By Sam Kennedy
I’m not a Taylor Swift fan. I never have been, and I doubt I ever will be.
Don’t get me wrong- I admire her. A self-made woman who has stayed relatively true to herself over the last ten years while in the spotlight? Not an easy task. But let’s be honest- when it comes to revolutionary sound and lyrics, Taylor is pretty bland. Not that that’s a bad thing! We’ve all got our favorite songs to listen to on the radio. I personally have belted out “We are never, ever getting back together” with such drunken ferocity you would think it was me who dated Harry Styles. But Taylor Swift is just another pretty white face in a sea of more pretty white faces that run the pop industry with cookie-cutter music and overused hooks. She’s fun, not revolutionary. And that’s the best way I can describe her feminism as well, including her winning speech at the 2016 Grammys.
Let’s not discredit her victory—she’s the only female artist who’s won best album of the year twice. And the words she had for her fans WERE inspiring as she told them, “I want to say…there will be people along the way who will try to undercut your success, or take credit for your accomplishments or fame. But if you just focus on the work… you will look around and you will know that it was you and the people you love who put you there.”
This, of course, was a subtle dig at Kanye West who sang in his new song Famous, “I feel like me and Taylor might still have sex. Why? I made that b**** famous.”
Personally, I thought Taylor handled Kanye’s dig at her with class and elegance so props for that. Overlook the drama about Kanye though, the grumbling about how Kendrick Lamar should have won (he should have, but it’s fine) and whether or not people are liking Taylor Swift’s speech for the right reasons- this win WAS a feminist victory. Women are still struggling to receive the recognition that male artists get, dealing with double standards within the music industry, and constantly being used in tabloids as props and headlines. Seriously, when was the last time you saw an article about Adam Levine and Ed Sheeran going at it? Probably never.
But Taylor’s 2016 wins weren’t that exciting OR monumental.
I’m not trying to say that this isn’t a good step in the right direction for gender equality. I’m calling it like it is though. Taylor Swift gave a very nice acceptance speech telling women not to let other people try to take credit for or stomp on your successes, and that if you work hard your dreams can come true. And those are the kinds of speeches Taylor tends to give when it comes to feminism. Her main goal as a feminist is to be a cheerleader for girl power. That’s not a bad thing, just nothing new.
Her win is mostly for the new feminists, the white feminists, and the Kanye-haters. And the only group out of the three that should be really celebrating without sideways glances, are the new feminists.
Who are the new feminists? Those that are just now opening their eyes to the fundamentals of gender equality and how important it is. And Taylor Swift helps bring in new feminists.
How? Allow me to elaborate: Taylor Swift’s feminism is fun.
Whenever I listen to Taylor Swift, it’s always spur of the moment. I just so happen to hear her song come on at the bars or in my car and I crank it up. Her moments of feminism are the exact same way. I happen to notice it or hear about it and go, “Oh. That’s nice.” or, “Hmmm… questionable, T-Swiz. Questionable.” Taylor Swift’s feminism is peppy and
go-lucky and convenient. She talks about feminism if it just so happens to come up in conversation, and relates it back to her own personal experience. Taylor Swift is the queen of white feminism– not looking beyond her own personal experiences as a white woman in regards to sexism and gender equality. She doesn’t understand just how much white privilege has shaped her life and how exclusive she can be when talking about feminism. She’s not meaning to be malicious about it- she’s just unaware. Once again, she focuses on the fun and convenient side of feminism.
This “fun” feminism is okay though- on a surface level.. Taylor Swift is all about lifting up other women and being true to yourself, and that is a WONDERFUL thing to encourage young girls to do. This is why her win is so great for those that are just now starting to identify themselves as feminists, or are becoming interested in the concept of feminism.
If feminism was part of a lesson plan, Taylor Swift would be a great guest speaker on the first day. “Isn’t feminism fun?! Look! Girls can do what boys can do!” She would crow. And then she would talk about the great things feminism can do—on a surface level. Taylor Swift’s feminism is important in appealing to a younger demographic. She lets girls know that it’s okay to sing about boys and be emotional, and that they shouldn’t be shamed for it. She shows young women that they can have strong female friendships and be self-made. She shows young women that ‘feminism’ is NOT a bad word, and that it’s great to identify as one.
One of the best ways Taylor Swift is a feminist though, is that she shows that it’s okay to make mistakes and grow. In 2012, Taylor Swift was hesitant to use the word feminist. She interpreted the word to mean “boys vs. girls” and wasn’t comfortable using that. In her old albums, she had a couple questionable lyrics implying homophobia and internalized misogyny (blaming another woman for “stealing” her boyfriend, insinuating she’ll tell all of her friends her ex is gay). Since then, Taylor Swift has publicly come out and apologized for her past lyrics and for not understanding feminism. She remarks that she has learned feminism is about equality and celebrating the success of women.
Another recent example was when Nicki Minaj tweeted her disappointment about
black women being overlooked in the music industry (specifically addressing the lack of representation in the music video awards for colored women). This tweet was made after Nicki Minaj failed to receive a music video award nomination, and Taylor Swift did. She then thought Minaj’s tweet was a direct reference/complaint towards her. And while I initially rolled my eyes at Taylor Swift taking Nicki Minaj’s tweets about racism and sexism in the music industry so personally (come on, Taylor, focus on the bigger picture here!), she was very mature in listening to Nicki Minaj explain that racism and sexism go hand in hand in the music industry, and she was critiquing the system- not individual people, like Taylor Swift. Swift was quick to apologize to Nicki Minaj and took the time to learn why she was in the wrong.
It takes a lot of courage to publicly admit that you didn’t know what you were talking about and that you’re sorry. Some people still hold onto this supposed spat between Nicki Minaj and Taylor Swift as fuel for their contempt for Swift, but I try to focus on the positive side of things.
That being said, Taylor Swift isn’t the kind of guest speaker you would want to come in and talk about intersectionality or the extreme trials and struggles that come with being a feminist. Let’s be honest, we’d be more interested in having bell hooks or Eve Ensler as a guest speaker. We want to get to the core discussions about feminism. The nitty-gritty, not so fun parts. The parts about how we continue this revolution of change and growth. Because, let’s face it, it’s those parts that inspire action. And Taylor Swift just hasn’t really experienced that level yet. Taylor Swift still doesn’t understand the concept of intersectionality and is looking at sexism on a personal level, versus a broader spectrum.
With more self-reflection, perhaps Taylor Swift can be the kind of feminist icon that can start a chain reaction in the music industry. But her winning album of the year? Sorry, Taylor Swift. It’s a step in the right direction, but not big enough to be making strides.