Aidan Smith: The Spice Girls' reunion in our post-Weinstein age
In the Presidents Club fallout, the post-Weinstein purges are coming thick and fast. What we need is some help and guidance telling us exactly where we are in the momentous debate. Maybe if an attractive girl could walk round with a board indicating “Round 42” or whatever? Actually, no: that’s a bad idea.
Boxing is holding onto the women who fulfill this function – for now, anyway – but darts has retired the players’ escorts and Formula 1 has followed suit by standing down the grid girls. About time, says one camp, it’s 2018 for goodness sake. The world’s gone stark raving mad, say the other camp.
I’ve seen the unholy row depicted as feminists vs models. Now, that’s not a real TV programme idea, pitched by Alan Partridge with Andy Gray and Richard Keys lined up as commentators, but the fact that you – not me, obviously – are wondering if such a show could one day exist on Sky Sports pay-per-view confirms that visionary leaders are needed.
Where are the strong voices to make sense of the conflicting arguments, lead us out of the darkness and explain what the 17th wave of feminism – not the 17th wave of modelling, silly – will look like? Where indeed are the Spice Girls when we urgently need them?
Wouldn’t you know it, Sporty, Baby and Scary, with Posh arriving in a blacked-out Mercedes, were all round at Ginger Spice’s house the other day planning a reunion over sushi.
It can’t be any coincidence that this is happening in 2018 – the 90th anniversary of women being granted the vote and the 50th anniversary of the strike by Ford workers in Dagenham which forced the Equal Pay Act. Ginger must have had these dates uppermost in her mind as she passed round the, er, ginger.
And it can’t be any coincidence that Girl Power: the Comeback arrives amid all this fear and loathing over casting-couch horribleness, Westminster gropers, the BBC reckoning a man reading the news about Westminster gropers to be more valuable than a woman, the new dating etiquette, James Bond being dubbed a “rapist” and, now, the grid girls.
But if we’re concerned about exploitation, which we very definitely should be, then are the Spice Girls really the best women for the job of combating it?
I’m concerned about exactly how much of a reunion this is going to be. There’s a very good chance the group won’t be releasing any new records or even performing. Apparently Melanie Chisholm won’t sing new material and Victoria Beckham won’t sing at all, which was greeted with relief in at least one newspaper which purports to have women’s interests at heart.
There was sneering elsewhere over Posh viewing the reunion as an opportunity to “grab the showbiz limelight back from husband David”, the latter having just unveiled himself as Miami’s latest soccer impresario. Really? Could she have possibly brought forward the girl group’s re-launch or even hatched the idea in direct response, rounding up the others from the back of the Merc saying she’d pick up the California rolls?
But if there are to be no new sisterhood anthems, no world tour, is calling this a reunion, when based round yet another greatest hits collection and merchandising deals, not just another kind of exploitation? And if Posh is not going to sing but will presumably still have to be present for, say, the extended exclusive interview with Piers Morgan or Jonathan Ross, will that not be pretty much the same as a pouting appearance from a grid girl, being only there for show?
Such are the challenges of being a member of the world-famous Spice Girls, the manufactured pop combo supposedly inspired by Emmeline Pankhurst to demand: “Yo, I’ll tell you what I want, what I really, really want.” Well, it was either the great suffragette or their svengali manager, Simon Fuller.
To be fair to the group, I never got the impression they were especially driven by feminism, sexism and inequality. Rather, Girl Power was thrust upon them. It was a bumper sticker which they did their best to talk up and promote as a philosophy. When their most famous songs were written, “friendship never ends” scanned better than “being chained to railings never ends”.
Which prominent women of today were empowered by the Spice Girls? Was Michelle Mone, the bra tycooness and occasional House of Lords contributor? Were Beeb duo Emily Maitlis and Laura Kuenssberg? Was Nicola Sturgeon? I’d like to know, and find out their views on this second coming and whether they’ll be shelling out again for those dance-round-handbags classics they already own. Such are the perils of being the world-famous Spice Girls, who shouldn’t be ripping off their fans even though that’s the pop industry’s default setting.
To be fair to the grid girls, no one is feeling like they were exploited. Models who’ve spoken in defence of their profession have described a fun job of camaraderie, glamour and the excitement of the racetrack. One of them, Rebecca Cooper, said nurses, teachers, doctors and lawyers were fellow grid girls. F1 bosses were under pressure to “do the right thing,” she said. “Right for whom? Not for the spectators or the girls … We’re told that as part of female empowerment, women should be proud of their bodies and do as they choose with them … Not once have I felt like a victim.”
There are songs in the grid girls’ situation and the current state of womankind but the returning Spice Girls feel disinclined to write them or sing them. Instead, along with the greatest hits and the merchandise, their reunion could feature a TV talent show.
I think I might wait for Feminists vs Models.