This Monday Postcard comes with a bit of a publishing delay – but it was actually written while I was on a plane. It feels nice to be able to write that after the past two years. I enjoy long-distance flights. It is one of the rare occasions when we are just out of reach – even though some airlines offer wifi now, it is still very patchy. But I enjoy that and use the downtime to focus on work, especially tasks where I have to really dive in, read a book or catch up on the latest movies. On this flight, I discovered a documentary about the Spice Girls. 16 years after I listened to their first songs, this documentary not only took me back in time but also raised the question if the Spice Girls hype also influenced me in becoming a feminist.
I remember when “Wannabe” was released. It was the summer of 1996, after I finished primary school. We were all crazy about the Backstreet Boys. Their songs had been at the top of the charts in Europe long before they actually became big in America. But the Spice Girls were different. From the age of ten until twelve, they were part of our lives. We collected the photos, bought their merchandise and it was my very first concert I was allowed to attend. I was excited. We had a group at school of five girls, each “representing” a Spice Girl. I was Mel B. Every day in the 10-minute break between classes, we danced to Wannabe with other children from the school all joining in our classroom. It felt great.
When it happened, I did not really realise why it felt great. I just remember our mothers not being particularly happy about how the Spice Girls dressed. Nevertheless, my mum bought me a leopard print top which I ended up wearing with a black miniskirt – just like Mel B did in the “Say You’ll Be There”-video. We all used the term “Girl Power” and I am not really sure if we really understood it. But there was just something special about this group of five women.
Looking back and with the information from the documentary, I realized what it was. The nineties was the age of boy bands. Take That, The Backstreet Boys, Caught in the Act and later *NSYNC all focused on one thing: make girls fall in love with them. All the boy bands were made up of different characters so that every girl would like one of them. (I had a huge crush on Nick Carter, by the way). We liked the music, but every single girl dreamed about meeting them in person one day. It was the music industry banking on a stereotype: girls would only be interested in boy bands. Why would they create a hype around a group of women?
But the Spice Girls turned that around. It was about having fun as a girl and doing what you want – irrespective if the boys like it or not. The band was criticised that they themselves just used the term “Girl Power” as a marketing strategy. But even if that was true, it was the first time that a girl band not only created a worldwide hype but also actively addressed feminism. Remember, this was the nineties, when sexism was just so normal. Women’s bodies were criticised by men (and women) on talk shows, the magazines only focused on telling women how to look our best and how to lose weight fast. Girls are brought up always questioning if boys will approve of our behaviour. Can I really do that? Is that too “masculine”? Would they not like me if I was not girly enough? The Spice Girls did not care about this. Yes, they wore overly revealing clothes and they played with their sexy appearance. But it did not feel that they did it to please men.
I was way too young to understand this dimension. But I remember that listening to the Spice Girls and being part of a group which imitated them felt good. At this point in time, my English was not good enough to understand the lyrics. Neither did I know about the horrific coverage in the British tabloids. For us, it was about female friendship and about doing what you like – no matter what other people thought about it. One of my friends was allowed to dye her hair red after she got a good mark on our English exams. We all had union jack T-shirts or scarves (yes, even though we were Austrians) and some of us wore Emma’s platform sneakers. Maybe it was the first time we all felt a sense of belonging. And it was just among us girls. Even though we were at the age where we started to have crushes on boys. Being with our girlfriends was still a bigger thing.
Did the Spice Girls make me a feminist? I doubt it. But in contrast to many tabloid articles about the band’s bad influence on teenagers (remember the articles about the Spice Girls triggering teenage pregnancies…), they helped me build up confidence. I watched these women on TV living their lives on their terms. And this is what I wanted too. Maybe I did not necessarily want to look like them or become a famous singer. But the Spice Girls definitely gave us girls another perspective: live your life the way you want it and not to please a man.
Have a great week ahead and do not forget to make it about you!