply how things are. The launch of the girl power magazine Minx (`for girls with a lust for life") a couple of months ago was not, of course, a desire by publishers Emap to redress the balance between the sexes, but a desire to latch on to a good thing. This does not mean that Minx couldn't strike out on behalf of girl power, but, as it happens, it doesn't much. For sadly, whereas Loaded's noxious semi-pornographic yobbism masquerading as irony hits the spot (to the extent that it has almost as many female fans as male), Minx's female counterblast achieves the one thing that is truly offensive - it isn't funny. It tries and fails, trying too hard to play the boys at their own game, and adding weight to the belief that men are funnier.

There is the same problem with girl power television. The ghastly Girlie Show (UB) kicks off a new series in January. But both it and dreadful Pyjama Party tried to break the mould and have not as yet been successful. According to a Girlie Show insider, the blonde, boorish, babeish presenter Sarah goes down a storm with men but tends to annoy women - hardly a rip-roaring triumph for the new feminism.

If it is to be more than a marketing gimmick, girl power has to appeal to, not alienate, women above the age of 12. While the sexual agenda is addressed in shiny hot pants and sponsored by middle-aged man plc, the bubblegum will inevitably burst.

GRRL GUIDES

1 Grrl Power 1996 (autumn)

2 New Lass 1996 (spring)

3 New Lad 1995

4 Babeism 1994/95

5 Androgny and bisexuality - 1993 6 Grunge - 1992

everybody drops out but

thinks society sucks

7 Slacker - 1991 everybody drops out but in

expensive style

8 New Man 1980 to 1991

9 Raveism 1989/90 - everybody freaks out and wears yellow

10 Thatcherism - pre-1989 Dark Ages (see: Michael J Fox)

News
people
Arts and Entertainment
Joel Edgerton, John Turturro and Christian Bale in Exodus: Gods and Kings
film Ridley Scott reveals truth behind casting decisions of Exodus
News
people
Sport
footballArsenal 2 Borussia Dortmund 0: And they can still top the group
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Life and Style
ebookNow available in paperback
Life and Style
ebooksA superb mix of recipes serving up the freshest of local produce in a delicious range of styles
Arts and Entertainment
An unseen image of Kurt Cobain at home featured in the film 'Kurt Cobain: Montage of Heck'
filmThe singers widow and former bandmates have approved project
News
Andy Murray with his girlfriend of nine years, Kim Sears who he has got engaged to
peopleWimbledon champion announces engagement to girlfriend Kim Sears
Arts and Entertainment
Jake Quickenden and Edwina Currie are joining the I'm A Celebrity...Get Me Out Of Here! camp
tv
Arts and Entertainment
George Mpanga has been shortlisted for the Critics’ Choice prize
music
News
Albert Camus (left) and Jean-Paul Sartre fell out in 1952 and did not speak again before Camus’s death
people
Arts and Entertainment
Roisin, James and Sanjay in the boardroom
tvReview: This week's failing project manager had to go
News
Ed Miliband visiting the Holocaust museum in Jerusalem. The Labour leader has spoken more openly of his heritage recently
newsAttacks on the Labour leader have coalesced around a sense that he is different, weird, a man apart. But are the barbs more sinister?
Arts and Entertainment
'Felfie' (2014) by Alison Jackson
photographyNew exhibition shows how female creatives are changing the way women are portrayed in advertising
News
i100
Life and Style
Fright night: the board game dates back to at least 1890
life
Environment
The vaquita is being killed by fishermen trying to catch the totoaba fish, which is prized in China
environmentJust 97 of the 'world's cutest' sea mammals remain
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs General

    Ashdown Group: Data Warehouse & Business Intelligence Co-ordinator

    £35000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Required skills include SQL querying, SSRS, u...

    Ashdown Group: C#.Net Developer - C#, ASP.Net, PHP, HTML, JavaScript, CSS

    £30000 - £35000 per annum: Ashdown Group: C#.Net Developer - C#, ASP.Net, HTML...

    Argyll Scott International: Senior Business Analyst- Insurance

    Negotiable: Argyll Scott International: Senior Business Analyst - Insurance ...

    Recruitment Genius: Property Manager

    £25000 - £29000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This independent, growing Sales...

    Day In a Page

    Cameron, Miliband and Clegg join forces for Homeless Veterans campaign

    Cameron, Miliband and Clegg join forces for Homeless Veterans campaign

    It's in all our interests to look after servicemen and women who fall on hard times, say party leaders
    Millionaire Sol Campbell wades into wealthy backlash against Labour's mansion tax

    Sol Campbell cries foul at Labour's mansion tax

    The former England defender joins Myleene Klass, Griff Rhys Jones and Melvyn Bragg in criticising proposals
    Nicolas Sarkozy returns: The ex-President is preparing to fight for the leadership of France's main opposition party – but will he win big enough?

    Sarkozy returns

    The ex-President is preparing to fight for the leadership of France's main opposition party – but will he win big enough?
    Is the criticism of Ed Miliband a coded form of anti-Semitism?

    Is the criticism of Miliband anti-Semitic?

    Attacks on the Labour leader have coalesced around a sense that he is different, weird, a man apart. But is the criticism more sinister?
    Ouija boards are the must-have gift this Christmas, fuelled by a schlock horror film

    Ouija boards are the must-have festive gift

    Simon Usborne explores the appeal - and mysteries - of a century-old parlour game
    There's a Good Girl exhibition: How female creatives are changing the way women are portrayed in advertising

    In pictures: There's a Good Girl exhibition

    The new exhibition reveals how female creatives are changing the way women are portrayed in advertising
    UK firm Biscuiteers is giving cookies a makeover - from advent calendars to doll's houses

    UK firm Biscuiteers is giving cookies a makeover

    It worked with cupcakes, doughnuts and macarons so no wonder someone decided to revamp the humble biscuit
    Can SkySaga capture the Minecraft magic?

    Can SkySaga capture the Minecraft magic?

    It's no surprise that the building game born in Sweden in 2009 and now played by millions, has imitators keen to construct their own mega money-spinner
    The King's School is way ahead of the pack when it comes to using the latest classroom technology

    Staying connected: The King's School

    The school in Cambridgeshire is ahead of the pack when it comes to using the latest classroom technology. Richard Garner discovers how teachers and pupils stay connected
    Christmas 2014: 23 best women's perfumes

    Festively fragrant: the best women's perfumes

    Give a loved one a luxe fragrance this year or treat yourself to a sensual pick-me-up
    Arsenal vs Borussia Dortmund: Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain celebrates century with trademark display of speed and intuition

    Arsenal vs Borussia Dortmund

    The Ox celebrates century with trademark display of speed and intuition
    Billy Joe Saunders vs Chris Eubank Jnr: When two worlds collide

    When two worlds collide

    Traveller Billy Joe Saunders did not have a pampered public-school upbringing - unlike Saturday’s opponent Chris Eubank Jnr
    Homeless Veterans Christmas Appeal: Drifting and forgotten - turning lives around for ex-soldiers

    Homeless Veterans Christmas Appeal: Turning lives around for ex-soldiers

    Our partner charities help veterans on the brink – and get them back on their feet
    Putin’s far-right ambition: Think-tank reveals how Russian President is wooing – and funding – populist parties across Europe to gain influence in the EU

    Putin’s far-right ambition

    Think-tank reveals how Russian President is wooing – and funding – populist parties across Europe to gain influence in the EU
    Tove Jansson's Moominland: What was the inspiration for Finland's most famous family?

    Escape to Moominland

    What was the inspiration for Finland's most famous family?