Remember Girl Power? Looking back, I think the Spice Girls owed a lot to the work and struggles of the feminist movement only they repackaged empowerment and sold it to feminists’ daughters as lollipops and consumer goods.
I was in the 6th grade when this went down and I was a dedicated Spice Girl fan (Sporty Spice). This was the moment that I first realized I was sold a defective bag of goods. How could my friends and I possibly be respected, independent and powerful and achieve male love and approval and be an ultra-feminine consumer of products all at once, without costs? We were sold a fantasy of power and control that was constantly contradicted by male fantasies and media messages about how a woman should look and dress. This was the first moment in a series of many that we began to realize that we would have to juggle the contradictions that came with wanting respect and love, achievement and relationships, meaningful work and family.
Girls and women are pulled in totally opposite directions, and are compelled to strike a bargain. We can play sports, excel at school, go to college, aspire to — and get — jobs previously reserved for men, be working mothers and so forth. But in exchange, we must obsess about our faces, weight, breast size, clothing brands, decorating, perfectly calibrated child-rearing, about pleasing men and being envied by other women. The war between embedded feminism and enlightened sexism gives with one hand and takes away with another. It’s a powerful choke leash, letting women venture out, offering us fantasies of power, control and love, and then pulling us back in.
– Enlightened Sexism: The Seductive Message That Feminism’s Work is Done by Susan Douglas