Why The Spice Girls Reunion Is What The #MeToo Movement Needs Right Now

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I was eight-years-old when I bought my first Spice Girls CD. I’d drown out my father’s gospel music on car rides with their Motown-inspired medleys like “Stop” and Latin-infused dance numbers like “Spice Up Your Life,” on my Sony Walkman. I’d put on lip-synced performances for my parents, forcing my little sister to serve as my backup dancer, our living room’s hunter green carpet serving as a stage. The kitchen of our double wide, with its tiled, linoleum floors, seated dozens of stuffed animals, a captive audience. As a little girl growing up in a Southern Baptist home, there weren’t many opportunities to explore things like “equality” and “empowerment” and “sisterhood.”

When people ask me why I’m a feminist, I spout off names like Gloria Steinem and Bell Hooks, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie and Bette Davis, but those are women I came to know later, when I grew up and left home and embraced a world bigger than my backyard. Those women and their words gave language to a feeling, to a sense of self that existed long before it was actually vocalized.

The first time I heard the word “feminist” wasn’t until college, when I was in a seminar about Gothic romance in 18th century English literature. It seems bizarre to me now, that a word that so entirely makes up my being, that defines my core beliefs, the way I perceive the world and one that’s currently plastered in the headlines of our 24-hour news cycle, felt so foreign to me then, its taste so strange on my tongue.

It might seem strange and silly and somewhat childish to trace the roots of feminism, at least my idea of feminism, back to a ’90s pop group that consisted of members with pseudonyms like “Baby,” “Sporty,” and “Posh,” but if this #MeToo movement, this third, fourth, fifth, whatever-the-fuck wave of feminism we’re riding right now has taught me anything, it’s that I can’t let patriarchal concepts that consistently leak into our collective acceptance of what “equality,” and “consent,” and “girl power” actually mean color my own experiences.

So I’ll say this, the Spice Girls are part of the reason why I became a feminist, and that rumored reunion tour — the one we’re all dusting off our Buffalo platform shoes and pulling out our knockoff Union Jack dresses for — couldn’t have come at a better time. Even if Victoria Beckham denied the possibility over the weekend, reunions like this come with a lot of back and forth, so we’re just going to keep hoping for now.

The last few weeks have been rough for women. That’s a ridiculous sentence. The last few hundred years have been rough for women, but when Hollywood’s #MeToo movement emerged last year it felt like a small victory, one we could hold up to our ancestors — women who came before us and died for things like voting rights and bodily autonomy and consent — and say, “Look. We did that.”

Harvey Weinstein, Louis C.K., Matt Lauer — powerful men were toppling and their histories of abuse were shining light on a much larger problem. People were actually cluing into the fact that the world wasn’t as safe and accepting and equal for women as they once believed. And women were sharing their stories, stories of bosses exposing themselves in boardroom meetings, co-workers making unwanted advances, and colleges protecting students accused of rape instead of survivors. It seemed like such a simple solution to a massive, toxic problem: To actually just believe women.

And then Aziz Ansari happened. I’m not going to hash out the details and conflicting arguments spurred by that Babe.net article because frankly, it’s been talked about to death with no real forward movement but its existence suddenly presented a roadblock in our progressive protest. It’s easy to say “rape is bad” because most men can disassociate from that act. They can reason, “Well, I’ve never raped someone, so I’m not part of the problem.” But to label something plenty of people would dub “a bad date” as harassment requires something else, a level of self-reflection and self-criticism that just doesn’t come naturally.

And so, the question of #MeToo, #TimesUp, and feminism, in general, is once again up in the air. Are we all just raging b*tches out for revenge? Are we blowing things out of proportion? What are we really trying to achieve? I’m not exaggerating when I say that those are questions I’ve been asked, in real life, by men and women who are friends, colleagues, and even family members. I have no idea how to answer them — truthfully I’m exhausted from answering them — but I do know I’m so glad that in this time of feminist resurgence, when women are finding their voice and fighting for their rights, that the Spice Girls will once again be there to help me fuel my frustration, embrace my womanhood, and maybe even give us some girl power to rally around.

Critics will say that the Spice Girls, a group of 20-something young women thrown together to churn out chart-topping hits and sell merchandise are the epitome of consumerist feminism. They were ruled by a management company that squeezed every bit of “I-am-woman-hear-me-roar” spirit from their lyrics, their personalities, and their personal beliefs and distilled it for profit. They’re not wrong.

When the group was at its height in the late ’90s, they were considered the most famous girl group of all time. They were selling millions of records per year, making films, winning awards, accepting sponsorships, meeting Nelson f*cking Mandela. Their name was uttered in the same sentence as The Beatles for God’s sake. They were successful and, at the time, it was uncommon to see a group of young women take ownership of their bodies, unabashedly share their views, make sticky sweet pop odes to female friendship, and claim to be feminists while making a buck. They didn’t fit into neat boxes. They weren’t Riot Grrrls, punk rockers who tackled serious issues of rape, abuse, racism, and the patriarchy with their underground movement. They weren’t Alanis Morissette, seething with raw anger and disappointment as they sang about being spurned by old lovers.

They were five women with eccentric tastes, they donned baby doll dresses with pigtails and tracksuits with ponytails and jungle prints with bold Afros. They liked makeup, they were athletic, they were articulate, they could wear the f*ck out of a pair of high heels, and they apologized to no one for not conforming to what a feminist was thought to be.

They weren’t writing manifestos or vagina monologues or explicitly advocating for a woman’s right to an abortion, but they were reaching an audience of impressionable young women and introducing them to ideas that had long vanished from mainstream media. And just because it was mainstream, condensed and packaged and sold for profit doesn’t mean it wasn’t valuable to the movement or that somehow, after decades away from the spotlight, the Spice Girls are now irrelevant; worse, harmful to this new #MeToo era.

Later, Buffy and Missy Elliot and Hermione Granger and Daria would come along and introduce me to new styles of feminism — TV heroines that kicked ass and were book-smart, female rappers with something more to sing about than just money and women — but before that there were the Spice Girls. I’d like to believe that what they did for me — giving me an outlet, a rallying cry, and an example of how to embrace my feminism and enjoy discovering who I was, who I wanted to be — is the same thing they did for plenty of other girls too. As an adult, I can look back and spot flaws, but as a kid in a bubble, who felt out of place and misunderstood, I just saw validation and acceptance. I saw women who knew me. Who believed me.

That’s why we need the Spice Girls again. No matter how tainted this reunion tour might be by more commercialism and capitalism and critics piling on their cynicism, we need the Spice Girls to remind us why we started #MeToo and #TimesUp, why we march and protest and retweet in the first place.

Sisterhood. Solidarity. The belief that girl power can change the world.