Let’s party like it’s 1999: Bring back Girl power

By Temporal Tui

The Nineties were great for so many reasons. I grew up then and perhaps I view the decade through slightly rose-tinted glasses but one thing I distinctly remember was the motif of Girl Power. 

Girls can do anything, have any career, wear what they like,? study whatever they choose. I studied science and my sister played rugby. There was nothing that said we couldn’t. Strong female role models were everywhere. We listened to the Spice Girls, Shania Twain and the Dixie Chicks singing about womanhood. Buffy the Vampire slayer and Xena the Warrior Princes kicked ass across the screen. Dana Scully lured girls into science and the Star Trek Universe was piloted by Captain Kathryn Janeway. By the end of the Nineties we had our second female Prime Minister.?

What the hell happened? Feminists of today would have us believe that the ‘girl power’ of the nineties was fake, nothing more than a cover up for the objectification and commodification of women. Women were not empowered, they were exploited for the male gaze and the dirty capitalist agenda.

The Spice Girls, Paris, September 1996. Tim Roney/Getty Images

Astonishingly the feminist removal of agency means they see the Spice Girls as victims. The strong independent woman of Girl Power has been subsumed by the exploited victim of today.  The nineties role models of fiction and fantasy have been dismissed as unrealistic (not victims) or problematised either by their ‘sexiness’ or their ‘whiteness’ And what have they been replaced with? Today’s female heroes in TV, movies and other fiction are often victims of abuse, sexism, and discrimination of all kinds.

The characters are whiny or preachy and unlikeable; even the vaunted Dr Who, despite being a genius time lord, manages to whine about not being listened to because she?s a woman. Franchises such as Star Wars, Star Trek, Disney, and Marvel have adopted this narrative of womanhood and there are few strong independent female characters around.

As for the real world, female role models are activists or actresses, quite often both. Even those in science or tech are activists IN science or tech. Lists of notable women and role models in tech for the last decade contain ‘influence’ educators and campaigners for inclusion and diversity with the odd CEO thrown in. There have been few if any examples of women who actually created or discovered something. It?s no wonder the average person is not aware of women in STEM?fields. Unless they are battling sexism they are not promoted by feminists.

It is the same in the rest of society. Consider the cover of last year’s Time magazine featuring the ‘Silence Breakers’, and the acclamation of the Women’s March leaders, particularly Linda Sarsour. Consider Christine Blasey Ford hailed as brave and heroic for accusing Judge Kavanaugh of ‘inappropriate behaviour’ in high school.

Compare that to the biggest sex scandal of the Nineties, the affair between Bill Clinton and Monica Lewinsky. It was a scandal mainly because of the denials and secrecy, but Monica was considered to have AGENCY throughout. No one suggested she had been raped or couldn’t consent because of power differentials, and Bill Clinton kept his job!

Many feminists will argue that this merely proves the power of the patriarchy and not taking women seriously. They will say that women’s lived experience need to be represented and all the usual things we have heard so often that we have come to know them by heart. I’m sure there are many cases then and now where women should have been taken more seriously and where men have abused their power; that is not the argument.

Making victimhood and lack of agency part of women’s collective identity is wrong. It?s just as wrong as collectivising men as violent predators and just as damaging to women as the ‘patriarchal’ myths of women as liars or sluts. Not to mention it?s completely incorrect. In the real world women are everywhere doing everything. From politics to rugby to space flight women are doing just as well AND just as badly as men.

The pushing of victim stereotypes of women as representatives of women’s experience is downright dangerous. Portrayals of women and girls as minorities, powerless and discriminated-against victims will not inspire or empower the next generation of girls. So I say bring back the real strong women heroes.

Bring back Samantha Carter, Daria, Murphy Brown, Lara Croft, even Hermoine Granger, and while we are at it what about Uhura, Ripley and Leia, lost but not forgotten. Bring back Girl Power. The next generation will thank us for it.