“Girl power” was not a creation of the Spice Girls. At least that’s what Marisa Meltzer claims in her book, Girl Power: The Nineties Revolution in Music. She argues that the British pop-rock group’s “girl power” battle cry — emblazoned on baby-doll T-shirts and sparkly key chains — was simply a distillation of the message of early ’90s girl punks. As advocates for change, Meltzer says, bands like Bratmobile and Bikini Kill broadcast their manifesto, “Revolution Girl-Style Now.”
The book is Meltzer’s homage to the brief sparkle and self-inflicted blackout of the Riot Grrrl movement, painting it as one of the 20th century’s most influential and empowering movements for women. She admits she grew up listening to the music of the era, and she’s open about her bias. Yet Meltzer’s claims that her beloved Riot Grrrl movement was the ultimate example of third-wave feminism feel more than slightly sclerotic.
Meltzer goes on to chronicle other lashes of female-rock from that time: the Lilith Fair, radio-rockers Alanis Morissette and Fiona Apple, Courtney Love, Liz Phair, Britney Spears, the Spice Girls, Gwen Stefani, Sleater-Kinney. She claims that some of those starlets helped the third wave (Stefani, Phair, maybe Love) while some of them declared only a poor, man-made message of feminism (Lilith, Apple), thus hindering the feminist cause more than they helped it. Meltzer sympathizes with the post-adolescent flip-out of Britney Spears, protesting too much that Spears’ head-shaving and beating on a car with an umbrella were simply Spears’ attempt to release her inner riot grrrl. Really? I find that hard to agree with.
Girl Power is a book that would, inevitably, have been written by someone. And it’s a valiant effort, exhaustively chronicling the female performers who entertained the MTV generation throughout their adolescence. But, overall, it feels aggrandized — leaving a reader to question not the impact that female rockers and poppers have had, but whether or not starlets — punk, pop or folk — should be given so much attention. At its core, Girl Power is a fan-piece. It’s feminism lite. And it shouldn’t be treated as anything more serious or academic than that.