There was clearly a point in time when many feminists wouldn’t have considered Taylor Swift a feminist poster girl or a staunch advocate for anti-sexism. She put herself in the passenger seat instead of the driver’s seat. Her early songs like “Love Story” and “You Belong With Me” reinforced tired old Disney princess stereotypes, a manic pixie chasing after boys, trying to reel in her prince, and pining to pick out a white dress and live happily ever after in a fairy tale dream world (or exacting revenge on ex lovers or their current girlfriends, even slut shaming -- remember “Better Than Revenge”?).
And then a funny thing happened on the way to New York. (Taylor moved to New York, if you hadn't heard.)
Taylor grew up, matured (though I stand by the fact that a grown woman can still walk around the city with her cat, thank you very much), started hanging out with outspoken feminists like Lena Dunham. She appeared on French-Canadian talk show "Tout Le Monde En Parle" in September 2014 and broke down feminism to its absolute most basic components:
"So many girls out there say 'I'm not a feminist' because they think it means something angry or disgruntled or complaining. They picture like rioting and picketing, it is not that at all, it just simply means that you believe that women and men should have equal rights and opportunities."
This, after telling The Guardian in August 2014:
"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. For so long it’s been made to seem like something where you’d picket against the opposite sex, whereas it’s not about that at all. 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 realize that I’ve been taking a feminist stance without actually saying so.”
Taylor Swift realized she was a feminist all along. She said it herself. And it’s clearer than ever on 1989.
Sure, the album has plenty of boy fodder, but it’s also about Taylor accepting her sexuality without shame on tracks like “Style” and “Wildest Dreams,” freeing herself from the shackles of unhealthy relationships (“Clean”), seeking healthy ones on “This Love,” and, above all else, putting herself first. And while “Welcome To New York” may sound like a synthy loop of New York bonhomie, she cheers on same-sex love. And while “Shake It Off” may superficially feel (and look) like the follow-up to Toni Basil’s “Hey Mickey,” it’s about being totally and completely your own person (and being utterly f-ck-free.)
And even if Taylor didn’t write “Shake It Off” as an overtly feminist anthem or a direct response to sexism, in refusing to be silenced or defined by her haters, Taylor Swift is making a feminist statement and taking a stand against sexism. In fact, my very smart, very cool new friend and fellow feminist (actually “fellow” sounds weird since it’s a such a clearly male term, but that’s another conversation for another time) Laci Green, a sex educator known for her frank, funny, fearless YouTube show "Sex+," had a fascinating feminist take on the new Taylor Swift era whose dawning we’re witnessing:
“My understanding of a lot the hate Taylor Swift gets is that it’s really fueled by sexism," Laci explained. "This idea that she is the crazy bitch ex who will date you and who will manipulate you and then go write a song about you. As if these guys are all victims and that Taylor is just this vindictive drama queen. When really, the way I see it, is that her music has always had always a feminist heart beat because she’s writing about her experiences. She’s telling us stories. And that’s a big part of what feminism is about. It’s letting women of all walks of life tell their stories -- you know, obviously Taylor’s privileged, she’s rich, white, she’s conventionally beautiful. But it’s just as important to be able to share her stories because feminism is about getting all women to be able to tell their stories."
“And I think that a powerful thing, in terms of the backlash, is that it’s about trying to make Taylor be quiet. And I talked about in the video how this backlash actually has more of an effect than just making Taylor feel like 'Oh, I shouldn’t talk about my experiences because people are going to see it in a certain way.' It sends this message to all of her young adoring fans that if you’re a woman who talks about her experiences or being wronged by a lover or something that you’re going to be shamed for it. You know people are going to tell you to be quiet and that you should not talk about it at all. Taylor Swift keeps pushing her message and refuses to be silenced. The album is kind of this movement away from a woman who used to write about feeling intertwined with a guy and then kind of like found love in herself, and didn’t really need that validation anymore.”
In refusing to be defined by her relationships and refusing to be silenced, Taylor Swift has become an anti-sexism crusader and feminist crusader.
Agree with Laci? (I’m not here to tell you how to live your life, but you probably should agree with her because she’s basically the best). Perfect, because every week she’s going to be bringing you pop culture news through a feminist lens on her great new MTV YouTube show called "Braless."
And obviously, for the first episode, we had to start with Taylor Swift: Taylor Swift is a feminist. And Laci's here to welcome her to the club.