Taylor Swift is Everything We are Taught to Hate about Women
Updated: May 27, 2021
The alleged ‘snake’ has shed her skin and a lot of patriarchal stereotypes along with it.
Crying is okay...if the teardrops don’t fall onto your guitar. You can have ex-lovers… if your list isn’t ‘long.’ You can have Bad Blood with someone… if you don’t have conventionally attractive friends who stand by you in superhero attire. You can be a fearless leader… if you’re not a woman (in the music industry.) Those are the unspoken rules which women in the music industry are subjected to. Taylor Swift broke all these rules; it gave her a reputation, gave us Reputation, and gave the music industry a much needed reality check.
In the light of Taylor Swift being the first woman to win the Global Icon Award at this year’s Brit Awards and the nostalgia of her re-recordings, I decided to look at all the other boundaries she has broken for women in the music industry. People hate Taylor Swift because she is everything we are taught to look down on in women while simultaneously encompassing everything we are meant to celebrate in men. Despite the media scrutiny which Swift has faced in her years as the music industry’s leading lady, she is still breaking records fifteen years and three genres later. As someone who is highly critical of the way I see women represented in the world and so obsessed with Taylor that I know the lyrics to “Christmas Tree Farm,” (criminally underrated song,) it seemed axiomatic that I dissect how Swift reached this kind of success despite the media narratives she just couldn’t shake off.
Most of us have heard Swift’s truth in the ‘scathing’ lyrics she is so acclaimed for. We knew about Jake Gyllenhaal stealing her heart (and her scarf.) We’ve heard about how John Mayer has a sick need to give love and take it away and that Kimye is getting their karma (in the shape of divorce papers, apparently).
The album 1989, despite some Bad Blood, seemed feud free and more of a deja vu to when Harry Styles liked her good girl faith and tight little skirt. However, everyone glazes over the meaning behind Blank Space. A track that many would love to believe is about a high profile celebrity fling, but was actually about Swift’s biggest controversy to date; Taylor vs the Media. The song was written as a satirical take on the media’s perception of Swift as a promiscuous serial dater who exploited men by using their relationships as songwriting material.
Slut-shaming is the media gospel for selling articles and Swift could not escape the ignominious headlines. People wanted to hear about her fallouts and mock her relentlessly because she was successful while being everything a woman ‘shouldn’t.’ Blank Space replaced 1989's lead single "Shake It Off" at the top of the Billboard Hot 100 chart, making Swift the first woman in history to succeed herself at number one. This was the first time I saw that the parts of Swift we were taught to ridicule, such as her dating habits, contributed to her success.
The truth is for women - you just can’t win. If you’re ‘too nice’; you are fake, hence the resentment of the blue-eyed, country starlet Swift debuted as. If you fight back; you’re petty, catty and rude, which inspired the mean girl image Swift was ‘cancelled’ for post 1989. Swift isn’t successful because she is blonde and attractive, in fact it was her figure and looks from which so much of the media disrelish began. This is society's running commentary which women have been subjected to for decades. In the case of Swift, it was amplified by her triumphs which rank amongst the accomplishments of male artists.
Swift writes about her emotions and heartbreak in ways that have labeled her as dramatic, obsessive and clingy while girls have flung themselves at the feet of the likes of Justin Bieber and Shawn Mendes for doing the same. “For a female to write about her feelings, and then be portrayed as some clingy, insane, desperate girlfriend … that’s turning it into something that is, frankly, a little sexist,” Swift told Vanity Fair as she discussed baring the brunt of yet another patriarchal stereotype which tears down women in entertainment. She does everything that men do, but receives unwarranted backlash for it. Swift was perceived as ‘calculating’ because of her marketing ‘tactics’, while most men are applauded for doing the same with their ‘good ideas and power moves.’ Swift was chastened for being licentious while male celebrities are praised for their umpteen conquests.
Swift’s musical talent and niche, which lies in her ability to put any feeling into words, largely attributes to her success. In an industry which has proven that it’s about a lot more than music, Swift’s appeal stems hugely from the fact that she is able to own being feminine in a way so many women are scared to be. She holds a platform which lies on this acceptance of a reality: that our greatest feelings should not necessarily correlate to the world's most heinous injustices, and that we are entitled to them regardless. Her music does not make people feel bad for feeling the way they do. It allows them to be as furious, heartbroken, or in love as they choose to be. She has persevered in using tactics which are only ‘acceptable’ when manipulated by men to expand her career and it has been her talent that’s sustained her.
Does the relapse of the world's adoration for Swift mean that women in the music industry are safe? Absolutely not. Does Swift breaking records by being the first woman to do something mean women will receive equal opportunity from now on? Also, no. However, Swift’s continued dominance is a symbol of strength and opportunity for so many women in entertainment who now have reassurance that standing your ground pays off. Her success opens doors that women didn’t know could be open to them. Her greatest influence is her ability to start conversations. Her lyrical clap-backs from Reputation and Lover allowed music critics and her 43.9 million monthly Spotify listeners to analyse and evaluate claims made by the media targeting Swift and subsequently other women. She continues to use tactics associated with male dominance and emotions associated with male dominance and emotions associated with female fragility to continue topping charts, with her quarantine surprise albums Folklore (2020 Grammy Album of the Year) and Evermore.
Now, a little over a month since the release of her re-recorded 2008 studio album Fearless, Swift is continuing to make her mark as she inspires discussion about ethics in the music industry. She may have been everything we were taught to hate about women but she’s allowed us to own being a woman in the way we choose. The moral of this being; do not let society make you feel guilty about taking pleasure in a woman’s success. Common sense may encourage you to refrain from holding up a sign telling your best friend you love them at a school dance, but misogyny should play no role in discouraging you from belting You Belong With Me (Taylor’s Version) into a hairbrush.