Embracing Taylor Swift's Feminist Awakening
It’s that time again. Every two years (like clockwork) we get a brand new Taylor Swift as the young starlet reinvents herself with each new album release, the fifth of which will be released in just a few days. Back in 2006, a doe-eyed, bouncy-curled country singer got us all crying on our guitars. In 2008, we got the relatable, romantic high-school years Taylor, followed by the more angsty, revenge-driven, and revealing Swift in 2010. Two years ago, the pop star, clad in short-shorts, rang in the fun, dubstep Taylor. However, the 2012 Taylor also came with a horrible, sad revelation that caused some of us to tear down our posters and feel betrayed by America’s best friend.
Let me refresh your memory. In 2012, Taylor Swift made some unsavory and, frankly, uneducated comments about feminism. When asked if she considers herself a feminist, Swifty 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.”
Now, I don’t know about you, but I just always assumed Taylor considered herself a feminist. She had helped me through so many tough times. She was like the wise, eloquent therapist/best friend that we all leaned on no matter what happened: fights with friends, break-ups, almost-relationships, and just generally anything that involved emotions. She empowered us, she told us it was going to be okay, and she was just plain cool. Of course I thought she was a feminist, until she said she wasn’t.
There was disbelief and denial, and an amazing Twitter account in response to Swift's comments. But, ultimately, it just became really easy to hate on Taylor, which was demonstrated by the outcry following loud, proud feminist Lena Dunham's public adoration of Swift.
However the Dunham-Swift union proved to be the greatest thing to happen to pop music this year. The 2014 Taylor is the Feminist Taylor (cue confetti-throwing). In late August, Taylor discussed her feminist awakening with The Guardian, stating: “Becoming friends with Lena – without her preaching to me, but just seeing why she believes what she believes, why she says what she says, why she stands for what she stands for – has made me realise that I’ve been taking a feminist stance without actually saying so.”
In between happy dancing and excitedly tweeting, I noticed something in Taylor’s interview that struck a chord with me. In discussing her newfound feminism, Swift said:
“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. What it seemed to me, the way it was phrased in culture, society, was that you hate men. And now, I think a lot of girls have had a feminist awakening because they understand what the word means.”As someone who was fully a part of the anti-Taylor crusade before this revelation (while secretly listening and crying to her music, of course), I began thinking about our society’s newfound obsession with shaming stars who haven’t found feminism...yet. While I do think that a lot of the comments that celebrities make about feminism are just plain wrong and often result in confused definitions of feminism, I always forget that these public figures are usually very young. Moreover, they don’t have the benefit of going to a liberal all-women’s school like I do or have amazing friends (like my friend Julie Zeilinger or Taylor’s friend Lena Dunham) who write enlightening books and have feminist rants with you. It’s easy to get angry and crucify these celebrities for not understanding feminism, but ultimately Taylor’s awakening allowed me to realize my own hypocrisy.
If you’re reading this, if you’re on The FBomb at all, it’s because you have probably had this “Aha!” moment and discovered women’s issues. For some of us, it wasn’t something we grew up with or learned from our parents. I know that I wasn’t comfortable calling myself a feminist until I got to college and realized that it wasn’t a dirty word. Before that, I started sentences with “I’m not a feminist, but…” and totally finished those sentences with tenets of feminism. I participated (amongst friends) in shaming other women until I realized how totally not cool that was. If I was going to pull out the torches on some pop star I don’t know, I might as well pull them out on the younger, less educated version of myself.
We seem to expect that celebrities have feminism all figured out. Perhaps this is because some celebrities are awesome feminist role models -- like Beyoncé, who proudly stood in front of the word “feminist” in all caps on live, national television. I’m not saying that every female celebrity (or women generally) must identify as a feminist because I’m not in the business of telling others what they should believe. A lot of people in the public eye are incredibly young and haven’t had the education that some of us have had. Moreover, they are ensconced in an incredibly patriarchal industry that expects them to fill certain archetypes, so it might be scary for them to warm up to the term that is culturally equated with hating men. They are brands and the term can hurt their careers. In a weird way, I get it even if I don't agree with all of it.
My mission here lies in my own regrets. Rather than admonishing Taylor for not knowing what feminism is, I should have written a piece educating her and hoping she would see it, or tweeted her the link to this site. If a friend of mine didn’t understand feminism, I wouldn’t pull out the pitchforks: I’d talk to her, recommend some books, and at the end of the day, I’d respect her views. Educating each other -- rather than fulfilling an angry feminist stereotype -- is the only way we can spread our message. We need to be the Lena Dunhams to the Taylor Swifts of the world.
And as for the anger? I’d rather just shake it off.
More articles in WMC FBomb by Category: Feminism, Media
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