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The phrase "Girl Power" is a term of empowerment, expressed a cultural phenomenon of the mid-late 1990s to the early 2000s, and is also linked to third-wave feminism. The term was made popular by the Spice Girls in the mid to late 1990s.

Early usage[]

The phrase is sometimes spelled as "grrrl power", initially associated with Riot Grrrl. "Girl power" was later utilized by a number of bands during the early 1990s, such as the Welsh indie band Helen Love and the Plumstead pop-punk duo Shampoo.

Spice Girls and scholarship[]

The "Girl Power" has put a name to a social phenomenon, but the slogan was met with mixed reactions. The phrase was a label for the particular facet of feminist empowerment embraced by the band: that a sensual, feminine appearance and equality between the sexes need not be mutually exclusive. This concept was by no means original in the pop world; both Madonna and Bananarama had employed similar outlooks, and the phrase was most likely first coined by Welsh indie band Helen Love in 1993 and was the title of an album by British pop duo Shampooin 1995. However, the Spice Girls' version was distinctive. Its message of empowerment appealed to young girls, adolescents and adult women, and it emphasized the importance of strong and loyal friendship among females. The phrase entered the mainstream, however, during the mid-1990s with the British pop quintet Spice Girls. Professor Susan Hopkins, in her 2002 text, Girl Heroes: the New Force in Popular Culture, suggested a correlation between "Girl Power", Spice Girls and female action heroes at the end of the 20th century.

Other scholars have also examined the phrase, "girl power", often within the context of the academic field, Buffy Studies. Media theorist Kathleen Rowe Karlyn in her article Scream, Popular Culture, and Feminism's Third Wave: I'm Not My Mother and Irene Karras in The Third Wave's Final girl: Buffy the Vampire Slayer suggest a link with third-wave feminism. Frances Early and Kathleen Kennedy in the introduction to Athena’s Daughters: Television’s New Women Warriors, discuss what they describe as a link between girl power and a "new" image of women warriors in popular culture.

Oxford English Dictionary[]

In 2001, the Oxford English Dictionary added the term "Girl power", defining this phrase as:

Power exercised by girls; spec. a self-reliant attitude among girls and young women manifested in ambition, assertiveness, and individualism. Although also used more widely (esp. as a slogan), the term has been particularly and repeatedly associated with popular music; most notably in the early 1990s with the briefly prominent ‘riot girl’ movement in the United States (cf. RIOT GIRL n.); then, in the late 1990s, with the British all-female group The Spice Girls.

The OED further offers an example of this term by quoting from Angel Delight, an article in the March 24, 2001 issue of Dreamwatch about the television series Dark Angel:

After the Sarah Connors and Ellen Ripleys of the eighties, the nineties weren't so kind to the superwoman format —Xena Warrior Princess excepted. But it's a new millennium now, and while Charlie's Angels and Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon are kicking up a storm on movie screens, it's been down to James Cameron to bring empowered female warriors back to television screens. And tellingly, Cameron has done it by mixing the sober feminism of his Terminator and Aliens characters with the sexed-up Girl Power of a Britney Spears concert. The result is Dark Angel.

On August 13, 1998, Girl Power was added to Roget's Thesaurus as a synonym for feminism.

According to a survey carried out by Trivial Pursuit for the board, 80% out of 1000 asked, stated that Girl Power was what defined the 1990s.


Dr. Debbie Ging, Chair of the BA in Communications Studies in Dublin City University, was critical of the "Girl power" ideals, and linked it to the sexualisation of younger children, girls in particular. Some question whether the concept of “girl power” is an effective media campaign to empower young women. In the last decade, it can be argued that the original Grrl Power movement has become co-opted by the media and marketing industries. Amy McClure of North Carolina State University, warns against placing too much hope on girl power as an empowering concept. She says:

“An ideology based on consumerism can never be a revolutionary social movement. The fact that it appears to be a revolutionary movement is a dangerous lie that not only marketers sell to us but that we often happily sell to ourselves.”

“Girl Power” may actually limit young women’s identity development. There are numerous examples of how the media presents a narrow definition of what it means to be a girl today. A common and overused example is Mattel’s Barbie. The recent “I can be” Barbie embodies this concept of “girl power”: that little girls can be anything they want when they grow up, but ultimately, it could be argued that identity options are narrowed by Barbie’s image and superficial values.

In all, the focused, consistent presentation of "girl power" formed the centrepiece of their appeal as a band. Some critics dismissed it as no more than a shallow marketing tactic, while others took issue with the emphasis on physical appearance, concerned about the potential impact on self-conscious and/or impressionable youngsters. Regardless, the phrase became a cultural phenomenon, adopted as the mantra for millions of girls and even making it into the Oxford English Dictionary. In summation of the concept, author Ryan Dawson said, "The Spice Girls changed British culture enough for Girl Power to now seem completely unremarkable."

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