‘Who do you think you are?’: The uncomfortable misogyny behind recent criticism of Victoria Beckham

Spice Girls 2019

Returning to the write for The Queerness, Jon B addresses recent criticism of Victoria Beckham’s decision not to join the Spice Girls on their comeback tour and what this says about the misogyny that still dogs successful women making their own choices in today’s society.


You may have noticed recently that the Spice Girls have been touring. Sarcasm aside, social media has been awash with reaction to this tour and the vast majority of it has been incredibly heartwarming. People from a wide cross-section of backgrounds and ages have taken a huge amount of joy from this tour, many reliving childhood and teenage memories of the 1990s. Perhaps, in what feels like ‘uncertain’ political times, where discriminatory rhetoric and violence against LGBTQ+ people seems to be resurgent, we need even more to cling to joyful events such as this.

Unfortunately, however, we can’t always have nice things, not even where the Spice Girls are concerned. Unless you’ve been in a complete social media Star Trek Discovery-style alternative universe for the last six months, you will know that Victoria Beckham elected not to join the rest of the band on their tour. Reaction to this has varied from the disinterested to downright vitriolic, getting steadily worse in the run up to the culmination of the tour at Wembley on Saturday, with commentators posing the question, “Surely, Victoria will surprise everyone / think of the fans / support the rest of the girls [impose your own motivation as you see fit] and make a surprise guest appearance?” Or, at the very least, she would accept their invitation to turn up and watch, maybe obliging us all with a little shimmy at the side of stage?

Plot twist: she didn’t. Sharpen your knives, ladies and gentlemen.

The reaction to Victoria Beckham, who we should remind ourselves is a free person entitled to make her own decisions, deciding not to play ball and do what’s expected of her is, at best, bizarre and, at worse, says an awful lot about the misogyny that permeates our society at all levels, including our own community. Most specifically, for the gay community, a woman in the public eye going against our expectations is open season for, and I use the term with a heavy heart, ’shade’.

The criticism of Victoria Beckham has several roots. Firstly, she’s committed the cardinal sin of not making herself as ‘likeable’ as the other Spice Girls and, to be clear, nothing that follows here is a criticism of the other members of the band, rather a criticism of how they’ve been perceived, especially by the gay community. She’s not as ’smiley and cute’ as Emma Bunton (this reminds me of a job I once had in the service industry where a female colleague and I delivered food to separate tables while wearing pretty similar facial expression and the then owner of said business told my colleague to smile more, but didn’t give me the same instruction). Additionally, she’s not treated us to stage shows with ‘Sink The Pink’, like Melanie C at ‘Mighty Hoopla’ in 2018, and she doesn’t have the appeal of Geri or the troubled personal life of Mel B. She’s got on with on her own thing without seeing the need to make herself ‘likeable’ or ‘accessible’, which is clearly [sarcasm] completely out of order; she could at least smile, just once.

The reaction to Victoria Beckham, who we should remind ourselves is a free person entitled to make her own decisions, deciding not to play ball and do what’s expected of her is, at best, bizarre and, at worse, says an awful lot about the misogyny that permeates our society at all levels, including our own community.

In terms of just getting on with her life, one of the reasons cited by Victoria Beckham for choosing not to join the tour was her commitment to her business. Suffice it to say, you can scour the internet for any number of conflicting financial reports about the current health of her fashion label, but those aside, the net worth of her business is still in excess of $100 million and I’d happily go out on a limb and consider that to be a success. But here’s where a successful woman is unable to catch a break; if there are issues with the profitability of her fashion label, it’s actually incredibly selfish of her to, well, spend time focussing on that rather than going on tour – come on Victoria, priorities please. Alternatively, if all is rosy in the world of fashion for Victoria Beckham, then it gives us licence to resent her under the ‘successful women are a threat’ banner, and even in 2019 this is sadly not hyperbole.

Another reason Victoria Beckham gave, under pretty intense media bombardment, for not wanting to join the tour was her family. I mean, really Victoria? Family? You’ve got lots of children, yes, but aren’t most of them nearly grown up and surely the rest will have nannies and the like? Don’t expect us to believe that you care about your children when you don’t smile for the cameras. Besides, hasn’t Geri just had one too and she’s dragging herself up on stage to perform for the masses. So much selfishness.

I’m assuming that I don’t need to do a ‘sarcasm klaxon’ at this point, but just in case, consider it blown. To be clear, I’m not making implicit criticism of any of the Spice Girls for going on tour when they have children and being high profile working mothers (quite the opposite in fact) but alternatively, we don’t get to decide that it’s not a legitimate reason for Victoria Beckham to say that she doesn’t want to do that because of her family. In terms of either her business or her family, these are her choices and only she has agency in making them. She doesn’t have to put you or your desire to see her perform first.

There’s also a far more serious side to this, one that is conveniently overlooked by a variety of people I’ve seen taking to social media in the last couple of weeks to say, in one breath, how wonderfully uplifted they felt to see the Spice Girls back whilst, in the next, making a catty aside that the band clearly never needed Victoria in the first place. It’s pretty well documented that Victoria Beckham struggled with anxiety and panic attacks right before the 2012 Olympics performance. To be clear, she’s not made reference to this as a reason for not joining the tour this year (although I am happy to be corrected here) and it may not have been a factor in her decision. Nevertheless, given that this is a situation she’s had to deal with in the past, it’s not much of a stretch to imagine that it may have been a consideration for her now. If it is, she doesn’t owe it anyone to speak up about it and we should still try to have enough empathy to consider that it might be part of the equation.

In terms of either her business or her family, these are her choices and only she has agency in making them. She doesn’t have to put you or your desire to see her perform first.

What we have is a situation where double standards abound. Many people suffer from anxiety and panic attacks; many choose to speak out and many choose to battle it privately, and neither approach is any less valid than the other. When people do speak out about it on social media, they invariably receive support and love and that is heartening to see. We also often remind ourselves to be kind to people because of the struggles that we don’t see them face and which they don’t make apparent to us. Do we stop doing this just because we want to dress up in a ‘Girl Power’ t-shirt on a Saturday night and see people perform for our entertainment?

That also brings us to one of the most inherent hypocrisies of the criticism of Victoria Beckham for not ‘following the script’. I wonder how many people have attended these concerts and screamed ‘Girl Power’ as an ode to the message the Spice Girls promoted in the late 1990s, but then taken the time to criticise one of the members of the band for doing what she, a woman, wants to do in 2019, and not what they wanted her to do? I would suggest that those people have lost sight of the entire notion of ‘Girl Power’ and the empowerment of women if they can be so crass. To do what you want to do with your life as a girl or a woman was the actual epitome of the Spice Girls’ message, and that message is far more important than other people reliving their childhood through pressuring one of their 90s icons to do something they don’t want to do.

We don’t own our icons; no amount of being a ‘super fan’, of anyone, gives you ownership over them, even if you’ve bought their material in every format under the sun. I’ve been a lifelong fan of Madonna, but I’ve never been able to see her live for a variety of reasons. I guess I would love for tickets to her tours to be cheaper or, in the case of Madame X, more accessible, but I don’t feel that I’m owed that consideration. Similarly, as a lifelong fan of Kate Bush, Before The Dawn was a dream come true for me, but before that I didn’t harbour a simmering resentment of the artist for choosing not to perform live because of the fact that this would have added something extra to my life.

I wonder how many people have attended these concerts and screamed ‘Girl Power’ as an ode to the message the Spice Girls promoted in the late 1990s, but then taken the time to criticise one of the members of the band for doing what she, a woman, wants to do in 2019, and not what they wanted her to do?

Ultimately, it’s very easy for us to dehumanise performers, especially women who we don’t find ‘conventionally’ likeable, when they don’t do what we want to do. It’s a shame that an event that brought so much joy to so many people was marred by such a very thinly veiled streak of misogyny.

Follow Jon B on Twitter (@lepus_octavian)

Photo credit: BBC.com