Girl power

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The phrase "girl power", as a term of empowerment, expressed a cultural phenomenon of the 1990s and early 2000s (decade). It is also linked to third-wave feminism. The term was made popular by the Spice Girls in the mid-to-late 1990s.

Early usage[edit]

"Girl Power" as a phrase was first used in a fanzine by punk band Bikini Kill. The phrase is sometimes spelled as "grrrl power", initially associated with Riot Grrrl.[1][2]

"Girl power" was later utilized by a number of bands during the early 1990s, such as the Welsh indie band Helen Love[3] and the Plumstead pop-punk duo Shampoo,[4] who released an album and single titled Girl Power in 1995. Interestingly a London UK 'capella' all girl group called Mint Juleps promoted an early 'Girl empowered' formula in 1987. Who, with the production might of Trevor Horn behind them, released a track called 'Girl to the Power of 6'. In the song, each member of the band presented a distinct personality trait. The phrases 'Girl to the Power' and 'Girl Power' are mentioned several times. Overall, it features the themes of female empowerment, unity and loyalty.

Spice Girls and scholarship[edit]

The phrase entered the mainstream, however, during the mid-1990s with the British pop quintet Spice Girls.[5][6][7] 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.[8]

Other scholars have also examined the phrase, "girl power", often within the context of the academic field, Buffy Studies.[9] Media theorist Kathleen Rowe Karlyn in her article "Scream, Popular Culture, and Feminism's Third Wave: I'm Not My Mother"[10] 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.[11]

Oxford English Dictionary[edit]

In 2001, the Oxford English Dictionary added the term girl power,"[12] 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.[13]

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 1980s, the 1990s weren't so kind to the superwoman format—Xena Warrior Princess excepted. But it's a new 2000 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.[14]


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.[15] 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 girl 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.”[16] “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[17] 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.[18]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Gonick, Marnina (2008). "Girl Power". Girl Culture. Westport, Conn. [u.a.]: Greenwood Press. pp. 310–314. ISBN 978-0-313-33909-7. 
  2. ^ Leonard, Marion (1997). "'Rebel Girl, You Are the Queen of My World': Feminism, 'Subculture' and Grrrl Power". Sexing The Groove: Popular Music and Gender. London: Routledge. pp. 230–55. ISBN 978-0-415-14670-8. 
  3. ^ "Helen Love - Gabba Gabba We Accept You". Retrieved 2012-09-30. 
  4. ^ "Shampoo - Interview by Alexander Laurence". Free Williamsburg. April 2001. Retrieved 2012-09-30. 
  5. ^ "From Title IX to Riot Grrrls". Harvard Magazine. January–February 2008. Retrieved 2012-09-30. 
  6. ^ "Girl power | You've come a long way baby". BBC News. December 30, 1997. Retrieved 2012-09-30. 
  7. ^ Sarler, Carol (21 July 2006). "Girl Power: how it betrayed us". Daily Mail. Retrieved 2012-09-30. 
  8. ^ Costi, Angela (October 4, 2002). "Super Slick Power Chicks: The New Force or Elaborate Parody?". Senses of Cinema. Retrieved 2012-09-30. 
  9. ^ "The Third Wave's Final girl: Buffy the Vampire Slayer"[dead link]
  10. ^ Karlyn, Kathleen Rowe (2003). "Scream, Popular Culture, and Feminism's Third Wave: I'm Not My Mother". Genders. Retrieved 2012-09-30. 
  11. ^ Riley, Robin (May 2004). "Review of Early, Frances; Kennedy, Kathleen, eds., Athena's Daughters: Television's New Women Warriors". H-Net Reviews. Retrieved 2012-09-30. 
  12. ^ "Girl power goes mainstream". BBC News. 17 January 2002. Retrieved 2012-09-30. 
  13. ^ "OED:Girl power". Oxford English Dictionary. Retrieved 2012-09-30. 
  14. ^ E y e s <-> <-> O n l y
  15. ^ Ging, Debbie. "Girl Power" doesn’t empower: why it’s time for an honest debate about the sexualisation of children in Ireland July 2007.
  16. ^ [1][dead link]
  17. ^
  18. ^ Packaging Girlhood: Rescuing Our Daughters from Marketers' Schemes - Sharon Lamb, Lyn Mikel Brown - Google Books. Retrieved 2012-09-30.