First of all, a disclaimer with a warning here. I write my opinion in length about a particular subject. The warning comes because the article referenced contains a lot of hate against Taylor Swift. They do have some valid points, but they also contain blatant insults. This one’s a bit of a tough pill to swallow, so you’re looking for something light… you might want to skip this post.
This editorial was originally written three years ago, then discarded and re-written several times. This post remains very imperfectly written to my dismay.
Let’s travel back in time to February, 2010. The 2010 Grammy Awards ceremony has finished with two particular events in juxtaposition to each other.
- There’s a performance by Taylor Swift along with Stevie Nicks that will be remembered, and painfully referred to by a lot of critics. The Sparkly Dressed had an off night.
- The other event, a victory to some and a blow to others, is that this is the very same night that Taylor wins the Grammy for Album of the Year for Fearless.
Several articles show up, including this particular post in Autostraddle named Why Taylor Swift Offends Little Monsters, Feminists and Weirdos. The article washes its hands of all wrongdoing by stating early on they are not attacking Taylor Swift the person, but the product. Sometimes they stick to their word and sometimes they expressively attack the person without any remorse. There’s surgical analysis of Taylor’s most popular songs, and liberal interpretation of their meaning.
Back then I almost wrote something back, but I decided against it. I’m a guy. I can’t really debate feminism. It’s a battle I can support, but most definitely not one I can claim to know. Truth, with my hand in my heart, is that some of that analysis, although raw and motivated by jealousy, does hit close to the heart. The author has admitted that she used to be a blind fanatic of Lady Gaga which sparked some of her comments, but stands by her statements regarding Taylor.
The big statement from the article (to the point that some think this is the article’s title) is this: Taylor Swift is a feminist’s worst nightmare. Keep in mind the original article was posted two albums and three years ago.
The songs behind Fearless were written back when our Fearless One was just sixteen years old. The context they are written in is one of a sixteen years old girl. From a feminist’s standpoint, that line from Fifteen regarding Abigail giving “everything she had” might be reducing a girl to just her sexuality is a valid point. However, from the point of view of a fifteen year old girl, virginity – and the very first time is… and I’m really sorry for my French here… a big fucking deal. You can’t ignore the context of that song – it’s called Fifteen.
But there are valid points, and that’s what makes an article like this so hard to read. A big one is that there’s a lot of references in Taylor’s music to traditional roles for both men and women. There’s the whole virgin/whore dichotomy mentioned in the article, which has been alluded to repeatedly. The whole girl-in-white versus girl-in-red from the You Belong With Me video seems to reaffirm it. Yes, I will give them that.
But speaking about the Princess in Red… she’s actually created a lot more music since then. Music in which she actually takes control of a lot of things in her life, albeit she still writes songs about breakups and feelings. So at this point, let’s add some new material into the conversation. After all, even the article wants to judge her as a grown up.
At this point, I’m going to stray into other more recent articles that have been written about Taylor’s songwriting in a negative light.
One song that often comes up is Better Than Revenge from the Speak Now album. It’s actually a song about revenge against a girl who “stole” Taylor’s boyfriend from her. Let’s be clear that the boy was completely a willing participant and everybody knows it. If I take every literal reference from other female artists in the same way, they would look much worse. Taylor doesn’t really do anything to her enemy in Revenge. No tire slashing, no bitch slapping, no death threats, nothing. She calls her out. That’s it.
In the end, it’s a freaking song – inspired by true events, but as much as Fearless was mostly autobiographical, Speak Now has a lot of inspiration but not necessarily chronicles events in particular. Otherwise, we’d be hearing from the bride from Speak Now in the tabloids already. Red contains even more songs created from ideas born out of several experiences but not always a particular person.
Speaking about songs, going back to February 2010, the Autostraddle article gives a symbolic analysis of which songs contain which imagery. There are four songs (at the time of Fearless, mind you) that contain a reference to “fairytales and princesses.” Four! Wait… four? Are we working on a different scale or am I missing something here? Sorry, I’m Canadian and we use the metric system. Is four a lot? (I’m being sarcastic here, this is rhetorical – chill)
Perhaps this should be put in the same context that other articles when they state that Taylor has had 6 boyfriends in the last six years and is therefore a slut? Is your calculator on acid? But that’s not the conclusion this article gets to… Here’s the icing on the cake. If I were to subject another artist’s entire body of work to just collecting the number of times certain words appear on the lyrics, specially if I focus on the words I want I can really make them look bad.
Yes, she uses a lot allusions to crying, eyes and boys a lot. Do you want to try to use that rule against other female singers and see how it comes up? Remember that the way this is done is just by mention, not by context. Which is ridiculous, because White Horse which clearly states “I’m not your princess, this ain’t a fairytale” is really against the whole idea of fairytales and princesses. If you want a grown up song from Taylor, listen to Haunted, Last Kiss, Treacherous… Then again, we’re always going by songs that the critics know – as if for some reason we can only debate with the stuff they have heard about.
Even the lyrics to I Knew You Were Trouble detail a much more complex relationship ground than her early stuff. Although speaking about complexity… even in her first album there’s that lost gem, Tied Together With A Smile, written about a girl going through bulimia.
Let’s talk turkey here. I will agree that the evidence against Taylor being a feminist is, specially if you consider her younger material, not very favorable. The strangest thing is that Taylor herself professes not to be a feminist – or does she? The truth is that the Blonde With The Sparkly RED Guitar has never quite answered that question, because it’s kind of loaded.
Feminism gets a very bad rap from mainstream media, unfairly. A lot of misguided movies tend to paint a cruel picture of a militant extremist hater-of-men type. Popular icons will generally stay away from being labelled that way. It’s not the most reliable of sources, but let’s see what Wikipedia says:
Feminism is a collection of movements and ideologies aimed at defining, establishing, and defending equal political, economic, and social rights for women. This includes seeking to establish equal opportunities for women in education and employment. A feminist advocates or supports the rights and equality of women.
Everyone ok? Nobody hurt? Yeap. So, at the heart of it all, it’s an idea, a thought for… hold on to your white horses… equality. The Sparkly Dressed has stated some phrases that could be considered as seeking such, however I will concede she’s never taken a clear stand. I would really love that she would, but she’d rather not do anything that could be construed as a political statement. The Enchantress has is a positive role model already. Her songs are there during times of heartbreak. That is not weakness, that is support.
To recap, I think Taylor Swift is a potential feminist – more so now than before.
And although she doesn’t get much love, say from website Jezebel, she did receive a shoutout from punk rock feminist pioneer Kathleen Hanna on an interview with the Daily Beast posted back in March, 2o13:
I’m totally into Taylor Swift. I think she has super-clever lyrics, and I love that she writes her own music. Some of the themes she writes about are stuff I wish was there for me when I was in high school, and I’m so happy she really cares about her female fans. She’s not catering to a male audience and is writing music for other girls. I don’t care if she calls herself a feminist or not. There is something that she’s doing that feels feminist to me in that she really seems to have a lot of control over what her career is doing. She’s 23. People say she’s dating all these guys. Well, yeah, she’s a young person and is dating all these people ’cause that’s what you do when you’re young. John Mayer can fuck 84 people in one day and nobody calls him a slut. I think that’s the subtext of some of the things she’s said recently.
-Kathleen Hanna, the Daily Beast
I’ll give TaylorTalk a shoutout here, their interview with @feministtswift has made me rethink about reworking my old ideas that I never published back then. I found myself nodding in agreement with a lot of what was said. Checkout Episode 68 when you can.
Finally, I’d like to take a stand here myself. I strongly believe man and woman should be equal. I strongly believe equality should be a human right. And I’m saying should because I recognize that we’re still addressing issues about it and are not at that point yet.
Yes, this is a segue into another topic…
You probably know where I’m going here. On June 26, the Supreme Court of the United States decided to leave the decision on whether or not to ban gay marriage to each state. According to CNN, it has been hailed as a historic victory but it’s a bit more of a dodge. Each state will have to take their own decision. To be honest, they should take the same stand and let each household take their own decision. In other words, I believe that every couple should have the right to decide whether or not to get married.
For me that means two grown up people, regardless of gender, that love each other. And to tell you the truth, true love is hard enough to find already. Let it be.
Coming up on the Calendar!
- June 26: The Red Tour at Rexall Place in Edmonton, Alberta. Presale on February 19. More information on Ticketmaster.ca.
- June 29: The Red Tour at BC Place in Vancouver, B.C. On sale now. More information on Ticketmaster.ca.
- June 30 & July 1st: The Agency’s David Cook performs with Morgan James at the Montreal Jazz Festival
- July 6: The Red Tour at Heinz Field in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. On sale now. More information on Ticketmaster.
- July 13: The Red Tour at Metlife Stadium in East Rutherford, New Jersey. On sale now. More information on Ticketmaster.