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Tuesday, December 30, 1997 Published at 01:09 GMT

Special Report

You've come a long way baby...
image: [ Baby Spice and the rest of the gang, Ginger, Posh, Sporty and Scary ]
Baby Spice and the rest of the gang, Ginger, Posh, Sporty and Scary

The slogan "girl power" has swept the nation this year with the success of the all girl band who popularised it - the Spice Girls.

While music critics may argue about the merits of the band's singing, their powerful influence on millions of young fans cannot be ignored.

Young girls especially have rallied to the cry of "girl power", the key, the Spice Girls say, to their phenomenal success.

According to the band, "girl power" is about a positive attitude to life, getting what you want and sticking by your friends. But it is not clear whether the slogan is just a marketing ploy or whether it will have a serious impact on the way young women view themselves.

New generation

[ image: The
The "can-do" generation
The current generation of girl teenagers are facing a world that has been tempered by over 30 years of feminism. Many of them are so optimistic about their future that they have been labelled as a new demographic grouping, known as the "can-do" girls.

This generation are now doing much better in education than teenage boys. In the past, girls' academic achievements tended to tail off in their mid teens. But in the 1990s, for the first time, girls started to get better A-level results than boys.

Research suggests this extra effort is linked to a change in priorities for the majority of girls. Many are abandoning traditional ideas of romance and marriage, and more girls than ever before want a career.


[ image: Miranda Sawyer wants to see a fat Spice Girl]
Miranda Sawyer wants to see a fat Spice Girl
Journalist Miranda Sawyer welcomes the philosophy of girl power: "Anything that will bolster the spirits of young women and make them feel more confident and make them feel better about themselves and not feel so worried about their self image is a good thing."

"But I would like to see a fat Spice Girl to be honest, or a spotty Spice Girl," she added.

The focus on sexuality and appearance is also an issue which concerns Mizz magazine's agony aunt, Trish Kreitman.

"One of the problems that really worries me is the increase in eating disorders ... I do hear all the time of girls who say 'I actually want an eating disorder, I want to be stick thin'," she said.

Sticking by your friends

[ image: Trish Kreitman says girls are not waiting for the
Trish Kreitman says girls are not waiting for the "sparkly ring"
"Girls are looking for relationships in which they have equal power, and that I think has changed. They are no longer waiting for the sparkly ring, they are not parading their boyfriend up and down outside the jewellers and waiting for him to pop the question," said Ms Kreitman.

As these relationships become less important, female friendships may come to have a more central role. One aspect of girl power is a feeling of unity and mutual support. The Spice Girls have said that they are committed to putting each other first and that they run the band in a democratic way.

Teenagers Gabby and her best friend, Hannah, both said that they valued their friendship greatly. "It's so important that nothing else would come between us" said Gabby.

[ image: Hannah and Gabby stick by each other]
Hannah and Gabby stick by each other
Hannah said that she thought "girl power" was all about "girls sticking up for themselves and being more confident."

Both girls said that they felt they could pursue any career that they wanted. "We can go into whatever we like, with careers and stuff I think it is much, much easier for us to do whatever we like, women are so much more determined," said Gabby.

The future

Girl power has put a name to a social phenomenon. A generation of very optimistic young women who expect to be welcomed into the workplace and achieve in both their careers and their relationships.

But they are still likely to face some inequalities despite their positive outlook. Many adult women are still talking about breaking through the career glass ceiling.

Ms Kreitman said: "We're half way there, we are getting girls to raise their expectations and aspirations in some areas, but I still think they are going to get knocked back by the hard facts of real life when they get out of school."

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