Why Pop Culture Desperately Needs the Spice Girls

Originally Published on April 10th, 2014; Updated June 24th, 2014.

The brightest spots in my days each week happen during class periods when thought-provoking, deep discussions sprout from whatever material is being taught that particular day. Since I teach a wide array of classes, from core required Composition and Literature courses to upper-level English courses like Creative Writing or Short Short, the discussions I encourage vary widely from day to day. One hour, I could be discussing how media violence impacts youth violence, encouraging lengthy and in-depth conversations about the human condition in The Walking Dead, rape culture in American Horror Story or teen violence and our society’s obsession with post-apocalytpic fare in relationship to The Hunger Games, to conducting insightful discussions about pieces of classic short fiction, like the significance of change and acceptance in Kafka’s “Metamorphosis” or race and identity in Sherman Alexie’s “The Lone Ranger and Tonto Fistfight in Heaven.” Where the classes go is entirely up to the students and the passion that they bring to the classroom. As a teacher, it’s incredibly hard to conduct a solid discussion and both entice students to speak by making the material relevant and showcasing the connections between the material and their everyday lives while making sure tangents stay to a minimum.

At times, it can be painful.

Last week, a group of students in one of my literature-oriented courses were doing a presentation on Joyce Carol Oates’ “Where Are You Going, Where Have You Been?” This story, in short summation, is about a teenage girl, Connie, who is described as being materialistic and way too preoccupied with her appearance. She ignores her nagging mother’s criticism and the reader gets a sense that she’s a rebellious little miss thang who enjoys enticing onlookers with her appearance. This, of course, leads to unwanted attention from a good-looking man, Arnold Friend, who shows up at her house when her family isn’t home. Arnold Friend wants to take her for a ride and it’s implied that she’ll be raped and most predictably, killed.

During the students’ presentation, one of their discussion questions was this: “Was Connie asking for the ‘attention’ [i.e. eventual/implied rape] she got from Arnold Friend?” Much to my dismay, a girl in the back row spoke up and said, “Absolutely. That’s the problem with girls today. They’re all having sex and getting pregnant at 12, 13, 14. They want that attention. Every girl who dresses like Connie did is looking to have sex, or looking for that attention. It’s her fault.”

I couldn’t believe what I was hearing.

A girl in my class, who wasn’t more than 19 herself, was openly shaming every girl who chose to dress provocatively, claiming that whatever sexually aggressive behaviors it elicited was warranted.

WE NEED MORE GIRL POWER.

Societal conventions dictate that women must dress, act, look, and behave a certain way. They must embody both the Madonna and the whore, be virtuous and innocent publicly, but sexually provocative privately. They must be sweet, but not too sweet so as to not be taken advantage of by men in power. They must be strong, confident, and smart, but not too strong or too confident or too smart because that might threaten both other women and men alike. They must subscribe to impossible beauty standards and if they don’t, they needn’t worry because Maybelline, Clairol, Cover Girl, and every fashion magazine reminds them of exactly what they need to do in order to meet those standards.

Are you a size 0?

Is anybody a size 0?

What exactly is a size 0? If you think about the number, zero signifies nothingness, yet we have entire industry built on selling clothing with zero’s embroidered on tags inside collars to women who prescribe to every fad diet, including, but not limited to Weight Watchers, Jenny Craig, Atkins, and even the latest “natural” crazes like the all-Paleo diets. And in extreme cases, some women go through endless amounts of surgeries and even resort to eating disorders to fit the bill.

Why, through all of this, do we still feel the need to shame other women who dress provocatively? Where does this fear of sexual empowerment stem from? And, more importantly, why is it that the “she deserves whatever she gets” idea still exists?

Is it because there are no genuine female role models that preach the wonders and empowerment of sexual exploration, the importance of being demure when necessary, the importance of individual expression and creativity, and how to push for equality among the sexes at all costs?

Even superstar and self-proclaimed “feminist” Beyoncé doesn’t promote gender equality. Instead, she asserts her notions of women running the world (“Run the World (Girls),” “Independent Women,” “Single Ladies,” etc.) yet making sure to be sexually submissive. She even named her tour “The Mrs. Carter Tour,” which gives off the idea that she belongs to her husband. In her recent hit “Drunk in Love,” she sings about waking up on the kitchen floor after a rough night of drunken sex, unsure of how she got there, followed by Jay-Z rapping about his likeness to Ike Turner, Tina Turner’s husband who verbally and physically abused her. In one notable line, he raps, “Eat the cake, Anna Mae,” referring to the Tina Turner BioPic What’s Love Got to Do With It? starring Angela Bassett, where, in a diner scene, Ike smacks down his bride after she refuses to eat the cake he offered her.

Empowering message, eh?

No matter how far pop culture seems to come with depicting powerful women, we’re still not at the level we should be at: FULL EQUALITY between the sexes. But that involves a cultural change in our mindset: STOP SLUT SHAMING!

There seems to be this need for women to cut each other down instead of empowering each other.

Any break from the “norm” results in shame.

Why? Self-expression is necessary for growth.

Besides that, everybody dresses they way they do in order to fulfill a certain personal ideal, whether its comfort, ego, or to get noticed. It’s important to encourage that instead of tearing each other down.

And I don’t care what you personally may believe, nobody is asking to get raped.

“She’s was asking for it” is a phrase most often heard coming out of the mouths of rapists who claim mixed signals and short skirts told them explicitly that their victims wanted desperately to have sex.

This has to change.

We need the Spice Girls.

I’m not even talking about the actual 90s all-girl band who propelled the “Girl Power” mantra into cultural immortality and created a phenomenon with their brazen sexualities, distinct individual personalities, and a-typical brand of female empowerment; I’m talking about the idea of the girls and what they represented.

Each of the Spice Girls represented one “ideal” or standard of femininity:

Baby Spice represented innocent, the Madonna, the virtuous nature that all women should possess.

Ginger Spice represented the temptress, the whore, the boundary-pushing nature of women who use their sexuality to get what they want.

Sporty Spice represented the strength a woman must possess.

Posh Spice represented the ideal lady, classy, yet materialistic.

Scary Spice represented the idea of the untamable woman, the notion that most women are wild in nature, unpredictable, and somewhat hard to read.

They kicked ass …

… and more importantly, together as one unit, they represented the idea of a “Perfect Woman.”

They took these ideas of what it meant to be a woman and broke them up into stereotypes, each girl embodying one ideal. This was a showcase that put a magnifying glass on popular culture’s ideas of female standards. Separately, they were able to say that every woman doesn’t need to be everything, that who they are is perfectly fine — no, praised! Individuality was key for the Spice Girls, and it allowed women to naturally embody one, two, three, four, or all of these characteristics and MORE because female empowerment and equality is about each woman’s individual strengths, whatever they may be.

#GeniusMarketing

Why can’t women today be everything when they want to be? We preach equality, but not tolerance or fair representation We say that women can be CEO’s, yet those high-powered women are often seen as shrew and shrill and unhappy because they lose in love …

Meanwhile men can have it all. Men can be promiscuous, yet married, successful yet down-to-earth, sexy and wise.

Women, on the other hand, fight to break through barriers that still very much exist, as evident from my class discussion about Connie in “Where Are You Going, Where Have You Been?”

The Spice Girls mantra would never encourage the type of behavior we see today in a post-Miley Cyrus Twerking on Robin Thicke World, where Twitter users and Tumblr sites say it’s ok to slut-shame girls because they posted too many vanity selfies.

We need to practice self-love.

We need to practice acceptance, both of the self and of others.

We need to stop thinking that we have any right to dictate what someone does with their lives, what they wear, or how they look.

Only then will we stop thinking reductively and start thinking productively.

A girl does not ask for unwanted sexual aggression based on what they choose to wear. End of discussion.

not-asking-for-it

.

12 Comments

  1. I think a lot of women, myself included, would be lying if they said they never “slut shamed” another girl before. Most of this happens in our teens and 20s, but older women do a lot of this too. If women think it’s ok to shame other women, how will me ever know that it’s NOT ok. I thought this was a very wonderfully written piece about this issue! I’m not feminist (such a stigma attached to that word), but even I know equality starts with us respecting ourselves first.

    1. What’s interesting is that MOST people slut-shame and don’t even realize it. It’s subtle most of the time, but it all contributes to the same problem: cutting other women down. Like you said, it HAS to start with women respecting each other, because if other women don’t respect each other, what’s going to make men believe that they need to respect women.

      Thank you so much for your comment!

  2. I so agree with this. Slut-shaming is not cool. It seems like every type of shaming, really, comes from the same place — that of wanting to identify/characterize/peg how someone ELSE should be, and often criticizing the very thing them that the Shamer is afraid to face in him/herself.

    If peoples’ egos just got out of the damn way, this would be such a non-issue. But alas, America.

    Here’s to hoping for a second coming of the Spice Girls to shine a light on these issues and lead more and more young people into that place of TRUE self-acceptance, love, and not-giving-a-shit-ness that is PARAMOUNT to joy and happiness!

    1. “shaming, really, comes from the same place — that of wanting to identify/characterize/peg how someone ELSE should be, and often criticizing the very thing them that the Shamer is afraid to face in him/herself.” — TOTALLY AGREE. The shame, fear, and misunderstanding definitely comes from within. And you’re right, our egos get in the way; we all have this “my opinion matters to you, so live your life the way I tell you to” disease.

      (Also, my secret hope is that the Spice Girls read this and decide that they have an obligation to make a comeback… #Reach4TheStars)

  3. “What is a size 0” …freaking fantastic post dear. The way you broke down what each spice girl represent was genius! Loved every word. 🙂 It’s a shame women can’t simply support each other no matter what. Instead I often find more than not women who are more willing to break another girl down than build her up. Where does this come from? And when is it going to stop happening?

    1. Awww THANK YOU!!!

      The genius of the Spice Girls is unmatched haha…I just pointed it out 🙂

      But yeah, I HATE the whole “size 0” thing. It’s such an awful standard enforced by the fashion and beauty industries to make us feel bad about ourselves (men included, as I wrote about here)

      I think this need to break others down stems from an inner need to feel better about ourselves and patch the holes that exist within us. We point out others flaws because it’s easier than recognizing it within ourselves. It’ll stop happening when…well, I wish I knew the answer!

      Thank you so much for your comment 🙂

  4. Fantastic Article dear I completely agree we all need to empower each especially us women need to empower each other and stop shaming

  5. I’m all for “Girl Power” but not at the expense of musical taste. The Spice Girls were – and will always be – a painful, horrendous plague in pop music history. There are plenty more, far better examples of female empowerment than these five talentless hacks.

    1. They were not talentless. They had good pop songs, great PR campaign, fun and the most important thing – chemistry.Their attitude towards pop industry proved that everything is possible when you have charisma and chemistry. Great vocals is not everything these days, sweetie. Look at Leona Lewis. She can sing, but nobody cares about her anymore because she’s boring and has nothing personality-wise to offer.

Comment!

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s