An illustration of a girl in distress reading hateful comments on her laptop screen in an article about Olivia Rodrigo and why society often hates young women who express their emotions.
Society has a harmful tendency to hate young women for expressing themselves. (Illustration by Moira Leclerc, Montserrat College of Art)

The Olivia Rodrigo Hate Train

The patronizing criticisms of many female pop stars demonstrate a consistent theme: We really love to loath young women, don’t we?

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An illustration of a girl in distress reading hateful comments on her laptop screen in an article about Olivia Rodrigo and why society often hates young women who express their emotions.

The patronizing criticisms of many female pop stars demonstrate a consistent theme: We really love to loath young women, don’t we?

If there is one thing that has stayed constant throughout history, from the Salem Witch Trials to the modern popularity of “Twilight,” it is society’s general hatred for young women. Many girls are mocked for their interests, their appearances and their hobbies. Take that young woman and put her in the public eye and you create a whole new monster. Some of the most hated public figures are either actors or musicians (or they’re otherwise involved in the industry), so imagine being a woman in both categories — like Miley Cyrus, Ariana Grande or Olivia Rodrigo. The first two celebrities are arguably household names, but you might be thinking: Who is Olivia Rodrigo? And why do we hate young women?

Olivia Rodrigo: State Mandated Pop Star

Olivia Rodrigo is 2021’s newest pop starlet and the latest of many Disney pop stars to break into the mainstream, fresh off the entertainment conglomerate’s conveyor belt. For her acting career, Rodrigo is best known for her roles on the Disney+ series “High School Musical: The Musical: The Series” and the Disney television show “Bizaardvark.” Musically, Rodrigo burst onto the scene with her critically acclaimed debut album, “Sour.” Rodrigo’s reign began with her hit single “Driver’s License” and continued with “Good 4 U,” both of which chronicle a seemingly one-sided, painful teenage breakup with her “High School Musical: The Musical” co-star Joshua Bassett.

Through her music, Rodrigo revived the angsty, dramatic and unambiguously teenage voice the mainstream pop scene has been lacking. She gives young women in particular a figure to relate to in their more melodramatic moments and reminds older people what it’s like to be in high school, when a breakup truly felt like the end of the world.

“Sour” has sold and charted extremely well, with eight of the tracks ranking within the top 10 of Billboard’s Streaming Songs chart. Her music videos also do extremely well on YouTube, with her most popular song, “Driver’s License,” racking up over 200 million views and “Good 4 U” coming right behind with 194 million views. She was also cosigned by the likes of Devon Lee Carlson, owner of the trendy phone case company WildFlower Cases and model who styled the “Good 4 U” music video.

So yeah, Olivia Rodrigo has had an amazing debut.

But of course, by the law of yin and yang, all of the love and praise Rodrigo received had to come with some hate as well.

Criticism of Rodrigo

Rodrigo, like other female pop stars (a la Taylor Swift), has been critiqued for “only singing about boys.” To the criticism surrounding the relationship focus of her discography, Rodrigo responded in The Guardian:

“I’m a teenage girl, I write about stuff that I feel really intensely — and I feel heartbreak and longing really intensely — and I think that’s authentic and natural. I don’t really understand what people want me to write about; do you want me to write a song about income taxes? How am I going to write an emotional song about that?”

To criticize Rodrigo for allegedly “only writing about boys” fundamentally misunderstands the essence of her work. The ethos of her work up to this point has been the uniquely high-school mentality of one’s first relationship and how the subsequent breakup rocks your entire world and sends you spiraling. As a high schooler, your relationship can become everything to you, so it makes sense that Rodrigo would feel intense emotions about her breakup.

This critique also exemplifies the burdens placed on the modern youth to be deeper or more political than those before them. Young people today are more politically active than previous generations, but does this mean that every single young person needs to be deep and that everything they do should be political? Is it fair to critique all art on its political merit when political value is not the only (or necessarily the best) lens in which to view art or the world in general? Regarding Rodrigo, isn’t it beautiful to see a modern young woman — a young Disney popstar at that — be unashamedly upset and wallow in her sadness and jealousy and insecurity, communicating her emotions as they come and not needing to worry about the implications of her words?

It definitely feels like women in art get more criticism than male artists for not being politically savvy, particularly when gender and relationships intersect. Rodrigo is an example of this, along with Lana Del Rey, who was accused of “glamorizing abuse” and setting women back hundreds of years. These two artists are women who candidly share their emotions and have been criticized for focusing on men in their music. Judgments of both artists seem to stem from expectations of what a modern woman should think and how she should act, when the main goal of feminism should be to allow women to be themselves shamelessly, to allow women to lead whatever lives they wish.

Some criticism of Rodrigo exposes the hypocrisy still present in Generation Z’s beliefs, particularly when it comes to body image. Despite the youth’s proclaimed acceptance of different body types, Rodrigo has been critiqued under the guise of “body positivity.” Rodrigo posted a picture of herself in a dress and people flocked to the comments, telling her to “eat more” and debating whether or not Rodrigo had an eating disorder. These responses directly contradict the dominant sentiment that you shouldn’t comment on people’s bodies and can be extrapolated to represent the frivolity and inconsistency of modern-day political stances, which are often reduced to Instagram infographics or slogans on T-shirts.

Why We Hate Young Women

So why do we hate young women? For being themselves. Young womanhood is a time of discovery, a time to grow and change and experience the world, a time of pain, confusion and fear. But girls are ridiculed for their growth. In Rodrigo’s case, she is mocked for not having the perfectly rational response to her first breakup, mocked for verbalizing her jealousy and insecurity through her music, mocked for being. Just being.

How can society make the world a better place for young women? By allowing them to be themselves, allowing them to express themselves and not ridiculing them for their emotions.

Writer Profile

Sydney Smith

University of Pittsburgh
Political Science

My name is Sydney Smith and I’m a political science major at the University of Pittsburgh.

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