The Rebel Girl: Girl Power—The Best, the Worst

Against the Current, No. 74, May/June 1998

Catherine Sameh

IT’S GOOD TO be a girl these days. Almost everywhere you look&#8212school, family, sports, culture&#8212girls are supported for being strong, smart and independent.

Slogans like “Girls Kick Ass” or “Celebrate Girls” can be found on everything from bumper stickers to hats, posters and shirts. And if sloganeering seems superficial, a new body of literature that seriously explores girls’ lives and the issues they face in the world is growing with each passing day.

How do we understand this phenomenon? Is it a girls’ movement? The fourth wave? A market trend?

As feminists continue to explore the relationship between younger and older feminists (third and second wavers), we are confronted with ever newer ideas, literature, activism and, of course, products that reflect feminism’s basic tenets, but look different from what we’ve seen in the past.

It’s hard to get a handle on this girl power&#8212perhaps, impossible. What seems most clear is that this new stuff both absorbs and reacts to traditional feminist ideas. Much like the third wave, it takes feminism for granted but recognizes the revolution is incomplete.

At its best, the girls’ movement looks at the diversity of girls’ lives according to their race, class and sex orientation. Books like Sugar in the Raw: Voices of Young Black Girls in America and A Girl’s Guide to Taking Over the World: Writings from the Girl Zine Revolution best represent the complexity of growing up female in the United States, and don’t shy away from issues like poverty, abuse, sex and drugs.

They cast light on the raw anger many girls and young women feel, and highlight what girls are doing to resist oppression.

At its worst, girl power is represented through products like Spice Girls deodorant. According to the journal Adbusters (issue 21, Spring 1998), the Spice Girls “agreed to a lucrative deodorant deal with Impulse, a company that’s been promising `girl power confidence all day long.’”

And that’s just the beginning. You can get Girl Power friendship rings, backpacks, stationery and dolls&#8212all Spice Girls brand.

I’d like to think the girls’ movement is mostly about feminism for girls. When I listen to riot girl music, or read the plethora of girl zines published in any city, I’m hopeful that there’s meaning and action behind the hype.

Yet as capitalism continues to roll over our daily lives, promising increasing “freedom” in the market, I fear that real power for all girls will be eclipsed by a passing trend.

ATC 74, May-June 1998