Idol Worship: What the Spice Girls Taught Me About Feminism

When I was a kid, I indeed spiced up my life: I owned Spice World on VHS, played with Special Edition Spice Girls Barbie dolls, and listened to Spice Girls albums on a boom box (afterwards storing said CDs in a hard, hot pink container which I hand-painted with the words “I Love Baby Spice”).

There was something about the Spice Girls that I deeply admired and which resonated with me – and maybe it was the fun, and maybe it was the theater, but probably it was the demand for a world full of girl power.

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The Spice Girls were, for a really fucking long time, the only women showing me how to live a philosophy I later came to call feminism. And for a lot of girls like me, the Spice Girls were a primer to our later forays into women’s studies and bell hooks.

This is what the Spice Girls taught me about feminism.

5. That everyone needs to love their mothers

When I was very little, Baby Spice was my favorite spice. I don’t know why, but it probably had to do with her mother, who remained at the forefront of her interviews and regaled tales. When I read about Baby I inevitably read about how she was taking care of her mother, and she wasn’t embarrassed to talk at length about their relationship. For someone who pretty much only had a mother to my name growing up, that was powerful.

Plus, one of the only reasons I was allowed to listen to the Spice Girls at all was MamaLike, the fact that it existed in general. My mom dug that sh*t.

4. That women are sexual beings

From rejecting unruly dudes to booty calling the good ones, the Spice Girls were never about being shy in the bedroom. And in a landscape of Cosmo sex tips and shitty rom-coms, the message that women are in control of their sexual experiences and can indulge in their own sexual expression is one that’s hopefully never going out of style.

3. That relationships work both ways

It takes two. Like, for real. Why else would they call it a partnership? If you’re going out on a limb and opening yourself up to love, you deserve something awesome, beautiful, and amazing at the other end – period. The Spice Girls showed me that women could make demands in relationship, set their own boundaries, and be vulnerable, all at once.

2. That women can get what they really, really want

We’ve all got unique desires in this life, and we deserve to be surrounded by people – friends and lovers alike – who respect and encourage those desires. The Spice Girls never would have settled for less than that, and neither should we.

1. That women contain multitudes

The Spice Girls were living, breathing, gyrating proof that girls could grow up to be whatever we wanted and whoever we wanted: sweet and innocent, daring and vivacious, prim and proper, sexual and liberated, athletic and determined, or a mix of every possibility in small pieces. Gender had no boundaries for the Spice Girls, who went from all dolled up to sports bras and shorts in t-minus 5 seconds flat and, together, told a story of womanhood which was complex, varied, modern, and diverse. They were five women who were meant to symbolize different aspects of our identities as girls, women, and people – and despite their differences and the gaps between them, they proved that all women share a story while also having their own.

The bonus? A healthy mix of athletic shorts, natural hair, heels and dresses, pigtails, and tattoos also drove home a solid point: that women are women, no matter how they dress, act, or behave. It’s like Judith Butler for beginners, but without falling asleep halfway through!

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Carmen is the Feminism and Straddleverse Editor at Autostraddle, meaning she helps expand your mind and your queer girl clique. She's mother to the most adorable dog on Earth and hates paying more than one dollar for a good slice of pizza. At times, she self-identifies as "the baddest bitch." You should follow her on Twitter and Tumblr because it makes her feel good about herself when people do.

Carmen has written 583 articles for us.

22 Comments

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    They named Maggie Thatcher an honorary Spice Girl which is why until this article my answer to “Were the Spice Girls feminist?” my answer was a resounding and emphatic no. But I’m coming at them from the view of a 90s riot girl who saw the grrrl style revolution being co-opted and merchandised onto pillow cases and expensive Trapper Keepers.

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    I love this post! I was a big fan especially around 1999-2000 which was considered bad because they were already too “old” at that time. I certainly got flack but I didn’t care. I still have their cds and listen to them on my iPod occasionally. Though they had their fun songs there were some deep powerful stuff too. Sporty was my favorite that I even bought Chisholm’s debut album Northern Star.

    Thank you so much for posting this Carmen. It brought back a lot of memories.

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    I love the spice girls so much! And they make for a great halloween costume for a group of friends. Except generally being the most ‘of color’ person in my group of friends, I am always scary spice! Not that I don’t love an excuse to wear boots and animal print. Sometimes I just want to be baby spice.

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    Ehhhh… I mean, sure – love the Spice Girls songs and they were fun but shining examples of feminism? Not so much for me. I was just glad a character like Buffy existed at the same time to show people what girl power actually looked like.

    I’m not saying that I don’t think Spice Girls were positive role models for some young woman — more power to you wherever you find it — but I think there were better examples at the time. I mean, while they did project GIRL POWER, it was also just a giant marketing ploy. If young woman actually found empowerment, again — great! — I just don’t think the feeling or idea was very genuine. Just my opinion.

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        Manipulated by men? If this did happen (and I would love to hear a specific example if you have one), it was story arc created so that through this experience Buffy would feel more empowered, find power within herself. Abusive relationship? I’m guessing you mean her relationship with Spike? If anything, it was Buffy doing the using there.

        Anyway, I guess what I’m saying is Buffy (the TV show) EXPLORED these ideas in full, as a reality rather than spray paint glittery letters spelling out GIRL POWER on an album cover and proceed to patthemselves on the back for it.

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