Growing up, I had no idea what that line from the iconic Spice Girl’s tune “Wannabe” meant. Today I still don’t know what it means. What I do know now is that “zig-a-zig-ah” and the Spice Girls were the onset of my feminist awakening. Five women; one posh, one scary, one sporty, one ginger and one baby, burst onto the UK music scene and soon took over the world with their tongue-in-cheek pop anthems and Girl Power manifesto.
When “Wannabe” came out in 1996 I was 10 years old, and I had never heard or seen anything like them, the outfits, the dance routines, the (albeit gimmicky) individual personas, the friendship. I was totally hooked. Every day on playgrounds across the country, and probably even the world, girls had a new pastime, forming their very own Spice Girl groups and practicing and performing all those smash hits to any one who would watch.
I had my own Spice Girl group, we used to practice in our very own corner of the playground and with every new single that was released, we would meticulously practice our routines to perfection. I was always Sporty Spice (no surprises there!) as I could do the famous Mel C high kicks.
My group of friends and I were obsessed. We were the Spice Girls. The boys in our school would sometimes come and watch us perform our routines and we took our performances very seriously! The same tongue-in-cheek gestures and dance routines, with whatever “sex appeal” 10-year-old pubescent girls think they have.
The Spice Girls were our idols. Whether I realized it or not at the time, they taught me so much about female solidarity, about female friendships, about how no man should come between you and your girlfriends. They taught me that if anyone messed with you, they were messing with all of us collectively.
There are loads of female critics of the Spice Girls. British feminist Caitlin Moran (whose book How To Be A Woman is a brilliant read by the way) sees The Spice Girl’s “Girl Power” as a failure of popular culture, which replaced the word “Feminist” and outshined real feminist issues. I was slightly heartbroken when I read this as a grownup, because a part of me, realistically, could never expect 10-year-old Hannah to grasp the concept of Feminism in all its meanings. But Girl Power, and the ensuing female solidarity with my closest friends in the playground were its foundation and a bloody good start.
We had the confidence to challenge the boys in our school; when the boys used to pick on us, we would stand together to fight them (I distinctly remember my oldest friend in the world Tanya helping me to confront a boy in our class who made fun of my hand-me-down trainers).
When the boys refused to pass us the ball during football games, us girls lobbied for a “girls-only football pitch” every other Friday, and got it – to the annoyance of all the boys. When we learned that a friend of ours had been harassed by a male stranger on the way home from school, we insisted on walking in groups together to make sure that it would never happen again, to any of us.
The Spice Girls weren’t perfect, but I can’t deny that if it wasn’t for them, and their glittery cheeky brand of Girl Power, I probably wouldn’t be the feminist I am today, and I probably wouldn’t be working with the UN in Indonesia to promote their Sustainable Development Goal for Gender Equality.
Last week I came across the most amazing remake of the Girl Power anthem, “Wannabe”, highlighting women’s issues, as part of The UN’s Global Goals #whatireallyreallywant campaign. It brought back so many fond memories of my school days, and it’s an amazing way to challenge girls to get involved and talk about what they want for themselves and other women across the globe.
Did you know that, at least one out of every three women around the world will be beaten, coerced into sex, or otherwise abused in her lifetime? Or that 64 million girls around the world are child brides? Or that 31 million primary school-aged girls are not in school? Or that only one in five parliamentarians worldwide are women? Girl Power is as important today as it was 20 years ago and we should all very seriously start thinking about what we want for ourselves, our daughters, and granddaughters, because our fight is definitely not over.
The most amazing thing about this video, however, is that the director M.J. Delaney, is in fact my primary school friend, who was the Ginger to my Sporty Spice all those years ago! I got in contact with her after almost 20 years, to congratulate her on the video, and to send her this photo of the two of us back then. The Spice Girls brought us together when we were kids, and now – totally randomly – again as adults.
Female solidarity, awareness of women’s issues, fighting for the rights of women here in Indonesia and everywhere across the globe is important. Girl Power is important.
* Photos Courtesy of Hannah Al Rashid and Wikipedia
** Read Hannah’s piece on fighting street harassment.
Hannah Al Rashid is, in her own words, a confused mongrel child. Born and raised in London to a Bugis father and a French mother, she studied Indonesian and Development Studies at the School of Oriental and African Studies. She moved to Jakarta in 2008 to work in development, but for the past five years has worked as an actress and TV presenter instead. Hers is a perspective of a confused child of all nations, lost in the fatherland, trying to make rent as a performing monkey.