While enjoying the roaring success of the Lionesses at the Euro 2022 tournament, some of us stopped mid-celebratory-scroll on Instagram, mouths agog, at a picture of Geri Halliwell and the current British culture secretary Nadine Dorries bear-hugging. I, for one, can’t believe I’m writing about the Conservative Party again this week, but as their leadership contest hots up (Geri was also pictured snuggling prime minister hopeful Liz Truss, for goodness sake), the Tory news cycle just keeps on churning.
Dorries noted the “girl power radiating from Wembley tonight,” and I think that’s what truly ruffled feathers. Sure, Geri is an adult and can hug whomever she damn well wants, but she was also instrumental in establishing the idea of girl power when the Spice Girls were at their peak in the late ’90s. It’s easy to dismiss girl power as a marketing gimmick, but it genuinely did seep into the dense sponge of teen culture at the time. The term itself may have been ambiguous, but for many of us, it was an accessible form of feminism that promoted a girl’s right to anything she wants, to unashamedly seize opportunities, to follow her desires.
Don’t scoff at this, either, but dressing differently as a girl group was genuinely pioneering. The five spices reminded us that we could be distinctive and unapologetic, which in the ’90s was legitimately renegade and disruptive. They refused to regurgitate tired stereotypes of how we successful women should look and behave. They were distinctly liberal, distinctly anti-establishment, distinctly un-conservative. Even today, nothing beats the euphoria of an hour with the Spice Girls in your AirPods, and we all assumed a certain permissive attitude from the people who penned us such brazenly camp bangers. (Victoria changed the lyrics of “2 Become 1” to be inclusive to same-sex couples in 2019, while Geri later covered “It’s Raining Men,” for crying out loud.) Girl power at its core meant powerful girls—women as more than accessories to power, but power itself.
There’s a sinking feeling that the legacy of such a vital, visceral idea has been boiled down to Geri at a footie match mounting a Tory woman who’s voted against gay marriage. (Meanwhile, it’s worth noting, there are seven LGBTQIA+ members of the Lioness squad.) Geri, I was rooting for you, we were all rooting for you. At first, I thought she deserved the benefit of the doubt—surely there’s been a mistake? Surely Geri, who was best friends with gay deity George Michael, understands the damage that unequal, anti-gay legislation causes? The divides that widen? The rifts that cannot heal?