Unhindered Conversations: How to Redefine Girl Power for the 21st Century
Explore how girl power has changed over the years and ways we can take back the term – it’s time to redefine the catchphrase to be more inclusive and empowering
“Girl power” has taken on different forms in history. From gritty, humble punk roots, it went on to become a global phenomenon thanks to a girl group from the UK. It’s had many lives since, booming and waning with each one. However seemingly gimmicky and superficial, the famous slogan does draw from the legitimate struggles of women all over the world.
So, how did “girl power” go from a catchphrase that reenergized the women’s revolution, to a controversial term that almost defies its own agenda? Do you still raise your fist and shout "girl power" these days? In this article, we take a look at what girl power means to women today.
From Punk to Posh: Girl Power Finds Strength in Music
The American punk band Bikini Kill introduced the girl power phrase in the early 1990s. It fronted the second issue of their zine, which promoted feminism and women empowerment. Bikini Kill, a significant player for sparking the Riot grrrl movement in the decade, wanted to reinforce strength and pride in women – and encourage them to embrace their beauty.
The effect amplified, and soon, more girl groups began to adopt the girl power philosophy in their music. While the likes of Bikini Kill and Shampoo did their part in initiating the “girl power” movement, it was the Spice Girls that transformed it from subculture to popular culture.
The British girl group was often seen as the height of the movement in the mid-’90s. Their music had positive messages that women from all over the world could relate to. Be confident, be who you want to be, embrace your independence and strength.
“If you wannabe my lover, you gotta get with my friends,” these are lyrics from the Spice Girls’ first 1996 single Wannabe that went to number 1 in 37 countries. They dominated the male-centric British music scene. They quickly became one of the best-selling female pop groups of all time as they sold over 80 million records globally.
Not only was ‘Wannabe’ the top-selling single and topped the charts in 22 countries, but the Spice Girls are also the only female pop group in music history to have two million-selling singles in the UK and the US. The message they often conveyed within their songs was the importance of female empowerment and sisterhood — a true friendship that appealed to women of all ages.
Girl Power for the 21st Century
But, like many things that become mainstream, the term eventually lost its original intention. "Girl power" became overused. Marketing strategists took women's strong emotional and political connection with the phrase and employed it for various commercial campaigns. Media studies scholar and author Dr. Rebecca Hains claimed that it “undermines true work towards equality, serving corporate interests at the expense of girls’ interests.”
Still, its various iterations, from the infamous Girl Boss culture to the popular hashtag #WomenSupportingWomen, did have their share of success. Some are more short-lived than others. Perhaps it's not that the concept of “girl power” has become “wrong” — we simply found new ways of expressing our strength and solidarity that are more fitting to our evolution as women.
What is “girl power” in the 21st century? For procurement manager Thanh, girl power is women realizing their strengths. "You can use it to contribute to the improvement of women's lives and the lives of those they care about. This power can also be used to change the world.”
Likewise, Gina, a sales admin, states, “Girl power pertains to women's empowerment, independence, and confidence.”
“For me, girl power is the ability of a woman to do things independently. Also, girls should be confident in their ways,” said Carlyn, an office staff member.
Despite the criticism, “girl power” is still going strong. Perhaps it’s all a matter of perspective. For Kelly, a public relations strategist and volunteer, girl power continues to thrive in different fields.
“I think women are still showing the world that women can do it. Last year, the country had its first Olympic medal and Nobel Peace Prize, and these were both given to us by women," she says.
"We are also seeing women achieving leadership positions in business, community organizations, and politics. A woman is also leading the fight for good governance in the country. Today, its best expression is being self-confident, independent, being able to take on leadership roles, and believing that anything is possible,” she adds.
Mich, the CEO of her own company, agrees. “Women are thriving in different industries across the globe. But more than that, I think it’s powerful how we are still doing well in the simple things and in our daily duties apart from our many other roles.” She adds, “I think girl power today is also having that sense of contentment and being at peace in any season you are in. We all grow, learn and go through life differently but when we are happy even things don’t go our way gives us the power to always move forward.”
When do you feel empowered and confident?
Everyone will have a different experience of “girl power.”
Sireenart, a corporate employee, shares, “Girl power is when I can achieve the goal that I have planned and spent effort on, overcome the issues, help others to overcome their issues.”
On the other hand, Tina, an office & HR manager said, “When I can do well both in career life and family life. Best in both worlds.” Meanwhile, Gash, an operations head said, “When I am appreciated, recognized, and rewarded.”
Lastly, Jem, a customer service representative said, “When I can spend my own money and I can buy things I want.”
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Do You Know YOUR Power?
Redefining “girl power” isn’t an easy task and it cannot be forced either. Whether the phrase empowers you or not, it has inspired other empowering messages for women. There will be more catchphrases in the future, and perhaps they too will end up overused. Some might resonate with you, others will not. The irony is, as we try so hard to replace movements of the past with what we think is better, more evolved ones, to an extent, we are enjoying the freedom to do so because of them.
Expressing “girl power” can be as simple as taking extra care of yourself. Upgrade your while you’re at it! Consider adding the Sunsilk Naturals Sakura & Raspberry Radiance Shampoo or the Dove Relaxing Lavender Body Wash to your routines. Clean your body, mind, and soul. Feeling good about yourself and being confident links back to “your power.”
The term girl power means different things to different people. To some, it’s a battle cry that’s carried them through tough times. To others, it sounds like an antiquated approach to feminism and equality. However you — whether that’s via hugging your strength or thriving in solidarity with other women — we’re here for it! After all, that’s what empowering other women is all about.