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The rallying cry of "Girl Power!" has been around since the early 1990s, when it was first roared by the punk band Bikini Kill and taken up by everyone from the Spice Girls to tween clothing manufacturers to Beyoncé. Cosmetics giant CoverGirl is shouting it out again with its new #GirlsCan social-media blitz. The campaign, which launched with a spot during the Sochi Olympics closing ceremonies, leads with Ellen DeGeneres wistfully intoning, "Girls can't," and then flips that notion on its head with a cascade of positive messages from Pink, Katy Perry, Sofia Vergara, and Queen Latifah (and Ellen, of course) describing how they beat the haters and lived their dreams.

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"I heard that girls couldn't rap. I rap," says a steely-eyed Queen Latifah in the spot, looking like the boss she is. "Girls couldn't own their own businesses? I own my own business." A nice touch is scene stealer Sofia Vergara adding in Spanish that she was told, "Girls can't play the lead." Also featured are Janelle Monáe, teen rapper Becky G, and an unidentified female hockey player. On Monday, Soledad O'Brien announced that she was teaming up with CoverGirl to produce a series of videos called "Girls Can," sharing the success stories of young women she's met through her nonprofit educational foundation.

It's easy to be cynical about a cosmetics company preaching female empowerment, but virtually no one is. As a society, we seem to have come around to accepting that wearing makeup isn't inherently evil: just like chocolate ice cream and socks decorated with cats, it's not a necessity, but it's fun. Adweek named the spot ad of the day, and the video is quickly racking up views on YouTube: since it was posted four days ago, "Girls Can" has been viewed over 800,000 times and received nearly 4,000 likes. "'I like it when people say I can't . . . '" wrote one commenter, echoing singer Pink's declaration, "because it makes victory all the sweeter, and makes me laugh all the harder, when I prove them wrong. #girlscan #run the world."


There is still debate about the concept of girl power in general. Some question the use of the word "girl" over "woman" in the context of discussing gender rights. Others, meanwhile, challenge the validity of leaving disempowered boys out of the discussion. In the spot's YouTube comments, one critic wrote, "What about boys? They are of no value to you? . . . Real empowering messages should be sent to the kids (boys and girls) living in tough neighborhoods, that need to go to school and move up in life."

Supporting all children is a valid issue, of course, but honoring the shared experience of females doesn't negate that. It's a different issue altogether. Perhaps that's why the #GirlsCan spot, as simple as it is, is getting so much buzz and resonating with hundreds of thousands of women, young and old. Many females have bittersweet memories of their girlhood, both as a time when they felt most free from society's expectations of them as females and, at some point, the moment they ran smack into the forces that made them feel like "girls can't." If anything, the successful and diverse women chosen by CoverGirl to represent the brand testify to the absurdity of that limiting idea.

— Sarah B. Weir

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