So I wrote a series of articles on Taylor Swift over the summer, and hoped at least one might get published as an op-ed somewhere. Alas, this was not to be. The essays were rejected by about a dozen publications in the U.S. and the U.K.. Probably because, according to my dad, my writing was too zealous, my POV righteous, and my tone too arrogant, to be palatable from a totally non-established anti-establishment ‘unknown’ (and the disclaimer or two injected in lieu of this criticism were apparently insufficient), but I prefer to blame the tame, dull, cautious, and fad-fuelled predictably homogeneous news sources themselves. However the reprehensible timidity and sheep-like mentality of the media is an article for another day (but there will no doubt be one on this blog in due time), and now’s the time to self-publish part one of my piece on one of my favorite personages currently alive.
Although these essays are no longer directly topical, late is better than never, so here we go:
PART ONE. In Defense of Taylor Swift… Again.
Unfortunately the time has come once again, for an article with this headline to be necessary… But this time, can we please forget the media’s favorite supporting characters, and start talking about what we should be talking about when we talk about Taylor Swift? (Warning: things are about to get quite righteous).
Taylor Swift may not be our generation’s feminist paragon, but she is without a doubt our generation’s pinnacle of feminism. And the recent backlash against her, is, in my eyes, a far more derogatory indicator of the psychological sexism still permeating our society, than of Taylor Swift herself.
To keep the obligatory background context brief, I’ll go over the latest fracas surrounding Swift, with a quick sweep of some of the recent internet soundbites resulting from the aftermath of Swift’s public break-up with DJ Calvin Harris, her fast-moving relationship with British actor Tom Hiddleston, and further pleas from Kim Kardashian and Kanye West for attention.
In the last couple weeks, sentiments like:
“Taylor Swift’s reign is crashing down before our eyes and I’m loving every minute of it”,
“Taylor Swift the Feminist (©Taylor Swift) asks not what she can do for feminism, but what feminism can do for her.”,
“Taylor Swift is Cold-Blooded and Calculating”, and
“Tom, I have only one suggestion for you: run!”-
-have flooded cyberspace. Meanwhile, #TaylorSwiftIsOverParty trended on twitter, the comment boxes of Swift’s instagram profile were swarmed with snake emojis, and a woman from Louisiana dragged her religion’s reputation further down the toilet by citing the reason she ‘preach[es] christianity’ to be a comparison of Swift’s hypothetical nether regions to those of her daughters’, using the visual aids of two ham sandwiches. Oh and Taylor discreetly visited a children’s hospital to sing songs with patients. But who cares about that.
Well. I do. Actually. And I’m sick of seeing headlines like “Criticising Taylor Swift Isn’t About Negativity Towards Successful Women, It’s About Vindication”. So I’ve written my own thinkpiece (or thinkpieces rather) in response.
I’ll address the Kim/Kanye feud first, as that is the celebrity drivel most ‘topical’ at the moment, and therefore the most likely to be read. But I’ll be brief.
To recap, basically Kim Kardashian released a chopped up social media video of Kanye speaking on the phone to Taylor, informing Miss Swift of his plans for his latest single ‘Famous’. Taylor’s ‘thank you’ to Kanye for the ‘heads up’ supposedly confirms the celebrity couple’s earlier claim that: Taylor did in fact officially approve the misogynistic lyrics in the song regarding herself (me and Taylor could still have sex/I made that bitch famous), which in turn, supposedly translates to: Taylor is a lying sexist bitch.
I’ll admit Taylor does not come off at her best in the ‘snapchat’ of the phone conversation. But since when is cut and paste a reliable form of evidence? It’s too easy to twist conversations when edited out of context (as the recording in question heavily is), and we have no idea what Kanye was saying to soften, maneuver, and potentially guilt-trip Taylor, before and in-between the clips of the phone call. No, Kanye’s ‘me and Taylor could still have sex’ lyric, that Taylor laughingly called ‘a sort of compliment’, does not send a positive message to women, but Swift would have understood it was West’s prerogative to remain true to his artistic voice and its lifelong chauvinistic style.
Also, the lyrics Kanye did speciously consult Taylor about, only served to confirm Kanye’s own delusions and bizarre obsession with Taylor, and thus exposed and embarrassed him more than they insulted the songwriter. The line Taylor took issue with after the song was released, ‘I made that bitch famous’, is that which was conveniently left out of the ‘incriminating’ phone conversation, and that which slanted the semantics of the song as unequivocally sexist and degrading, while unequivocally undermining and misappropriating Swift’s achievements. Yet no one else other than Taylor’s die hard fans seem to be giving her the benefit of the doubt.
But really? When it comes to the question of who actually is in it for the fame and publicity in this fiasco, and the characters involved are a woman who became renowned for her skills with the guitar, songwriting, and country music, and a woman who is a celebrity because of an infamous criminal lawyer father, reality TV, and a sex tape… The media and general public have somehow contorted the former into being the calculating attention-whore ??
What has happened to basic human logic?! The only fame-whore here is the man writing a song entitled ‘Famous’. And why is no one calling out the irony of Kim trying ‘expose’ Taylor as manipulative, when she’s the ones who is proving the conniving nature of her and her husband’s antics, by releasing footage that, in the sheer fact of its existing, strongly suggests this ‘character assassination’ was pre-conceived and planned.
And lastly, even if Taylor did contrive to have the release of Kanye’s song lend a dramatic feminist flare to her Grammy acceptance speech (either immediately upon learning about the planned lyrics, or later upon further consideration), as some have asserted, why are women complaining? It’s a savvy move, taken in the interest of empowering women and their work, and why should Taylor be anything other than fake and disingenuous to someone who literally stole her moment and ruined her triumph the evening she won her first major Grammy, and is still trying to deny the legitimacy of her talent and take credit for the fruits of her labour?
Of course there will always be an appetite for the show that is; the great falling from grace, but why are women tearing apart Taylor Swift too? Why is Kim going after Taylor more than Kanye? Those soundbites I quoted from various new sources earlier in this essay? All but one of them were written by women. And this regurgitation of venom directed towards Swift is made all the troubling by the fact that females are grabbing their pitchforks alongside the men, and all the more symptomatic of the patriarchy that still dominates the modern western world.
This phenomenon is one we need to start discussing more, one that, in my not so humble opinion, is a direct product of the ideological sexism that still reigns as supreme in Hollywood as it does in Wall Street, that tells us all of our fellow women are threats and competition, that forces women to turn against each other because there is only one high profile position in the corporation, only one role in the comedy, allocated for those possessing two X chromosomes. And we women need to take responsibility for some of the culpability, need to stop reinforcing this system by continuing to adhere and comply to it, and start questioning and defying it.
Which brings me to the other, ‘older’, internet-breaking event of: Hiddleswift. Why is our society so uncomfortable with the notion that Taylor Swift has finally found the true love she has been looking for for so long? Why are we so resistant to the idea that Hiddleston might just be an English gentleman who is hopelessly in love and OKAY with letting go of outdated notions of masculinity and conventional gender roles (which, contrary to popular opinion, makes him MORE of a man, not less of one)? Is it because our society refuses to allow America’s ‘Little Miss Perfect’ to have procured the last piece of her puzzle of perfection?
I think a lot of people look at Swift and see ‘white’, ‘privilege’, and ‘pretty’, and are unable to see much beyond that, to see that Taylor Swift is also part of a minority. Taylor Swift is a woman. A woman who will have worked like a pack mule, and exercised what is undoubtedly a formidable IQ and an incredibly resilient brand of courage, to be where she is now. And although Taylor has accepted plenty of financial payments and prestigious awards and commendations for her music, she is yet to be given the ideological credit she is warranted for her accomplishments as a woman and contributions to feminism.
Because shouldn’t we be applauding, not shaming Swift, for not being precious about her private life in this case (Hiddleston), a case in which, for the first time, Swift has a boyfriend she can be proud of, who in turn, is proud and loud in his unhesitating proclamations of commitment? And isn’t one of the inevitable consequences of Swift’s advertising this newfound whirlwind romance, the normalizing of the still foreign concept of women being as capable and deserving as men to possess more status in the standard heterosexual relationship dynamic? So why then, upon witnessing Tom Hiddleston wearing a goofy ‘I ❤ T.S.’ tank top while celebrating a holiday with his girlfriend, is the common reaction amongst individuals not that of cheering, but of recrimination and mockery?
And why, even if Hiddleswift does turn out to be a stunt, would that turn of events be such a detrimental smear on Swift’s character? As a fan of ‘meta’ I would personally find it brilliant if the whole relationship was all an experimental elaborate hoax art project (a la Joaquin Pheonix/‘I’m Not There’), commenting on the double standards of public opinion/the media, and the mirages that can be presented to the paparazzi in the interest of protecting privacy. At the end of the day, the ‘answer’ to the quagmire that is ‘Hiddleswift’ does not interest me beyond its service as a barometer of sexism in today’s day and age. Would this or that explanation make me think any more or less of Taylor? No. Because I love Taylor Swift for who she is as a female artist, not who she is as a female on the dating marketplace, or the choices she has to make as a celebrity and businesswoman (that I will never be able to judge her for or understand as I will never know what it’s like to have grown up in the limelight, to even just be in the limelight, and to negotiate every hurdle that that limelight hurls at one). Because I do not care about dissecting her current personal life and/or master plan because I’ve respected the results of almost everything she has done up until this point, so I trust her.
Because I care about outcomes, I care about facts, I care about the fact that, whether intended or not, Taylor Swift is helping all women by simply being Taylor Swift. I care about the fact that Taylor is the lead writer of all of her lyrics and the lead composer of all of her songs. I care about the fact that to me, and to many, her music is delectably catchy, invaluably relatable, and unbelievably easy to dance to. Most of all, I care about the fact that Taylor Swift has reached her levels of success without ever once exploiting her sexuality, or allowing others to exploit her sexuality, as a female pop star, as someone enmeshed in perhaps the most sexuality-saturated profession for women that exists. I also care about the fact that Taylor Swift earned more money than any other celebrity alive, male or female, last year, without ever marketing herself as a desirable sexual object (another recent headline that seems to have been forgotten in lieu of ‘worthier news’). I care about the fact that, in spite of all the negative press Taylor has had to cope with throughout her career, since being a teenager, she has not only dealt with continually being the beacon for all slutshamers and bitter keyboard warriers to hurl their hurt at from the comfort of their anonymity, she has continually continued to create. And that, I imagine, takes a tremendous amount of fortitude and integrity, and warrants an enormous amount of merit and respect.
So THANK YOU Taylor, for keeping at it, for never depriving your fans and the world of your art, for having enough strength and self-esteem to be able to disregard the vast number and types of people constantly trying to tear you down (something ALL girls and women alike need more of, and thereby need in a role model), by making music out of your experiences with hate, by never failing to transmute the destructive into the constructive. I for one, will always be grateful, and aware.