GIRL POWER: HOW IT BETRAYED US; Ten Years Ago the Spice Girls Were Born and, with Them, So-Called Girl Power. but, in This Coruscating Denunciation, CAROL SARLER Argues Their Message Was a Perversion of Feminism for Which a Generation of Women Have Paid a Terrible Price . .
Byline: CAROL SARLER
THE heat was unbearable then, too, in July 1996. But even hotter than the blistering sunshine was the spectacularly branded, packaged, marketed, hyped and, frankly, horrible first single, Wannabe, from a new band called the Spice Girls.
Whoooosh, it went: right up to No 1. For seven weeks. And cheers all round as something called - with risible inaccuracy - Girl Power arrived in Britain.
This week there will be those who raise another glass to mark the ten years since this phenomenon burst onto our social landscape.
But there will also be those, and please count me among them, who can think of nothing except the bad that came from the influence of those petty, shallow icons of what was once dubbed Cool Britannia.
It would be absurd, of course, to lay every teenage pregnancy, every inebriated ladette or every cheap tart sleeping with her sixth holiday 'romance' in a week at the feet of five barely competent girl singers.
It would be fair, however, to recognise that they presided over a period that saw young womanhood spiral into a previously unimaginable decline; that they wrote its soundtrack, they sang its theme, they invited a generation to play along - and that altogether too many women sadly did.
Just when we thought we were doing so well, too.
The 30 years before the Spice Girls came along had seen unparalleled changes in the lives of women; it's hard to believe, now, that in 1966 there was not even ready access to the contraceptive Pill that would hand us the chance, for the first time ever, to control our bodies, and therefore our lives.
We seized that chance with relish. If we never quite managed to have it all, we nonetheless gave it a damn good shot as we taught ourselves-and, later, our daughters that diligence, hard work, honed skills and the occasional good old strop for 'wimmin's rights' would win the day.
In the process, perhaps we even persuaded reluctant men that they could trust us to be competent, able and equal partners at home and at work.
Who would have thought, then, that a few short years later, women in professional life would be rewarded with such paltry returns compared with the millions 'earned' by reality TV 'stars' such as Jade Goody or Chantelle, or footballers' partners such as Coleen McLoughlin, for doing absolutely nothing at all?
But then, who could have guessed, only ten years ago, that the path would have been forged for them to do so by an indifferent little band who would turn our happy revolution on its unsuspecting head?
From the start, artistry was not involved. The Spice Girls came into being precisely as they would remain: an artificial construct, designed and marketed by what, at the time, was a word still new to most of us - spin.
An advertisement was placed in The Stage, a usually venerable journal of the dramatic arts,
inviting 'streetwise' young women, between the ages of 18 and 23, to audition for a band.
If ability entered the list of requirements, it was hard to see where.
Only one of the group, Melanie Chisholm, 20 at the time the band formed in 1994, was ever considered to have a decent voice, while the others varied from passable to dire; is there anyone who can forget Geri Halliwell serenading the Prince of Wales with a Happy Birthday so off-key as to make the royal teeth ache?
WHAT was worrying, however, was not the inevitable caterwauling that would emerge from such ungifted vocalists, but that it taught diehard young fans that the absence of talent does not matter a jot in this day and age.
My daughter would patiently explain to me that the pouty one, Posh, was the one who couldn't sing at all - so that's why she rarely had lines to herself, but just joined in on choruses.
The message was: girls don't need actually to be able to do anything; just get that image right and, honey, you're off. …