Camille Paglia in Hollywood Reporter:
The entertainment industry has seen feminist spurts come and go. Helen Reddy's 1972 smash hit “I Am Woman” became the worldwide anthem of second-wave feminism. In 1985, Aretha Franklin and Annie Lennox did the slamming duet “Sisters Are Doin' It for Themselves.” The Spice Girls encapsulated sex-positive third-wave feminism with their 1997 manifesto Girl Power! Performing at the 2014 Video Music Awards, Beyonce flashed “FEMINIST” in giant letters behind her, but questions were raised about the appropriation of that word by a superstar whose career has always been managed by others, first her parents and now her domineering husband, Jay Z. With gender issues like pay equity for women actors and writers coming increasingly to the fore, girl squads can be seen as a positive step toward expanding female power in Hollywood, where ownership has been overwhelmingly male since the silent film era. For all its dictatorial overcontrol, however, the early studio system also provided paternalistic protection and nurturance for young women under contract. Marilyn Monroe was a tragic victim of the slow breakdown of that system: The studio made her, but in the end it could not save her from callous predators, including the Kennedys.
Young women performers are now at the mercy of a swarming, intrusive paparazzi culture, intensified by the hypersexualization of our flesh-baring fashions. The girl squad phenomenon has certainly been magnified by how isolated and exposed young women feel in negotiating the piranha shoals of the industry. A dramatic example of their vulnerability was the long-lens pap photo of Swift sitting painfully sad and prim on a Virgin Islands taxi boat after her tumultuous 2013 holiday breakup with pop star Harry Styles. Given the professional stakes, girl squads must not slide into a cozy, cliquish retreat from romantic fiascoes or communication problems with men, whom feminist rhetoric too often rashly stereotypes as oafish pigs. If many women feel lonely or overwhelmed these days, it's not due to male malice. Women have lost the natural solidarity and companionship they enjoyed for thousands of years in the preindustrial agrarian world, where multiple generations chatted through the day as they shared chores, cooking and child care. In our wide-open modern era of independent careers, girl squads can help women advance if they avoid presenting a silly, regressive public image — as in the tittering, tongues-out mugging of Swift's bear-hugging posse. Swift herself should retire that obnoxious Nazi Barbie routine of wheeling out friends and celebrities as performance props, an exhibitionistic overkill that Lara Marie Schoenhals brilliantly parodied in her scathing viral video “Please Welcome to the Stage.”