excavating Taylor Swift’s priviledge
If I had bought into Taylor Swift’s rhetoric, the one that pervades “You Belong With Me” and “Love Story,” I may not have hemmed my skirts so short. I would probably still think that if I sat around waiting long enough, some douchey high school senior with a bunch of roses would save me and all my problems would be solved. Because really a lot of the time that’s what she’s saying: “Romeo save me”? It’s over-romanticized, and a pretty shitty interpretation of the play: If anything, Romeo totally fucks Juliet over. Taylor Swift kept singing about some princess story in its grossest, most pathetic form, long after the 1950s came and went. Maybe Ophelia could have appreciated the sentiment, but my hope is that in 2017 Prince Charming in a “stupid old pickup truck” would not satisfy most young women.
In 2012, when asked whether or not she was a feminist, Taylor Swift told The Daily Beast, “I don’t really think about things as guys versus girls. I never have. I was raised by parents who brought me up to think if you work as hard as guys, you can go far in life.” I don’t know what she’s trying to say here—I guess Taylor Swift has managed to jetpack decades ahead of the rest of us and live in a constructed fantasy of gender blindness. I am really, really happy that this seems to work for her. But I’m still projected to make 79 cents on a man’s dollar, meaning it’s still game on for me.
That’s old news though—apparently, Swift has changed her ways. No longer the sweet country girl who commodified the Madonna/Whore complex, today she has embraced her role as a feminist. Well, not enough to endorse Hillary Clinton, but who cares what a woman with 85.6 million Twitter followers has to say (or in Swift’s case not say)? Maybe she does not want to take a political stance. But one fewer woman’s voice in politics is the last thing we need. To me, it seems like anyone with that much influence should try to use it for good like so many other artists have.
Swift explained her silence on feminist issues to the Guardian thus: “As a teenager, I didn’t understand that saying you’re a feminist is just saying that you hope women and men will have equal rights and equal opportunities,” she said. “What it seemed to me, the way it was phrased in culture, society, was that you hate men.”
Swift manages to do a couple things with this quote. First, she talks about her ignorance. That’s fair, she’s from the South (sort of) so maybe she really didn’t have an opportunity to educate herself in the liberal hotbox we have gotten used to here at Brown. But in the time that she took a public stance on the issue, she still had not actually bothered to Google the definition of the word.
Second, she makes a statement that supports anti-feminist rhetoric and shames feminists who are angry. (Again, recall that we make less money than men. In the U.S., we also hold less than one third of the seats in Congress, don’t get paid maternity leave, and couldn’t get a tampon in a Brown University bathroom until this semester. Also, this is a very, very generous version of reasons women should be pissed, but I digress). Swift’s comments, which she clearly hoped would end the conversation around whether she’s a feminist, actually only indicate that she’s willing to outwardly take a sort of half-ass feminist stance to keep the media from questioning her.
Then this past August, Swift did manage to make a very public statement against sexual assault. Although she did not initially report the event, when DJ David Mueller groped her and sued her for defamation, she won a symbolic $1 countersuit against him. In her statement following the event, according to Salon, she said, “I acknowledge the privilege that I benefit from in life, in society and in my ability to shoulder the enormous cost of defending myself in a trial like this.” This is an important step for Swift but, in my opinion, is also too little too late. Taking a stance against a man who groped her is by no means a groundbreaking step for feminists.
“My hope is to help those whose voices should also be heard,” Swift added.
I think Swift should consider whether she has done enough to make her own voice heard on issues that have nothing to do with boys. How celebrities use their power says a lot about their values—and it seems to me like Swift could do a lot more. I do not mean to say that Swift should change her image or persona or even the music she puts out: She should do what she wants with her work, and, thankfully, in 2017, she can. But that’s still not true for all women, and Swift needs to consider how she wants to use her privilege and influence.