Ally McBeal or Riot Grrls - role models for girls?

By Jillian Freeman
I. J. Samson Junior High
St. John's, Newfoundland

Imagine if you were a young girl growing up in the 60's or 70's. The world around you was just discovering women as true people. Everywhere there were women's movement rallies, supporting a new era of feminism.

Courtney Love was one of these little girls, following around her mother who was involved in these rallies. Unfortunately, she didn't really understand the fight at that age. She instead "wondered why nobody on these marches was wearing heels." 

Courtney Love

The movement is obviously more interesting to her now. She spends a lot of her life screaming out as the front woman of the band, Hole. She was an angry rocker fighting for herself. However, most of the time she was either drunk or stoned. Now she has turned into a Versace-clad actress and has just released a new Hole album. Things have worked out pretty well for her. She recently attended one of the many feminist nightlife benefits in Manhattan, the "Ms. Foundation's 25th anniversary party."

Other benefits include, "Show," which is the living work of art by Vanessa Bancroft, designed to make media images of women more realistic. It features fifteen models in bikinis and high heels, bored and staring into space.

Another was "The Vagina Monologues," where actresses came together to raise money, to fight domestic violence in a performance piece about female private parts designed by Eve Ensler. The benefit featured such actresses as Whoopi Goldberg, who gave comic relief, Glenn Close, who discussed an honour to an obscene word for female genitalia and Marisa Tomei, on the subject of pubic hair. The "Village Voice" called it "the most important and outrageous feminist event" of the past 30 years.

Although these rallies are very important, we sometimes wonder where they came from. This takes us back to Gloria Steinem, who protested male violence in Vietnam in the 60's. This was the time when women wanted to have equal opportunities and rights as men. They believed that the raising of a family should be shared equally and that women are just as useful as men in the work place.

You would think that statements like these would light the flame for women everywhere to want to become feminists. So why do so many think that feminism is dying? It's simple really.

The Spice Girls, Ally McBeal, Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Jenny McCarthy, Pamela Anderson: these are the role models of the mainstream 90's. "Girl Power" is the new catch-phrase that is supposed to represent everything Gloria Steinem and Co. taught in the 60's. Well then why does "Girl Power" appear to many as simply following celebrities and self-obsession? Your physical size and look can actually control whether or not you will get respect. This is true among many female role models.

Look around you and you will see. The Spice Girls have a large following of young girls. You would think with that much publicity, they would teach them something useful. Instead we see little girls prancing around in short skirts and platforms, wearing too much make-up and having nothing else intelligent to say but "Gil Powah." Then there's Buffy who kicks the butts of vampires every week on television. So why does she never break a sweat? Her make-up and hair are always perfect in every shot, even if she is getting bitten by a vampire or lying in a hospital bed.

Calista Flockhart as
Ally McBeal

 Ally McBeal is quite possibly the most popular female character on television- a ditsy lawyer from Boston who always manages to wear that short skirt, even in the cold Boston weather. She is always asking herself why she has so many problems and is chased by a dancing baby who was created in her own mind. In other words, she's a mess.

Then there's Jenny McCarthy and Pamela Anderson. I refuse to look up to a couple of women whose trademark is jumping up and down in a skimpy bathing suit and posing nude for Playboy magazine. To me, all these women were created by men, for men.

However, if you look past all this, there are still a lot of women who teach you to be yourself and to fight the male oppression, with whatever your talent is, whether it be writing, music, politics, art, acting or sports. Sometimes, however, being yourself is hard to do when you don't know who you are.

Teenagers today are drowning in media and have so many choices, that they just become confused. When they look around, they see some people saying, "be yourself, don't follow us." Well, maybe to some teens, being "themselves" is acting and dressing and even feeling like someone else. If they like the person, then that person is who they want to be, even though they don't know if their crown-wearing idol is an original. They may have been in the same situation when they were younger and chose to be like someone.

There are lots of people out there to influence you. For example, in music, women have suddenly been considered true artists. Canadian artist Sarah McLachlan created the festival of
music, "Lilith Fair," that included only female artists and was a huge success. This is amazing but, to me, they should be trying to break down the barriers towards men, not put more up against them. If a women calls herself a feminist because she hates men, she is not. She is just bitter.

Ani DiFranco
In music, there are a lot of talented women who write just as beautifully, like the musicians in the group Hole, Ani DiFranco, L7, Tori Amos, Fiona Apple, Sheryl Crow and Alanis Morrisette. These artists have the same kind of mood to their music. They are some of the true Riot Grrls who were created by female bands in the early 90's to get the bratty, post-pubescent attitude back that psychologists say women lose. This wasn't accepted as much in the 60's and 70's. When women were discovered, they sang safe lyrics that didn't challenge the listener and especially not the world, which has been done today.

The thing that Courtney Love, Ani DiFranco, Tori Amos and Alanis Morrisette and many others have in common is the personal level of their music. They tell the truth, which is the most important thing. Tori has sung about her miscarriage, her rape, sex, break-ups and bad moods. Courtney has screamed about her teenage stripping days, rape, drugs, sexual abuse, artificial beauty, her jail days and boyfriends. Ani has preached about her own sexual orientation (she's bi-sexual), men, feminism, appearances and she is one of the most successful independent artists around. She chose to sell albums out of the back of her truck rather than join a major label. Later she created her own record label called "Righteous Babe Records" and has become very successful. Alanis has achieved international stardom just by being in a bad mood.

Following the Riot Grrl movement is a kind of small therapy, where you can talk about your horrible experiences. However, Courtney Love has said that "the tragic is easy." Here's what she had to say in an interview on the television station, MuchMusic:

"You either do your own thing without the help of a major label and that's great, you know, God bless you. Or you go and you do your Nirvana thing, or you do your Soundgarden thing, or whatever, and you use that as your subversion, because you're just gonna get dropped. You're just gonna end up being a bartender and bitter anyway. You know? I mean, you don't scratch your balls and then say, ‘OK, now I'm on a major label and I'm not gonna write hooks for the people, I'm gonna prove how clever I am,' in the luxury of a major label. I believe we have had incredible careers because we were able to make a completely raw primal record, a completely, like, middle-level cathartic record and a completely polished, what I think is a master work, third record."

I think she is trying to get the point across that to last in the music business, you have to have
more than sad stories. The element of talent of course has to be there and she believes that Hole have done this. When she looks back at her "under the influence days", she recalls that, "you're writing morphine poems for the cat."

With Riot Grrls, it's the power of talent and attitude. With Ally McBeal, it's the power of the short skirt.

There is a major reward that women can look forward to - that we are being recognized and listened to. We just have to make sure that the right women speak for us. As Gloria Steinem has said, "Feminism is a revolution, not a public relations movement."

It's there and we will be fighting until that revolution has reached the entire world.