In the late 90's, I'm not sure any members of the general public really gave the message "Girl Power!" any weight. It seemed a little silly at the time to link Girl Power with pop music. It was a marketing scheme, really. It seemed fluffy and light compared to real feminism. It didn't seem authentic - how can you sing about girl power in hotpants?
It was stolen from the Riot Grrls , a punk feminist movement, and changed to the more reader/children friendly "Girl Power" when the Spice Girls popularized the saying. Some would say it was linked to "third wave" feminism, insofar that some writers like to link things like Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Spice Girls to feminism.
The Oxford English Dictionary defines Girl Power as:
"Power exercised by girls; spec. a self-reliant attitude among girls and young women manifested in ambition, assertiveness, and individualism."
I've been thinking a lot lately about this term and thinking perhaps it is time it made a comeback.
Yesterday I read (online) an interview with Miley Cyrus, who is extremely popular with the tween set. Sure, she sings songs that proclaim she "stutters when you ask [her] what [she's] thinking 'bout," but I won't get all over her for saying she's shy. That's pretty normal for 15 year olds, right? In the interview, which originally appeared in a Teen magazine, Miley talks about her two year long relationship with a Jonas Brother. She says they got together on the first day they met and were inseperable for 2 years. She says she 'changed for him' and 'gave her hair highlights' because he wanted her to. Wow, heavy for 13, right? After I read this I thought there was going to be a follow up along the lines of "But I learned you should never change who you are for a guy,"...but there just wasn't. There was nothing positive for girls to take out of the story. In fact, she goes on to say that they fought all the time, and that maybe someday she'll marry him.
Hmm. Not very self-reliant.
When I look to the Hills, which to be honest, I don't watch, but have seen a couple of times, I don't see much evidence of Girl Power. The girls on the show seem so wrapped up in the drama that is supposedly their lives, that they turn on eachother at every opportunity. They do not support eachother, and don't seem to really have long lasting valuable female relationships. While they are certainly ambitious and assertive, there is a serious lack of individualism going on. That added to the new way to get famous (aka show us your tits) and we have a sad example of what being a young, single female is really all about.
I'm disturbed by the dating shows - the Bachelor, Rock Of Love, Tila...they are all the same. They are filled with the message that dating the right person can make you "whole" and its all about the "connection" you feel with someone. Women fighting over one man, throwing themselves at him. They feature emotionally void relationships that are based largely on looks and the willingness to have sex. Ok, Ok, True - this is what a lot of relationships are based on, but not mature, lasting relationships. And while I don't want to underestimate youth - I'm sure many if not most of the young girls watching know that this is not reality, it really leaves me wondering what alternative influences they have? What is the alternative? Surely, they know this is not real - but what is real then? What role models do they have?
What do we have now in pop music, or pop culture that could compare to the Spice Girls, or to the Riot Grrls for that matter? What female group is allowed to exist in popular culture that spreads a message of female empowerment? What message is there in media for young girls to tell them to be assertive, self-reliant, ambitious and individualistic?
Last night I was thinking about this because I saw this ad in a WalMart flyer for tshirts. I felt like it was a glimmer of hope. The tshirts I've seen recently at WalMart usually say things like "Princess!" or "Whatever!" or "Don't say Diva Like its a bad thing!" or something equally annoying.
These however have more interesting messages:
"I wear the brain in the relationship"
"Girls should be two things: Classy and Fabulous"
Now, nevermind who would actually wear these tshirts, these messages are certainly an improvement on recent vapid messages I've seen floating around.
"I wear the brain" supports the trend of girls acheiving more in school of late. Girls go to university more often, get better marks. We still aren't paid evenly at the end of it all, but it's a start. Girls seem to be enjoying this time in history, I know I did. It was satisfying to beat a guy at something - because the popular assumption is 'boys are better', no matter what the task is. So beating them - doing well (and not just 'for a girl') is incredibly satisfying.
"Classy and Fabulous" is interesting too; while wearing this tshirt that is decidedly unclassy, and I'm not sure that young girls really know what Classy is, I do hope that they know what Classy is not. "Not classy" would be: being a bleach blonde on a dating show fighting over Bret, changing your hair colour for your boyfriend and then talking about it in a magazine, dropping your close girlfriend because you don't like her boyfriend, for a few examples.
I do hope that somehow WalMart has spotted a trend - a natural pendulum swing away from the diva-tramp-paris-hilton era, back to the Girl Power era. The Girl Power of the Riot Grrls or Spice Girls championed friendships, loyalty, individualism, creative and self expression. If the message was said in hotpants or army shorts, the message was clear: we're not dumb broads.
In retrospect, that message looks better and better all the time.