There’s a question nearly every woman has faced in her life, a question that seemed to dominate the 90s and follows us through into 2019: Which Spice Girl are you?

In ADC’s new podcast, Women, know Your Place, Laura, Sophia, and Jas ask this burning question to their guests, and find out which tidy box of female representation we all feel comfortable fitting into, and why.

Women Know Your Place
Women Know Your Place: Pilot Episode Available Here

The Spice Girls, for those who don’t remember (or perhaps simply chose not to ‘spice up their life’) were an iconic 90s British girl band. They constantly spoke about the idea of ‘girl power’ and proving that women were just as capable as men in the music industry.

The group consisted of five members – Sporty, Scary, Baby, Ginger, and Posh – all playing five easy stereotypes of women whilst telling girls that they could be anything they wanted to be. Their music and ‘girl power’ message was a direct response to the everyday sexism they faced when trying to start their careers in music. Mel C recently reflected on this in an interview with Stylist:

‘When we started we were a pop group and we just wanted to sing and be famous and travel the world and we never really thought about that side of things at all.
As soon as we were heading into the music industry, we started to be faced with some sexism. We were told girls don’t sell…That really made us have a bee in our bonnets and that’s when we started talking about Girl Power ‘

The Depressing Reason the Spice Girls started up the ‘Girl Power’ Movement – Kayleigh Dray

Wannabe Feminism

The message of the Spice Girls was all about bringing more women into the music scene and proving that they were just as good as any boy band. And whilst, yes, these caricatures of women were a massive hit, they did little to represent women who didn’t fit in with their personas or challenge deep-seated stereotypes.

The girl group’s career is still hailed as a massive feminist movement within the UK music scene; even today people are still writing books, articles, and blogs discussing how the band changed the scene of UK music. But when you make five beautiful, sexualised women the face of feminism, you undermine the actual message of the movement.

Feminist change shouldn’t have to be dumbed down and dolled up for people to listen to it. There is, of course, the chance to make feminism more accessible to a wider audience when it is introduced through pop culture, but often difficult and important topics are left out in order to keep people happy. In the case of pop-culture feminism, selling records is always a priority above everything else.

‘This is the real problem feminism faces. Too many people are willfully ignorant about what the word means and what the movement aims to achieve. But when a pretty young woman has something to say about feminism, all of a sudden, that broad ignorance disappears or is set aside because, at last, we have a more tolerable voice proclaiming the very messages feminism has been trying to impart for so damn long.’

Roxanne Gay – These aren’t the Feminists You’re Looking For
The Spice Girls
The Spice Girls

When 5 become 1

The group fought for female representation whilst playing characters who showed very little diversity. Within the group, there was only one non-white member, and all of them were under 30, heterosexual presenting, skinny, able-bodied, and playing roles that fit in with the idea of what a girl could be. You could be:

  • Sporty – The Girl Next Door who keeps up with the boys
  • Scary – The rebel who does what she wants
  • Ginger – The provocative flirt
  • Baby – The innocent, overly sweet young girl
  • Posh – The cold snob with a sharp tongue

This lack of diversity is nothing shocking; these crude, lazy archetypes of womanhood were around before the Spice Girls came along, and they continue to exist today. Last month this very issue was discussed in the context of looking at the lack of queer women in theatre. Feminism should be both for and representative of everyone, or else it simply doesn’t work.

The Music Industry in 2019 – How much has really changed?

How to get gigs
Illustration by Bridie Cheeseman from our article ‘How to Get Gigs

The Spice Girls were sold to the world as a group focused on fighting against the lack of women involved in the music industry, but 25 years after they first formed, the gender gap within the sector is still disappointingly prominent.

‘[A] report revealed that women only represented 17 percent of the charts, while female songwriters made up 12.3 percent in a test group of 100 songs, and only 2.1 per cent of those tracks had female producers, the male to female ratio being 47 to 1.’

PSN Europe

So, in short, we haven’t made it very far. One of the biggest girl bands in the world took to the stage ostensibly to shout about inequality within music, and it still wasn’t enough noise to make a change. Like many other industries, the world of music is still very limited for women. Even with progress slowly starting to happen, ‘women are a lowly 2% of producers, 3% of engineers, and 12.3% of songwriters, according to data that analysed the 600 most popular songs over the last six years.’ (What Women Want: Representation in 2019)

Variety is the Spice of Life

The importance of representation isn’t something to be scoffed at. Showing younger generations that people of their gender, race, sexual orientation, class, and so on, is what inspires future makers. If you tell young women they can be anything, but the voices telling them that are straight, young, predominantly white women, you immediately exclude a huge majority of people.

So why, in 2019, are the Spice Girls still being talked about? Aside from the fact that their reunion tour is coming up of course (minus Posh, but we won’t get into that). Being a feminist isn’t easy, it’s a fight, it’s a commitment, and it’s putting in work for massive change, and statements like that can be very daunting. So maybe, if we simplify it, if we boil down feminism to the idea of ‘girl power’ and easy nicknames, it becomes less daunting. Maybe then we feel more comfortable about getting involved. But is it possible to simplify something so complex and still bring about real change? Or do we risk the point of feminism just so we can feel that we fit in?

Below you can listen to a mini episode of Women Know Your Place. Jas, Laura, and Sophia discuss which Spice Girl they think they are, and the problems that come with trying to fit into a specific ‘type’ of woman.

Do you have any thoughts to add to this or our discussion? Let us know in the comments below. Or you can tweet us , share with us on Instagram, or find us on Facebook