Editor’s Note: This is the first installment in a series of posts where contributors discuss their early feminist role models or figures who influenced their early feminism. Check back over the following weeks for articles on our various role models, from Frida Kahlo to Captain Janeway to Coco Chanel.
I was too young to be a Riot Grrrl in the 90’s. Or, to be more direct, I had a very sheltered childhood, and Riot Grrrl was not allowed to seep into my young consciousness. In 1998 I was ten, wedged into a religious cult I did not yet know I wanted to escape.
I would have been a great Riot Grrrl if I had more agency, or a cool older relative to teach me about music. (That would happen in middle school, when a friend introduced me to Kittie.) But in the fourth grade, the only music I had access to was what I heard on the radio in my family’s minivan. No punk or grunge or metal to be found, and certainly no Riot Grrrl. But I did have the Spice Girls.
Every girl in my class was absolutely obsessed with the Spice Girls, as many 20-somethings will remember. We listened to their songs non-stop, using boomboxes to make cassette copies for our friends who didn’t have the albums yet. We sang along and danced out the songs at slumber parties. I saw Spice World at a drive-in theater, and re-watched it dozens of times on VHS.
Anything related to the Spice Girls was pure bliss. The fact that boys and adults didn’t really seem to get it only made it more special.
In preparing to write this piece, I’ve been jamming out to their music again, and am pleasantly surprised at how much I still like it. They sang songs about being true to yourself and breaking free of people’s expectations. But most importantly, several of their songs are about voicing desires or concerns in relationships and setting boundaries.
Though people write them off as frivolous pop, the Spice Girls were actually global advocates for consent and clear communication with a partner. Girls all over the world singing “What part of ‘no’ don’t you understand?” is actually a pretty big deal.
Looking back I think the Spice Girls were a Trojan Horse for feminism, in language that girls like me could understand. Hearing Ginger Spice say “Girl Power! Equality between the sexes!” blew my little ten-year-old mind. I’m not saying they were total revolutionaries. But that’s kind of the great thing about them. They weren’t too threatening, so nobody tried to keep them from me.
In my older, wiser, intersectional feminist bitterness, I know girl power isn’t enough to fix everything. But I still think the world could use more of it.