Should it please the court of public opinion, I'd like to lodge a formal complaint — although our nation appears to be in the throes of a '90s revival (and who could blame us?), we've somehow managed to skip over many of the things which made the '90s a super feminist time to exist. Surely, in between watching Fuller House and chugging Surge, we can find a way to weave a few more riot grrrls into the fabric of modern American pop culture. I mean, gosh darn, you guys. We've got two female presidential candidates! There's never been a better time to slide on some Mary Janes and perpetuate nostalgia by treading down memory lane to the decade when women began actualizing our empowerment.
Alas, trying to narrow down the myriad ways the '90s were a rad time for ladies to be alive is virtually impossible. It's like asking me to name only five super-weird '90s toys my childhood would never have been the same without — it just isn't happening, bub. There are far too many (toys and feminist hallmarks, that is). But we can certainly pay homage to the major themes of feminism we '90s girls were lucky enough to experience growing up. Hold onto your hiphuggers, 'cause here we go.
1. Women in Music
In the '90s, women artists in the music industry were next level. Every genre saw a surge in female representation, but perhaps none so memorably as hip-hop. Historically a male-dominated genre, hip-hop in the '90s saw female rappers like Lil Kim, Missy Elliott, Queen Latifah, and Salt-N-Pepa steal the scene.
The alt/rock/folk scene was full of pioneers, too — so much so, indie goddess Sarah McLachlan created an entire festival around the feminist movement (which, for the record, raised millions for women's charities). Fiona Apple, the Indigo Girls, Tracy Chapman, India.Arie, Lisa Loeb... seriously, friends, the list goes on and on.
And who could possibly dismiss the cultural wonder of the '90s that was The Spice Girls? Aside from deeply profound lyrics like, "I wanna, I wanna, really really really wanna zig-a-zig-ah," this circa 1994, five-female group introduced pop fans to a revolutionary concept: girl power.
2. Feminist Anthems
You can't have smoke without fire, right? Where there are great female musicians, there is great female-driven music. The '90s are a shining example of that notion. Ladies, I give you Exhibit A:
Talk about breaking down the patriarchy with style. "No Scrubs" was every girl's jam in the '90s. Oh, who am I kidding? It's still my jam. But it wasn't the only song on the mixed CD in my WalkMan. I present Exhibit B:
To this day, '90s Gwen Stefani is my spirit animal. See also: Exhibit C...
My high school boyfriend gave me a copy of that album. I'm not entirely sure if that makes him an amazing boyfriend or a really bad one. Nevertheless, let's not forget "Goodbye, Earl" by the Dixie Chicks, "None of Your Business" by Salt N Pepa, "Bills, Bills, Bills" by Beyonce, and "You Oughta Know" by Alanis Morissette. You and I both know we could play this game all day. The moral of the story is that, thanks to these women, girls growing up in the '90s have the best soundtrack ever for the opening scenes of our life stories. Huzzah!
3. Smart, Funny Chicks
It's a bit troubling it took that long for this concept to catch on, no? Or, you know, that it apparently hasn't completely taken hold still. But it's thanks in large part to the smart, funny women of the '90s that the smart, funny women of today are being represented more in the media. If ever you need a reminder of some of the hilarious souls who paved the way for today's female comedians, look no further than Saturday Night Live's '90s roster, which included the likes of Molly Shannon, Ana Gasteyer, Cheri Oteri, Janeane Garofolo, Jan Hooks, Rachel Dratch and more. As Wayne and Garth would say, "We're not worthy... we're not worthy!"
But brainy chicks could also be found outside of the comedy realm, giving nerd girls everywhere the role models we all deserved. If the '90s were a Rorschach test, my inkblots would take the form of Jessie Spano and Hermione Granger.
4. Third-Wave Feminism
Not to get all philosophical on you, but third-wave feminism is the reason you and I are so emancipated today. We're were privy to a time in American history when women decided to actively fight to abolish gender norms and stereotypes. We watched women like Ruth Bader Ginsburg break political ceilings and fight for equal rights. We took back terms that had been hijacked and given derogatory meanings, and we changed their connotations. All hail "the b*tch philosophy" and the rise of "raunch culture"!
5. The Bonds of Sisterhood
The Spice Girls basically nailed the female mantra of the '90s when they sang, "If you wanna by my lover/you gotta get with my friends/make it last forever/friendship never ends." Fun fact: I distinctively remember dancing to that song with my girlfriends at a school dance while wearing powder blue corduroy overalls — I kid you not. But my questionable sartorial and/or life decisions are not the point. The point is that female friendship was at the forefront of the '90s. Many of the screen besties who gave me all my squad goals came from '90s movies: Idgie and Ruth in Fried Green Tomatoes, Carrie and the gang on Sex and the City, Thelma and Louise, Dottie Hinson and the rest of the All-American League in A League of Their Own. And, oh, I'd be remiss if I left out Samantha, Roberta, Chrissy and Teeny of Now and Then. (Who among us didn't divvy up those roles among our circle of friends? I was Chrissy.)
Going hand in hand with the bonds of sisterhood was the prevalence of female protagonists in general. Never before had women been showcased in such a nuanced, empowered, real way on screen and beyond. Real talk: we all wanted to be ever-so-cool Kat from 10 Things I Hate About You.
Daria was the RBF of our souls.
Roseanne gave us a glimpse into modern motherhood.
Lisa Simpson made us want to learn to play the sax.
We had Murphy Brown, Dana Foster, Andrea Zuckerman, Marcy D'Arcy, Buffy, Joey and Jen, Blossom (!) — all groundbreaking female protagonists in their own right. Confession: I still like to picture God as Alanis Morissette sometimes, flitting about the Jersey Shore and booping Snooki and JWoww on the nose. Thanks for that, Dogma.
7. Riot Grrrls
There was a thriving subculture of women in the '90s who championed the work of other women, railed against the proverbial man, embraced their sexuality, and fought to bring down the patriarchy. These girls were the riot grrrls, and they were the women who paved the way for the kickassery we '90s girls carry within us today. Which begs the question posed by '90s hip-hop girl group, "Where my girls at?" The revival of this decade should definitely include bringing a bunch of riot grrls out of the woodwork. Who's with me?
Images: Columbia Pictures; Giphy (12)