Taylor Swift: Possible Feminist?

I love Taylor Swift. According to iTunes, I have listened to her latest CD, Speak Now, 31 times. I have bought every magazine that featured her on the cover in the past two months and read each interview multiple times. I stalk her Twitter account. Basically, I have become a fangirl stereotype.

I know. You're probably thinking, "Wow, another teenage girl who likes Taylor Swift. How out of the ordinary considering that she is ranked #12 on Forbes’ Powerful Celebrity List and seems to win something at every award show she attends, whether she was nominated or not.” But this has been an interesting experience for me because I have never really looked up to celebrities.

When virtually all of my friends went through a fanatic phase for a certain emo pop punk band Sophomore year (literally all of our conversations were dominated about musings of their inner thoughts, likes, dislikes, childhood dreams, whether they preferred Unicorns or Narwhals etc.) I rolled my eyes and ambivalently dealt with it. As my friend literally writhed in her seat next to me while watching Taylor Lautner take off his shirt in New Moon and immediately began to plan their wedding, I internally struggled with the messages about unhealthy relationships the movies was sending.

But for Taylor Swift, I have become a stereotype. And normally, I’d feel unsettled by such a fact. But not this time. Why? Because Taylor Swift is feminist (even if she doesn’t identify as a feminist…that I know of). I know there has been debate about this, especially here on the fbomb, but let me explain.

I think my personal journey with Taylor started when my boyfriend and I broke up (of course it did). My best friend was also dealing with a break up, and to her credit, she found T-Swizzle first. During one of our marathon bitch sessions about how the opposite sex and people in general really do suck, she mentioned how she had bought the Deluxe version of Speak Now and had it on repeat. She said that while nobody else really understood, Taylor did. I was skeptical, but the next time I was at Starbucks trying to convince the barista to fill my Speedway 64-ouncer with coffee (FOR THE RECORD I offered to pay extra but they weren’t having it), I noticed Speak Now at the register, and just as Starbucks assumed I would, I saw the swirly purple of her pretty dress on the cover and impulse purchased it.

Thus began the Taylor Swift immersion. Dear John outlined everything I wanted to say to my ex-boyfriend. Better Than Revenge perfectly summed up what I wanted to say to my former friend who had written the love letter to my boyfriend that spurred out break up, as did Mean (um, I’m pretty sure I actually shook the house with the loud volume I mustered to spew the line, “All you are is mean, and a liar, and pathetic, and alone in life and mean.”). And HELLO The Story of Us perfectly summed up the first time I had to see both of those jerks again at school (*general note* don’t date people that go to the same school as you. Especially when your school only has 400 people and like 5 square feet).

Even when my friends were sick of listening to me, I could sing along to Taylor Swift – it was as good as therapy. When I felt guilty about how petty my emotions seemed, when I wanted more than anything to just forget and move on and not spend another minute thinking about things that didn’t really deserve my time, her music reflected that. And how did I know that I had officially moved on? When I played Speak Now from start to finish and realized I was jamming just because it was good music, not because I had a bevy of pent up emotions.

But what about her being feminist? Well I haven’t forgotten that. The music industry in our society has gotten to the point where listening to the radio is really not so much better than flipping through a fashion magazine. Both bombard us with messages about how to look and act, and those messages aren’t necessarily the healthiest. If it’s not the Pussycat Dolls (I mean, really, Pussy. Cat. Dolls. Enough said.) telling us to try to be hotter than other girls to compete for guys, it’s some rapper telling us to shake our asses or lick their lollipop. Or, in the less detrimental realm, songs that try to capture real experiences are so base and are more reflective of a half-hour situation comedy than real life.

Now, Taylor may have written a few songs that err on the ridiculously romantic side. And I get that those generally employ gender stereotypes, heteronormativity and set us up for disappointment in our relationships. But REALLY how many of us can say we haven’t had similar fantasies? Also, I don't think there's anything wrong with having high standards in our romantic lives, even if a prince riding in on his steed may be a little too high. And as long as we supplement those love stories with songs that remind us that we were all naïve freshmen once, everybody makes mistakes, and that it’s okay that that douchebag hurt you, he doesn’t deserve you anyway- which Swift also supplies us with - well, then, we're just listening to an accurate description of the range of emotions we experience in our lives. I just don’t see her being a hopeless romantic dreamer as hugely detrimental to the feminist cause when she backs it up with songs that clearly show the converse to those fantasies, and plenty of songs that are straight up empowering.

Taylor Swift tells the truth. She is able to sum up the teenage experience in a way that completely expresses every emotion I’ve felt in the past 4 years in 4 minutes increments. She honestly depicts what teens feel from the most embarrassing regrets of our lives to the ultimate high points, and makes us feel like feeling all of those things are good. There's no shame. There's no sense of not living up to some fucked up societal standard. She’s just plain honest and wants to connect with her audience - rather than be an unattainable ideal -- and that comes across. She inspires connections; not just between her and her fans, but amongst fans -- when we listen to her lyrics and think to ourselves It's like she understands my life we realize that that is the same thing the rest of her fans are thinking, and we're able to connect with each other. If that's not sisterhood, then I don't know what is. Also, her willingness to be a real girl amongst a sea of over-produced, image-controlled feminine ideals posing as “artists” is something that as a feminist I can seriously appreciate. She is very aware of her position as a role model to young women, and takes great care to set a good example.

Maybe Taylor Swift’s songs don’t represent a perfect feminist ideal. But we don't live in an ideal world. And in my opinion she represents the epitome of a poised, gracious, philanthropic role model in the reality that we've got. And I sure as hell appreciate her for it.

So, Taylor Swift. Rock on. And learn more about feminism. I think you’d like it.

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Julie Zeilinger
Founding Editor of The WMC FBomb
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