Pop Culture’s Always Had A Love-Hate Relationship With The ‘Girl Gang’

In 2014, Taylor Swift launched her most divisive project yet: The Girl Squad.
Within months, the world's social media feeds were flooded with photos of Taylor, Selena Gomez, the Hadid Sisters, Lena Dunham, Karli Kloss and more frolicking through Cape Cod, baking cookies and lighting sparklers. It was the epitome of old-school Instagram FOMO, with each individual slowly entering the peak of their It-Girl status.
After years of the media focusing on Swift's dating life and feuds with male celebs (who shall not be named), the Girl Squad seemed like a welcome breath of fresh air. It was Taylor, hanging with her other fabulous and famous friends; who could it possibly offend?
Some called it phoney. Others claimed it was cringe, and some even called it a cynical marketing ploy.
"The patriarchy allows men to have bro packs. If you're a male artist, there's an understanding that you have respect for your counterparts. It's assumed that we [women] hate each other. Even if we're smiling and photographed together with our arms around each other, it's assumed there's a knife in our pocket," said Taylor in an interview with Rolling Stone US back in 2019.
The quote summarises the overarching misogyny that has plagued society's view of female friendships for eternity. Women banding together either means one of two things — they're planning to destroy men (and therefore threatening their power), or they're setting out to destroy each other (pandering to the idea that women can't possibly bond because of deep-seated competition).
Over the years, we've seen pop culture satirise and comment productively on these stereotypes — think Mean Girls, Clueless and Bridesmaids — diving into the sad reality that women are unfortunately taught to see each other as competition rather than a support network. These films have all become classics in their own right. However, it can feel like when female friendship is celebrated on-screen for its pureness, it doesn't quite achieve the same treatment — or it's generally featured in media aimed at kids (think The Cheetah Girls or The Sisterhood Of The Travelling Pants).
So, it's fitting that Grease: The Rise Of Pink Ladies has come along to progress the narrative.
As a kid, the Pink Ladies — the sassy, street-wise and oh-so-fabulous teens that ran the halls of Rydell High — were probably my first introduction to a 'girl squad'. They were effortlessly cool, carefree and tightly bound. While the ideals of the 50s were (and are) not relevant to my modern life, something rebellious still resonates about the Pink Ladies — which is exactly what the prequel Grease: Rise Of The Pink Ladies celebrates.
Acting as a series prequel to the classic film, the story dives into how the OG-girl squad came to be. The four girls — Jane, Olivia, Cynthia and Nancy — find themselves bound together after being outcasted because they don't mirror the traditional passive, 'good girl' archetype.
Jane is slut shamed, and rumours of her 'going all the way' ruin 'her reputation'. Olivia is rejected for wanting to own her power in sexuality, Cynthia is kicked out of the T-Birds because they 'don't want a girl around', and Nancy finds herself distant from her old friends as she explores her own interests (that extend beyond woo-ing guys).
When it seems like the world (their peers, teachers and parents) has turned on them, their bond is an act of resistance and power in the face of blatant sexism.
There's a distinctly intersectional take on the statement the gang makes as they accidentally take over a school assembly —  they want to make Rydell High 'fun for everyone' — a sentiment that rings as true today as it does in the fictional 1950s American high school.
It's a comforting phenomenon to see on screen — especially after the Internet's fixation on girl-on-girl drama recently. Additionally, although we have progressed since the 50s, I couldn't help but feel directly punched in the gut when lines like "a girl's reputation is all she has" and "girls aren't supposed to want it, they're supposed to put up a fight," are said in the first episode.
In 2023, we're still fighting for our voices on consent and inequality to be heard — so the Pink Ladies coming together genuinely feels revolutionary and touching. While it might seem like in the age of TikTok's 'girls-girl' discourse and empowerment anthems that we're beyond the need for a concrete squad, it's still nice to know that at the end of the day, there'll always be someone to have your back.
Grease: Rise of The Pink Ladies streaming exclusively on Paramount+.
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