Presumably the whole thing started when Amy Poehler and Tina Fey made a joke at Taylor Swift’s expense during this year’s Golden Globe awards. The joke played off of Swift’s rapidly changing love life and jokingly warned her to “stay away” from Michael J. Fox’s son. Now, I’m not going to get behind the slut-shaming often thrown at Swift. Everyone needs to just relax about her seemingly frequent boyfriend swapping, lest we forget how we were at 23. Let the lady have some fun. However, I personally didn’t see the joke as slut-shaming; to me, it was merely playful teasing. It wasn’t a necessary jab, but it wasn’t exactly offensive either. That said, it was still made at Swift’s expense. Fey and Poehler aren’t the end-all, be-all of feminism, and they can do unnecessarily jerky things. Taylor’s feelings about it are her own, and they’re valid, but I think she might be throwing some stones around her big glass mansion.
See, Swift used the words of the great and powerful Madeline Albright in a recent Vanity Fair interview, saying that Katie Couric imparted them upon her. “There’s a special place in hell for women who don’t help other women,” said Swift in response to the Golden Globes story. I’m prone to agree with that quote, wherein “agree” actually means, “Get it tattooed across my back.” Because of this, I’m hesitant to throw swift under the Women’s Day March bus for using it, because she’s right. We shouldn’t expect women that we’ve held up as feminist icons in media to make sexist jokes at the expense of another woman. That’s the danger of putting women who show the slightest signs of feminism in a public arena on pedestals — when they do something that is sexist, we’re quick to excuse it. But like I said, glass houses.
Taylor Swift has made a very, very large amount of money off of hating on other women. She’s sold a lot of records with the, “I’m not like those other girls,” message and helped to perpetuate the virgin/whore dichotomy. She is not without blame. It’s nice that you like t-shirts and sneakers, but it doesn’t make you any better than the woman who likes high heels and short skirts. Lobbing hateful, sexist lyrics like “She’s an actress, whoa. She’s better known for the things that she does on the mattress, whoa,” that seek to specifically devalue someone’s profession because OMGslut don’t really seem like they’re helpful to other women. And dressing in white clothes to signify purity and perfection and red (with a black wig and obvious makeup, naturally) to signify the evil whore in an extremely popular music video definitely isn’t helping. For someone who has said as recently as October that she doesn’t consider herself a feminist, this whole thing is a little rich. To be fair, a lot of her most offensive stuff was done a few years ago, and I doubt that many of us were paragons of feminism when we were 19. Perhaps if she were to acknowledge her own non-helping behaviors in the past she’d have a bit more credibility.
One of the biggest frustrations for many feminists, myself included, is when women use feminist principles or ideals or claim the rights women have fought and suffered for and then declare that they aren’t feminists. Or they decry feminism. Or they deny the necessity of feminism. It hurts, because so many of us have thrown our lives into this work. But you know what? I’m happy they have the rights they do anyway. I’m happy that even some vehemently anti-choice protester can get an abortion, because whether I agree with her politics or not, I believe in her rights. I do think that Taylor Swift is using feminist ideals because they’re convenient for her, but I don’t think she’s wrong. If anything, perhaps the backlash will inspire her to work on her own internalized misogyny and use her power with the pre-teen for good rather than the current construction and perpetuation of patriarchal values. And if not, well that’s her right too.