What The Spice Girls Taught Me About Gender

Posted on April 23, 2015 in Media, Staff Picks, Taboos, Women Empowerment

By Pooja Pande

When Posh Spice finally broke her maun vrat by some actual singing, she made an impact on me.

I remember the moment like it was yesterday (and since a part of me is firmly convinced that the 90s were just like some 10 years ago), it might as well have been.

spice girls featured

Wannabe, that in-your-face anthem for so so many girls at the time, showcased the vocal talents (yes, among several others) of Scary, Ginger, Baby & Sporty as each told you about what they wanted, what they reallyreally wanted. But Posh was on mute the whole time. In fact, if you watch the video now, with that decade-old (ahem) hindsight, she looks positively clueless. Like the rest of them had a meeting about their philosophy, and then went out for a few drinks. Without her.

Then came Say You’ll Be There. A neurotic song about “the friend zone” that was so catchy you almost thought you’d got it figured out too. The friend zone, that is. One by one, Scary, Ginger, Baby & Sporty looked you (‘boy’) straight in the eye and told you to mind it! All except Posh who’d been given the most predictable outfit in the video (leather) and everyone could tell that she’d given in to the pressure and this time, had actually lip-synced!

But it was with 2Become1 (yes, altogether with no space like an email ID and symbolizing the “closeness” the song was about) that the lady decided to take on the critics.
So, she opened her mouth and sang.

And thus it is, loaded with this baggage of history, that I remember the moment – Posh with some crazy-cool video tricks in the background mush-gushing into the camera the legendary line – ‘Boys and girls look good together.’

Now, in their defence, Spice Girls songs weren’t particularly known for their brilliant lyrics (One of the things they reallyreally wanted, after all, was ‘zig-zag-aa’, though I’m not sure I spelt that correctly), and 2Become1 was a song about make-up sex. (LSR flash: ‘It’s love-making! Not sex!’). It’s pretty vanilla in its emphasis on love and sex that could obviously only be heterosexual, especially since they had to push in their safe sex message into it, what with being youth icons and all – ‘Be a little bit wiser, baby. Put it on, put it on…,’ sings naughtynaughty Baby Spice, and presumably the boys are all making halts at the local drugstore on their way to see their girlfriends.

But there was something missing in this picture. Oh right, the boys! Which boy in his right-minded boyhood, would ever be caught dead listening to a Spice Girls song? And they were more weird-sexy or interesting-sexy, the bunch, than straight-up sexy to appeal to the ram-rod straight guys. (There’s a curious expression that was buried circa early 2000’s).

The Spice Girls were all vagina monologues, they were IT. And it was the girls who were watching them, singing their songs, trying on their attitude, convinced about which flavour they were, who were obsessed with them. They harboured the most massive crushes on them, and not just in LSR, but all over the world. They were famously called the new Beatles – ‘it’s like we have an all-new John, Paul, George, Ringo.’ (Yes, even the pop culture analysts forgot about Posh Spice).

And when you saw the Spice Girls together doing their Spice Girls thing, you saw a reflection of your own spicy-sweet sisterhood (if you were the popular kid), or a fantasy of what your sisterhood could be (if you were the loner). How, indeed, could boys & girls look good together when it’s so plain that it’s girls and girls that look so bloody good together.

And so it was that when Posh Spice finally sang, she got the wrong line.

As far as awakenings go, this moment was pretty momentous. Because didn’t everything else that was being sold to you shove the ramrod straight argument down your throats? The mainstream was all about neat pairings off into He’s and She’s (waved away with warm farewells as they sailed across on their love-ridden or love-laden boats, apparently) and anybody presenting the slightest deviation to this golden rule, was clearly wired differently in the brains. Read: Queer. A word that’s been reclaimed a million times since the ‘90s, but despite it all, it is what is it is in 2015 too. Evoking an anomaly. One you’re meant to fight for, in your aggressive declarations because this country doesn’t take to nuance too well. Or too easily.

Just as the boyfriends waiting outside LSR were obvious achievements meant to be flaunted, the lovebirds inside the college – a girl who wore a sari everyday and her girl who wore pants everyday – were labelled queer, even as they took their ‘appearance’ cues from the heterosexual world thriving around them.

What I felt then, in that moment, only came to be crystallized in the decades that followed.
Girls and girls look good together. Undoubtedly.
A man can carry off a sari. Unabashedly.

Gender is a fluid thing. It’s not even a thing. It’s an emotion, at best. And a label, in its worst avatar. It’s a box to tick on an official form, which, thankfully, my D.U. counterparts will now have options on.

Gender is a shape-shifter the contours of which are soft, and hence imposing rigidity and rules on it only make it worse. Harsh, hard and inhuman. Hell, for so many – that’s just what it was for that gay couple in my college.

And with imminent news of a possible Spice Girls re-union (Old Spice, yes yes) on the horizon, perhaps it’s time to find meaning and hope in un-obvious places again. Like a music video. And maybe we won’t even need to snub Posh this time.

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