As a feminist, mom to three little girls, and Spice Girls lover, you think I’d be the first one on board with the cutesy phrase “GIRL POWER,” right? I see this phrase on neon signs in play rooms, adorable pillows, graphic tees, and I want to like it – I want to join these other #girlmoms and feminists and get some cute GIRL POWER swag, but I can’t – I just can’t.
Let me explain. Well, let me start with what girl power means.
What is girl power?
According to the Cambridge Dictionary, girl power is ” the idea that women and girls should be confident, make decisions, and achieve things independently of men.” That all sounds good, right? How could you have a problem with “girl power?” you’re wondering.
Relax, I’m not a monster. I’ll start by acknowledging what is okay about this movement before I denounce it. Stay with me.
Why “girl power” isn’t actually empowering
What is girl power cont.
The more casual explanation is that it’s a term, a movement made popular in the 80’s and 90’s mainstream media with celebrity women proudly proclaiming their unwavering support of other women. I can do anything because I’m a woman! Because I wear a t-shirt that says Girl Power, I am unstoppable – and so are all of my female compadres.
Girl power is about friendship, the bond of women, and knowing you can tackle anything by yourself – it’s the confidence to take on the world on your own, without a man.
What’s the problem with girl power then?
I don’t inherently have a problem with these qualities. But to me, girl power has a flippant, happy-go-lucky, trendy vibe to it. It’s something you say or wear because you want to feel strong. You want to look cool. You want to appear progressive.
To me, girl power is a watered down version of what really matters – feminism.
Feminism – the belief that men and women should have equal rights and opportunities socially, politically, and economically – means working towards a world where women aren’t reduced to their appearance. It means working towards a world where child brides, rape (both marital and extramarital), and violence against women don’t exist.
You don’t have to feel oppressed to care that other women are oppressed. You don’t have to hate men to care that men (and women) take young girls and sell them into sex trafficking.
But you do need to care that girls and women all over the world have, at a minimum, less rights than men and at most, are valued less than stray animals. Why? Because you’re a human.
This matters. Feminism matters. If you’re a human, feminism matters, especially intersectional feminism that looks at issues from a broad perspective, not just a white POV, including race, class, and gender.
Feminism is not the belief that one gender should be raised in power above another.
And to me, that’s what the casual-cool-trying to sound progressive “girl power” users project.
Who run the world? GIRLS.
No, actually men mostly do, and shouting these lyrics isn’t going to change a thing. As female feminists, we need men; to make any real change in gender equality and standards, from politics and decision making to mainstream and domestic beliefs, we need men, women, and children on board.
Needing men to do this doesn’t make women weak, it makes us smart. Needing men to help make these important changes isn’t denying your “girl power” sisterhood, it’s asserting your drive to make positive, necessary shifts in society to support your sisterhood.
Girl power vs feminism
Girl power is soft. It’s fun. It’s not threatening. I picture “WOO!” girls screaming this.
Feminism is not – it’s a call for change. It demands political, social, and economical change. It’s a demand for domestic and personal beliefs to shift, to overturn views that are deeply ingrained in so many men and women around the world.
Feminism is looking past your personal experiences (and possibly bursting your privileged white bubble) to look at these serious issues from a broad perspective – and then being irate or concerned enough to do something about it.
“Girl power” is easy to say – it’s easy to shout out as you dance around with your girlfriends. Feminism is not.
When I taught a feminism unit to high school seniors, I saw this fear (at best) and misogyny (at worst) in the young men and women in my classes. They were scared to even say feminism. It took a lot of research, discussion, and belief questioning to be able to even scratch the patriarchal surface – luckily for many, I saw a huge change. Unfortunately for many (boys and girls), the patriarchy won.
I had a student tell me that he couldn’t wait for his mom to meet me at parent conferences, but he warned me that she didn’t have the highest opinion of me. He explained how interested he was during our feminism unit, so he would go home and share what he learned and discovered in class with his mom – from his teacher who didn’t change her name after marriage. His mom vocally wasn’t happy with this “feminist teacher.” Did she have the same aversion to the history teacher teaching civil rights or religion class examining religious persecution?
I also had students who flat out refused to open their minds to anything new – the things I heard or read from class activities were so disturbing it often led to dean’s visits and having to leave class. Let’s just say the words “bitch and sandwich” were tossed around between commentary of “money making” and women deserving whatever horrible things I tried to shed light on.
Even more disturbing were the meetings with parents about this – I saw that these kids didn’t even have a chance; their misogynist parents laughed in my face, asking why I was wasting their time with the meeting.
Feminism threatened them.
That motivated me even more to keep up the work I was doing.
So yes, feminism matters. Feminism and girl power are about women empowerment, but feminism is about so much more. Activism, education, awareness, and speaking out about it matters. You have to do something.
If you love, appreciate, and respect humans, then let’s make it a point to educate ourselves, to be aware, and take action, no matter how big or small, when it comes to race, religion, gender, or age.