Last week, the Los Angeles Times ran a series called Tracking the MySpace Generation, which was based on the findings of an entertainment poll the newspaper conducted with Bloomberg. In the final article on tweens that focused mainly on girls, a couple of passages stuck with me and got me to thinking about how this generation of “tweens” may be pioneering a new form of empowerment that transcends bra burning, riot grrrls, The Spice Girls and Girls Gone Wild. From the article:
“The girls of Julia’s age were influenced by the late-1990s “girl power” phenomenon and now are often more accomplished, higher achievers than their male counterparts, economist and historian Neil Howe said.
…As with a lot of girls of her generation, Julia doesn’t really adhere to gender stereotypes. She hangs out with a large group of boys who, she said, quote constantly from “Wayne’s World” and “Wayne’s World 2.” Thanks to them, she said, she has learned to appreciate the band Sum 41 and Johnny Knoxville’s antics on the MTV show “Jackass.” She’s a black belt in karate and a big fan of sci-fi movies.
…The poll showed that, like Julia, today’s teens contradict long-held assumptions about gender. For example, the survey found that when it comes to offensive content, 66% of boys and girls ranked disrespecting women at the top of the list.”
The “girl power” in the late 90s Howe is referring to is the consumer-friendly version of what started with The Riot Grrrls, who according to Joy Press were “bratty, angry, and as nasty as she wanted to be (something Courtney Love made visual by wearing frilly, sexy little-girls’ dresses that she called her “kinder-whore” look).” This evolved into a more marketing-friendly version of girl power that included Alanis Morissette, Gwen Stefani and The Spice Girls, who made “girl power” their official slogan. They were then replaced by pop stars like Britney and Jessica Simpson who were about looking as porntastic as possible yet claiming to be chaste.
Today’s tweens (9-14 year olds) may have grown up when the late 90s version of “girl power” was morphing from the angry version with some degree of political awareness to the Paris Hilton version of fake empowerment best represented by the Girls Gone Wild franchise. But I think there is a struggle going on for tween girls hearts and minds in the popular culture right now — and parents are on the frontline. It’s a battle between American Girl’s wholesome historic dolls and the Bratz in their belly shirts, between the young adult fiction versions of Jackie Collins books and self esteem oriented fiction like the Beacon Street Girls, between Pink’s Stupid Girls and the stupid girls themselves. We don’t yet know if today’s tweens will aspire to be a Pussy Cat Doll or Veronica Mars.
It will be interesting to see how this generation, of whom 66 percent find disrespecting women offensive, will again redefine girl power when they get to set the media agenda. Have they moved beyond gender? Are they more modest, smart and self respecting than the images and celebs that pop culture is selling them? Most of the recent research about teen sexuality and even fashion trends would seem to back this up. I also think this generation of tweens is more media and marketing savvy than ever before having been sold to practically from birth. They are less radical than the Boomers and Xers in how they express their political views and are more about creating change by where they spend their change. Combine that with being totally wired, over-parented and achievement oriented, and I think they might just create a new wave of girl power that’s more “girl empowered.”