Misogyny in Musical Lyrics
By Alyana Santillana
Image via Alternative Press Magazine
“I’m in the business of misery, let’s take it from the top/she’s got a body like an hourglass and it’s ticking like a clock (...) Once a whore, you’re nothing more/I’m sorry that’ll never change,” says Paramore frontwoman Hayley Williams in her smash hit “Misery Business” (2007). Despite its massive success and cultural impact, the band has since suspended the song from future setlists for the time being with Williams claiming it was written from the “narrow-minded perspective of a 17-year-old.”
The same sentiments can be held for the earlier works of the renowned singer-songwriter, Taylor Swift. Since her first three albums were released when she was 15-19 years old, they were heavily influenced by teenage heartbreak. Her hit, “You Belong with Me” (2008), is now regarded as a “pick-me” anthem by our generation.
Similar to “Misery Business,” Swift’s angsty jealousy anthem, “Better than Revenge” (2010) is now seen as an exemplification of internalized misogyny: “She’s not a saint, and she’s not what you think, she’s an actress/She’s better known for the things that she does on the mattress.” Both songs encapsulate the very real, very strong, and very angry feelings following a breakup. Both songs are written from the perspective of a jealous woman projecting their anger onto their ex’s new girl. While envy remains one of our strongest manifestations of anger, its misdirected use can be a result of internalized misogyny, as seen in these songs.
Though the man is to blame for the woman’s misguided emotion, she directs her anger towards a (presumably) innocent party. In this situation, the man’s new woman is vilified for the act of being in a relationship while the player, liar, and cheater is still sought after and is the target of the ex-girlfriend’s affections. This phenomenon undoubtedly mirrors society’s double standard for men and women. While men are able to move from relationship to relationship with little grief, the women they use in the process are time after time the ones that are scrutinized. Even during instances of cheating, the woman is often the one blamed for her partner’s infidelity. Unfortunately, this behavior is sometimes perpetuated by other women as seen in many songs.
“Boys seem to like the girls who laugh at anything/The ones who get undressed before the second date. (...)Boys seem to like the girls who like to kiss and tell/Talking them up about things that do so well” -Daya, “Hideaway”
In her 2016 hit “Hideaway,” artist Daya blames other women for their interactions with men. The song has slut shaming and mockery, among other things. Most of all, it reinforces the “I’m not like other girls” trope which shames women for being feminine, sexual, and quite simply just existing. However, the artist herself went on to condemn these lyrics in early 2020 and even goes as far as changing them during live performances.
Thankfully, the present day has seen dramatic social change. We, as a society, have begun to break down our misogynistic tendencies with the popularization of ideas such as “women supporting women.” We are making a conscious effort to break down sexism that stems from within. Nowadays, we hold our musical artists to a higher standard. We continually call out lyrics that reinforce patriarchal ideals. New music reflects this.
Less than one year after the release of “Hideaway,” artist Hailee Steinfeld released “Most Girls,” a song that satires the “I’m not like other girls” trope whilst celebrating women from all walks of life. She sings, “Most girls are smart and strong and beautiful/I wanna be like Most Girls.” In a world where stereotypically feminine interests and traits are looked down upon, women are primed to feel shame in their femininity. For decades, they are taught to “not be like other girls” as a way to appeal to the male gaze or to get in society's good graces. However, being like “most girls” should be celebrated, as it exemplifies our breakage of the bonds which pit us against each other.
“Most Girls” by Hailee Steinfeld, Image via I Want My Pop Culture
Although the same post heartbreak angst felt by Swift and Williams is not gone
from the mind of a woman in pain, we have moved far past the days of projecting our own emotions onto other women. While their lyrics are not on par with the idea of “women supporting women,” we can still sing along to their hits with the knowledge that we are progressing past this era of music.
“Now I'm pickin' her apart/Like cuttin' her down make you miss my wretched heart/But she's beautiful, she looks kind, she probably gives you butterflies” -Olivia Rodrigo, “Happier” (2021)