Teardrops On My Car - or, Why Taylor Swift Doesn't Seem To Drive Much
There is no shortage of coverage on Taylor Swift. In the music industry, in teen magazines, on TV, or even (yes) feminist circles – she’s a cultural icon; how could we not talk about her? I think of her as a guilty pleasure. I think her songs are catchy and cute and though her obsession with boyfriends and her slut shaming are certainly far from feminist, I don’t think that listening to Taylor Swift songs spells doom for the feminist movement. It’s impossible to cover all the feminist/antifeminist implications of Taylor’s music in a single post. I just want to point out a pattern I have noticed over the course of her three albums: she mentions driving a lot. This is not a phenomenon unique to Taylor or even music in the country or pop genres. Cars are very important in our daily lives and in our culture. They’re a method of transportation. A status symbol. A ticket to freedom. Of course they’re in our songs, too.
As a young adult, Taylor is legally of age to drive and because she is now a rich pop star I’m sure she can afford an array of fancy cars I can only dream of. Yet, in her songs, Taylor almost never seems to actually be the one driving. Who, then, are the owners and operators of the vehicles she sings about?
Why, her boyfriends, of course!
Or her exes, or the guys she longs for.
The point is Taylor tends to (according to her songs) spend a lot of time sitting contentedly in the passenger seat while her boyfriend drives (“I watched you laughing from the passenger side”; “he’s got a one-hand feel on the steering wheel”; “two AM riding in your truck” – the list goes on and on). The few times she talks about herself driving tend to show her in a sad and lonely state (“I drive home alone”; “I see your face in my mind as I drive away”).
Many more gifted feminist writers than I have touched on Taylor’s musical obsession with the guys in her life, but I’ve never seen anyone write about cars in Taylor’s songs. I don’t think that Taylor is part of some conspiracy to keep young women from wanting to drive, but I do think her use of cars and driving reflects larger social norms about power in romantic relationships. As I said, cars are a symbol of freedom and independence. And in most movies and television shows, who in a young male/female relationship drives the car? The boyfriend. Girls are more often shown walking or getting rides from Mom or (of course) Dad. Girls have to wait for their boyfriends to pick them up and they must ask their boyfriends to drive them home at the end of the night.
The power is in the guys’ hands because it just isn’t manly to have to wait for your girlfriend to come pick you up. Or for her to drive you. Why? Because driving offers a kind of power and autonomy that we’re often culturally uncomfortable seeing in the hands of women (especially young women) and even more so when the men in their lives do not have this power.
I don’t think that in reality guys have cars so much more often than girls do. I would imagine that the number of teenage guys and girls who have (or have frequent access to) cars is roughly equal. I think the gender driving disparity among teens in moves and television comes from perceived gender norms, not any basis in fact.
I personally love to drive. I like deciding where I am going to go and when and knowing that I can always count on a sober driver. And when I drive alone, I like to blast my music and sing along loudly (and, of course, contemplate the songs I’m listening to from a feminist perspective). I’d take that freedom over a boyfriend with a nice car any day.
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