Girl power? Who are they kidding?

Wow. Blink and you'd have missed that lonely little star in the corner of my local paper's compact disc reviews -- the rating merited by the musical endeavours of Girlicious, released in August. I suppose the one star belongs to the producer, also known as the guy who works the voice filter machine. My first taste of that group came when I was away from home and flipping through the cable television channels, reminding myself why we don't buy cable in our house.

The Girlicious show was one of those elimination reality shows where the contestants were competing for spots in a new all-girl group. As I recall, the show was a spin-off of another girl group called the Pussycat Dolls (who were former exotic dancers, I understand). They were dressed like the Bratz dolls you can buy for your daughter in any toy department. Now I'm trying not to go all conspiracy-theory here, but in the three minutes of Girlicious that I saw, it was evident that they, also, were being marketed to youngsters.

As part of the competition, they were trotted out (yes, like so much horseflesh) to some mall or neighbourhood event, where they strutted (and gyrated, wiggled and thrust) their stuff in front of an audience full of squealing little girls. It was enough to make me (before I gave my head a shake) long for the relative innocence and slightly more complicated vocals of the Spice Girls. My mind wandered back to the simpler days of my own youth, when the look-alike models on Robert Palmer's 1980's videos danced in unison behind him with blank expressions on their faces as he sang "Simply Irresistible"; their skin-tight dresses actually covered the whole torso. How quaint.

We've read columnist after columnist over the years bemoan the sexualization of young girls and the dumbing down of necklines in the clothing that is marketed to them. We watch periodic current affairs shows expose the dubious advertising techniques that sell these attitudes. But it continues, and gets worse. Where is the outcry?

Young Ella Fitzgerald. Photo: Wikipedia / Carl Van HechtenA society that encourages young women to see their worth in their bodies and not their minds and hearts is simply the flip side of one that insists they must be covered completely from head to foot. Think about it. Our pop culture treats women like eye candy, the more uncovered the better. The Taliban treats women like dangerous candy that you can't even look in the eye-- they must be so completely covered as to be unidentifiable. As E. M. Forster wrote, "Only connect..."

Where the Taliban outlaws education for girls as unnecessary, a show like Girlicious tells them they don't need to use their brains or develop real personalities, they just need to be hot. I've been listening to a lot of genuine musical genius these days, because my seventeen year-old daughter's latest (legal, of course) downloading fad is Ella Fitzgerald. It could make you weep for joy: pure, pitch-perfect, improvisational, engaging song; live concerts without voice filters, lip-synching or pre-recorded multi-track vocals.

Would she be as big a star as she was in her day if she were just starting out now? She was pretty, but not drop-dead gorgeous by today's standards, and her figure was not model-thin. When she got older, she looked her age. She was quietly generous to organizations that supported troubled youth, and adopted a child without any media fanfare. With her audience, she was unfailingly sincere. She herself said, "I know I'm no glamour girl, and it's not easy for me to get up in front of a crowd of people. It used to bother me a lot, but now I've got it figured out that God gave me this talent to use, so I just stand there and sing."

Now that's girl power.

Michelle Martin writes from Hamilton, Ontario.


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