I’m pretty sure that when my dad took me and my best friend to see Spice World: The Movie in 1997, it was for a quiet life rather than to make a point about female identity. Although for the record I always respected his favourite Spice Girl – Sporty – as being the thinking man’s choice. But, for all its stereotyping and campy scenarios, perhaps the trip did have more to offer an 11-year-old girl than just a fun afternoon and salted popcorn.
For one thing, I suspect it was the first film I saw that knocked the Bechdel test out of the park – it’s packed with female-centric conversations and barely touches on men, even less in a romantic context. The closest our heroes come to concerning themselves with relationships is when Emma says she wishes boys could be ordered like a pizza. Or when Geri is seen talking to an awkward bloke at a party, using the F-word itself: it was the first time I’d seen a woman I aspired to be labelling herself a feminist.
The male roles, aside from gratuitous cameos, are essentially Richard E Grant as their highly strung manager (who struggles to contain the girls), Roger Moore as his boss (who speaks in unintelligible metaphors) and Barry Humphries as the evil newspaper boss who wants to take the band down. And spits a lot.
Then there’s the inversion of the male gaze, which happens as the credits roll and the Spice Girls address the audience – calling out cinema-goers for snogging in the back row (and, quaintly, those watching “on video”). We may be voyeurs in the Spice Girls’ world, but they want us to know it’s only at their invitation.
Plenty has been written on “girl power” and whether it was a third-wave tool of empowerment for young fans, or a cynical soundbite designed to sell T-shirts. At their core, though, the Spice Girls were a manufactured group who overthrew their creators like a Union Jack-clad Frankenstein’s monster.