Is The "Feminist" Criticism Of Hayley Williams Part Of A Bigger Problem?

2 June 2015, 12:31 | Updated: 8 May 2017, 17:09

Hayley Williams in "Bad Blood"
Liam Dryden

By Liam Dryden

Paramore's "Misery Business" is a little problematic lyrically; but does it matter?

Paramore frontwoman Hayley Williams has recently become one of a steadily increasing number of openly feminist stars; but, as always, with a vocal stance on social justice often comes a wave of criticism. Sadly, this time it comes from her own camp.

Speaking in a post on her Tumblr last night, Hayley addressed recent commenters that discuss "how [she] can’t be feminist or whether or not [she's] a "good" feminist", based on lyrics from older Paramore songs like "Misery Business". The 2007 release, that narrates a rivalry with another girl for the attention of a guy, includes lyrics that trash and shame the other girl, most notably referring to her as a "whore".

But while the single is definitely a notable part of Hayley's track record, she insists it doesn't reflect the Hayley of 2015.

"Misery Business is not a set of lyrics that I relate to as a 26 year old woman," she explains. "I haven’t related to it in a very long time." 

"Those words were written when i was 17… admittedly, from a very narrow-minded perspective. it wasn’t really meant to be this big philosophical statement about anything. it was quite literally a page in my diary about a singular moment i experienced as a high schooler."

It should be obvious that someone is likely to change their stance on literally anything when they age ten years; but the criticism that sparked this discussion is just one example of a much bigger problem that the internet seems to be facing in its slow steps toward progress.

"Callout culture" has become a prevalent issue, mostly among Tumblr communities, in which public figures will have to deal with people going back years of their internet footprints to find instances of any problematic, uninformed or sometimes bigoted opinions, and use these "receipts" as a framework for their judgement of the person in the present day. 

Regardless of their current opinions or stance on social justice, all manner of musicians, actors, and even internet personalities are still held under scrutiny for unchecked opinions, from any time between a few months and ten years before.

A more extreme example is the case of sex education vlogger Laci Green, when in 2012 her apologies for years-old transphobic and Islamophobic comments snowballed into death threats from supposed "'social justice' Tumblr" users that resulted in her being forced to go underground for a month, even having to move house.

Hayley Williams admits in her post that "my experiences - including my mistakes - have shaped me and made me someone i’m happier to be. in songs and in life." While her instance of past transgressions is considerably tamer than some other celebrities, this evidence of growth, not to mention the hundreds of hurdles she has crossed as an inspiration for young girls worldwide, should not be overshadowed by the writings of her teenage self.

"i'm a 26 years old person. and yes, a proud feminist. just maybe not a perfect one?"

Personal growth matters, and not one of us remain completely unproblematic throughout our lives. If a public figure's character or opinions still reflect the "receipts" that have been brought up against them, then as potential role models they should absolutely be held accountable. But when someone has taken steps to grow and improve as a person that fans can be proud of, then the past should be treated as such, and left there.