and ain't i a woman?: Marketing the backlash

Issue 

and ain't i a woman?

Marketing the backlash

Marketing the backlash

Last year, two friends of mine went to a record producer in Canberra and sang their songs about Aboriginal rights, racism and the need to get political.

The producer responded by telling them that no-one is interested in "hard core Public Enemy-style rap" any more. If they wanted a record deal, he said, they should try to be more like Christine Anu.

In a McDonald's and Coca-Cola society, everything is commodified — packaged and marketed for maximum sales. Music is no exception.

The music industry creates hype around particular musicians, not necessarily because they are talented, but based on how well they can be marketed.

Enter the British pop group touring Australia this week. From the tips of their peroxided hair to their plastic smiles, barbie doll figures and mindless lyrics, Spice Girls exude artifice.

So why did the supposedly radical novelist Kathy Acker write in the Sydney Morning Herald that the Spice Girls "both are and represent a voice that has too long been repressed" — the voice of young, working-class women, of the new feminists?

Acker, it appears, has bought the myths manufactured by the music industry. Just as Christine Anu is presented as the voice of young Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders, the Spice Girls' marketing-created popularity makes them the spokespeople for their generation.

The packaging and sale of Christine Anu and the Spice Girls' youth, sex, race and class background in no way challenge racism, sexism or class society.

On the contrary, the message being sold through these performers is that sexism can be overcome simply by young women developing self-confidence and asserting themselves as individuals. Liberation, say the Spice Girls, is no longer something that women fight for collectively; it is a personal quest.

Christine Anu and the Spice Girls also embody the promise that even people from underprivileged backgrounds can make it big in this society. This message denies that there are very real social structures barring most women, people of colour and the working class as a whole from equal access to education and well-paying jobs, let alone fame and fortune.

These musicians are far from radical. They do not represent the experiences of the majority of young working-class women, black or white. The Spice Girls appear with members of the royal family, wear costumes featuring the Union Jack and say they are inspired by women like Margaret Thatcher. Christine Anu, marketed as a role model for indigenous women, this year agreed to perform at the official Australia Day activities, an event symbolising the colonising and racial oppression of indigenous Australians.

According to Acker, "feminism had become extinct" until the Spice Girls came along. Acker needs to take a closer look at reality. Not all women live in or subscribe to the fairy floss world of the Spice Girls. Quite the opposite: most are struggling day by day to support themselves and their families.

Contrary to Acker's claim, many women are also struggling in political campaigns for better child-care services, full reproductive rights, to assert themselves as more than sexual objects, against sexual and domestic violence, against racism, for better education and for the right to work and not be exploited.

That is where feminism lives on — in those struggles for a better life for all women, not in some manufactured, teenybopper pop band called the Spice Girls.

By Sujatha Fernandes