"This is a convincing call to action." Publishers WeeklyWords and labels can hurt us all. And for many female musicians, the wounds are everywhere.
From stars like Britney Spears and Mariah Carey to classic icons like Yoko Ono, female musicians have long been the target of double standards and toxic labels in the media and pop culture: liar, crazy, snake, diva, slut, b*tch.
These words hurt—the popular expression “sticks and stones” is wildly wrong. Lily Hirsch confronts the full range of this sexist labeling as well as the repercussions, concentrating on the experiences of Yoko Ono, Courtney Love, Britney Spears, FKA twigs, Taylor Swift, Kesha, Mariah Carey, and Ariana Grande, among many others. While men can make outrageous backstage demands, women like Carey are punished as “divas.” A sign of supposed genius for men, “crazy” is a word of condemnation for many women—with legal ramifications in Spears’ case.
Hirsch dives into the world of these women, looking at their personal lives, relationships and breakups, music, media coverage, public reception, as well as the origins of these toxic labels and how they have caused serious damage. Can't Stop the Grrrls reveals the inner workings of misogyny and invites us to think about these remarkable women on their own terms—showing us how women have fought back too, sometimes reclaiming these words and their own stories through music.
Lily E. Hirsch is the author of Weird Al: Seriously. She has written five books on topics ranging from Jewish music's history to music in criminal law. When not teaching or writing as visiting scholar at California State University, Bakersfield, Hirsch blogs at insultingmusic.com. She lives in Bakersfield, California.
Foreword by Meshell Ndegeocello
Chapter 1—They’re Gonna Crucify Her
Chapter 2—“Yoko Oh No”
Chapter 3—“Yoko Love”
Chapter 4—Driving Britney Spears Crazy
Chapter 5—FKA twigs and the Twi-trolls
Chapter 6—Taylor Swift as a Modern Medusa
Chapter 7—Kesha Sebert v. Dr. Luke
Chapter 8— It’s Mariah Carey, Dahhhling!
Chapter 9—Ariana Grande and the “Dangerous Woman”
Chapter 10—Taking Back Bitch
Racist, Sexist Words
Afterword by Amy Ray, with Lily Hirsch
Musicologist Hirsch pulls from the lives of celebrities to illuminate the double standards and torturous mistreatment the entertainment industry has routinely applied to women throughout history. Readers might already be familiar with Yoko Ono’s or Britney Spears’s lives, but Hirsch brings them together with other maligned stars to create a powerful portrait of how the music industry, the press, and fans allow talented women to be ripped apart on an international scale…. For instance, male performers are often excused when they make outrageous backstage demands, while women performers are called “divas” or worse. The author addresses this sexism and its origins, and she offers an intriguing perspective that brings a deeper understanding of the problem and enriches this already excellent book. Readers will learn a lot about the stars they think they know with this well-researched, smart book about misogyny in the music industry.
Music historian Hirsch examines the sexist language that fans, critics, and artists use not just to devalue the work of female musicians but to delegitimize their very existence in music spaces. Encompassing decades of music journalism, Hirsch’s analysis is pointed and damning. The misogyny directed at female musicians is routine and reflexive, becoming even more vicious when the artist in question is a woman of color…. Can’t Stop the Grrrls is an important intervention in music criticism, a methodical yet impassioned chronicle of how language is weaponized against women artists—and how we can do better.
In this impassioned study, musicologist Hirsch calls out the music industry’s long history of sexism, racism, and toxic double standards. The author laments the media’s mistreatment of female artists, as when journalists Dan Carlinsky and Edwin Goodgold wrote in the Los Angeles Times in 1972 that Yoko Ono used her “hypnotic power apparently acquired in the Orient” to break up the Beatles, and, more recently, Janet Jackson was the subject of misogynistic coverage after her wardrobe malfunction during the 2004 Super Bowl halftime show. Britney Spears, Hirsch writes, was called “crazy,” an appraisal that was later used in a 2008 court case that would lead to her conservatorship, which ended in November 2021. But the book ends on a hopeful note: Hirsch proposes that a “real revolution” can occur with the amplification of women’s collective testimonies, because “there is strength in numbers—the stories of so many women—when they repeat in basic contour and language.” Hirsch’s arguments are revelatory, and she approaches her subjects with respect: “What is the right way to confront and challenge abuse when it involves someone else’s trauma?” This is a convincing call to action.
Can’t Stop the Grrrls permanently changed my understanding of the impact of misogyny on pop culture. So many modern fables that I had believed, like Mariah Carey being a spoiled diva and Courtney Love dragging down Cobain, were stripped away to reveal the double standards, along with plain old falsehoods, about these artists. I appreciate the dignity Lily E. Hirsch shows to the singers as she addresses sensitive topics, such as calling women like Kesha Sebert “liars” as they speak out against their sexual abuse. Hirsch speaks tactfully, yet frankly, about the obscene language and the disturbing experiences female pop stars have had to endure. These include profanity, racism, sexual and physical assault, substance abuse, and sexual remarks directed at minors. This book helped me gain a deep respect for female artists who have endured and overcome unimaginable obstacles, and I cannot praise it enough to anyone looking for a thoughtful read on the impact of sexism on the modern music industry.
This book is a right-on revelation and delivers thrilling feminist justice. Hirsch debunks canonical music criticism in how it sees women as artists, or more aptly, how it doesn’t. A real testament to the power of these artists and Hirsch’s critical powers, Can’t Stop The Grrrls is essential.”
As a new generation of music lovers grapples with separating the art and the artist (if such is even possible) in the wake of the long-overdue reckoning prompted by #MeToo, Can't Stop the Grrrls by Lily Hirsch is a powerful and important consideration of why words matter (and hurt) and the hurdles that artists and listeners face as they deal with the legacy of toxic masculinity that runs deep in popular music.
Lily Hirsch has written a much-needed exposé of the racist and sexist language long weaponized against women in music—she has also illuminated the many ingenious ways our icons have fought back. You’ll learn a lot from this powerful, passionate book.
11/19/22, Publishers Weekly: This book was featured in a roundup of diverse reads.
1/8/23, Ms. Magazine: Lily E. Hirsch wrote about the harsh treatment of female Super Bowl halftime performers ahead of Rihanna’s 2023 performance.
2/13/23, Ms. Magazine: Lily Hirsch wrote a commentary about the media’s misguided coverage of Rihanna’s halftime performance at the Super Bowl.
2/27/23, Publishers Weekly: This was featured as a PW Pick of the Week.
3/2/23, Choice Reviews: This title was featured in a roundup of forthcoming Women’s & Gender Studies books.
3/23/23, The Bakersfield Californian: Lily Hirsch and the book were featured in this article.
3/23/23, When Women Inspire: Lily Hirsch contributed a guest post about what she learned from writing her book.Link: https://whenwomeninspire.com/2023/03/22/author-lily-hirsch-sexism-music-industry/
5/26/23, Strong Songs with Kirk Hamilton podcast: Lily Hirsch joins Kirk Hamilton to discuss different aspects of music she's explored in her books.Link: https://strongsongspodcast.com/episode/the-light-and-dark-of-music-with-lily-e-hirsch
7/7/23, AP News: Lily Hirsch provided her expertise in this piece about Taylor Swift.