This is the 25th installment of Ilana Kaplan’s series documenting the evolution of girls and women in New York City over the last quarter-century. Her last one chronicled the 1990s.
It’s hard to believe now, but the 90s were a fairly innocent era. Parents were still teaching girls about menstruation and holding them back from going outside to play. Even if they didn’t, girls as young as eight or nine were still taught to “be good” and “help” their parents.
Girls weren’t yet going to school, and only a small percentage of women were getting married. The idea of the blue-haired princess didn’t yet exist, the first male wrestler had just done “Rocky III,” and the world’s first Internet site was registered in 1989.
Now it’s hard to imagine that idea, let alone that of feminism. Nor can it be easy to imagine the idea of self-expression. The term “self-expression” has been around for years. (“Who says I can’t wear a cowboy hat?” “No, no, no, those were things your parents taught you.”) But it was still barely in use when the 1990s rolled around.
Meryl Streep, in a spot-on Julia Child impression, calls it a “new revolution” and goes on to quote Steve Martin’s 1996 book, “The New Girlie Revolution.” Martin wrote that he believed “clothing, hair, shoes, jewelry, cosmetics and other personal effects are not only the showcase for our individual selves, but the tools to understand and come to know them.” That is exactly what Meryl Streep is suggesting.
Empowerment isn’t the only shift that took place. Our levels of self-doubt started to rise, and if you were a little worried about your figure or health, you couldn’t talk to your mother like you could now, much less have an open and honest relationship with your doctor. Teen pregnancy was seen as the scourge of the parents, rather than the social downfall that it was.