A review of Girls, Interrupted: How Pop Culture Is Failing Women — Lisa Whittington-Hill
I’ve been looking forward to reading this book for a very long time — ever since I first caught wind of the fact that Lisa Whittington-Hill was writing it. I’d read — and loved — the first essay that appears in this collection, “The Problem With Middle-Aged Women,” and I was eager to read anything else Whittington-Hill might choose to write about pop culture’s deeply problematic relationship with women.
The book is meticulously researched and yet deeply personal at the same time.
And, as it turns out, my enthusiasm for Girls, Interrupted was well-placed. The book is meticulously researched and yet deeply personal at the same time. Whittington-Hill proves herself to be a wise and compelling narrator as she repeatedly circles around a few key themes: who ends up being celebrated by pop culture as opposed to being overlooked or erased, and who is — and isn’t — considered likeable or worthy of redemption when things go wrong.
In a powerful essay entitled “The Women Who Built Grunge,” Whittington-Hill invites her readers to consider whose artistic achievements are remembered over time and whose end up falling by the wayside, “to notice whose legacy is remembered, who gets the anniversary covers, whose cultural significance is celebrated — and whose isn’t.”
It turns out that being the close friend or partner of a more successful male musician can help to secure your legacy as an artist.
It’s almost as if women need someone a bit more credible — a.k.a. someone male — to vouch for their talent. Even now.
Likewise, Whittington-Hill challenges her readers to pay attention to the celebrity memoir double-standard. Not only are the women who pen celebrity memoirs expected to spill their guts in a way that simply isn’t required of men, they’re also expected to apologize for the very same “personal excesses” that men are routinely allowed to get away with.
Apparently, the whole boys will be boys thing that my grandmother tried to tell me about, back when I was a teenager, is still very much in vogue. I wasn’t buying it then and I’m sure not buying it now.
Of course, as many a female celebrity has discovered the hard way, making an apology doesn’t necessarily mean that you’ll be granted forgiveness or given the gift of a second chance. As Whittington-Hill points out, “This redemption narrative is strictly reserved for the boys.”
And speaking of the boys — or, rather, all those men who like to tell her that pop culture no longer has a gender bias, “that the problems have been fixed, that we can pat ourselves on the back for a job well done and move on”— Lisa Whittington-Hill, a veteran journalist with decades of reporting experience to her credit, has a simple message: “This book exists to prove otherwise.”
If, like Whittington-Hill, you’ve had a bit of a love-hate relationship with pop culture over the years — perhaps welcoming the mini-vacation from reality it can offer at the end of a really bad day, but also raging at the way it neglects or even erases the reality of women’s lives, and the lives of some women more than others — then you’ll find the 13 essays in this collection both incredibly validating and infuriating.
I know I did.
Girls, Interrupted: How Pop Culture Is Failing Women by Lisa Whittington-Hill was published by Véhicule Press in October 2023.