by: Kat George
It was my 10th birthday and I was having a party at my dad’s house. I have vague memories of me and my friends running around the front yard doing a lot of screaming and the sort of general aimless mayhem children find so entertaining. Somewhere amidst us climbing the fence palings to bark at the neighbor’s dog and me trying to convince my dad to rent movies there were presents.
Amongst it all there were several CDs. This was the 90s—the excitement that surrounded doing away with the humble tape was palpable. I still remember when my dad first told me about ‘burning’ songs onto a CD—I thought I was going to explode with happiness. Gone were the days of sitting by my stereo listening to the radio, poised like a feline ready to strike with my finger on the ‘record’ button, in a bid to deftly record my favourite songs when they were played without missing the start (which I always missed).
And there, beneath the growing sea of wrapping paper was an innocuous plastic square and within it, the song that changed my youth. I can’t remember who gave it to me now, but it was one of the most important, defining gifts I’ve ever been given—the single (remember CD singles! My, weren’t we a crazy lot!) of No Doubt’s Just a Girl. It was my first taste of two of my favourite things: Gwen Stefani and girl power.
I listened to Just a Girl on repeat for weeks. I’d turn it up so loud the windows in my bedroom would shake, and I’d mosh around like I’d been possessed. I plastered by bedroom walls with images of Gwen Stefani and No Doubt that I’d torn out of Smash Hits magazine. I begged my dad to buy me the Tragic Kingdom album and at Christmas it was the only item on my wish list—I was ecstatic when I found it waiting for me at the foot of my bed in my Christmas stocking.
What ensued was Just a Girl induced delirium. I saved up all my pocket money and went to the army disposal store to buy oversized combat pants. My mum helped me tie-dye some tank tops and I started wearing a bindi in the middle of my forehead and blue mascara in my hair. I was a revolution; and as a pre-pubescent girl I was intoxicated by my new identity.
I was experiencing the first scratches of liberation. For the first time I was completely aware of my femininity and I was beginning to sense hints of the awesome power at my disposal, both sexually and intellectually. I became precocious—at age 10, I wasn’t about to let anyone fuck with me just because I was a girl.
I decided I wanted to be a commercial air pilot. Or a racecar driver. Or Prime Minister of Australia. I wanted to do all the things that girls weren’t allowed to do—and I wanted to look damn fine doing it. I think for the first time I realized that I could make my own rules and from that early age it was very clear to me that being a woman was more than just being an object of sexual desire in terms of what men wanted from me—I was learning that I could be desirable in whatever way I deemed right for me.
Recently I was standing in line at the local supermarket, and a mother and her tiny daughter were standing in front of me. The little girl began singing in her infant voice, “I kissed a girl and I liked it, the taste of her cherry chap-stick,” all the while gyrating her undeveloped hips and touching her body seductively. I was, frankly, shocked. Granted, I didn’t know this little girl in front of me. I didn’t know what her influences were, how her mother was raising her, or if she was even aware of the import of what she was singing.
Despite this I couldn’t help but feel sad for the little girl in front of me—I felt like her generation of pop icons was selling her short. I felt that this little girl was being explicitly told what was ‘sexy’ (and she was being sold a very extreme, alienating version of ‘sexy’) instead of being encouraged to determine it for herself. Moreover, she was being taught that sexy is the only tool that women have at our disposal. So yes, I felt sad for her—that she didn’t have a role model like Gwen Stefani screaming into a microphone, “I’ve had it up to here, am I making myself clear?”
Watch the video for “Just a Girl” below: