The Complexities of Feminism: Taylor Swift, Amy Poehler, and Tina Fey

In recent celebrity feud news, Taylor Swift is out for the blood of feminist heroes Amy Poehler and Tina Fey and is invoking the tenets of feminism to do so. So who’s really in the wrong here?

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.

By Elfity

Elfity, so named for her tendency to be a bit uppity and her elf-like appearance, is a graduate student and professional Scary Feminist of Rage. She has a propensity for social justice, cheese, and Doctor Who. Favorite activities include making strange noises, napping with puppies and/or kitties, and engaging in political and philosophical debates.

9 replies on “The Complexities of Feminism: Taylor Swift, Amy Poehler, and Tina Fey”

I have thoughts and feelings about this.
On one hand, the joke from Amy and Tina about Taylor’s love life was continuing the “don’t date Taylor Swift if you don’t want a song written about you” meme, which, honestly, needs to be over. She’s young and has had a few famous boyfriends/dates, and she uses dating relationships as content for her songs. Most songwriters use relationships as content for songs. And, well, picking on her because she’s doing this as a young and female singer-songwriter is sexist and kind of boring. So I can understand why Taylor would react with, essentially, “stop picking on me”.

But. Taylor Swift has also carefully created and maintained an image of being Not Like Other (famous) Girls. Sure, she dates a lot of guys, but she doesn’t steal other girls’ boyfriends, and she’s still Nice, and she’s Not A Slut. And she also is (was?) seen as the Pop Ingenue; poor Taylor was bullied off the stage by Kanye West, remember. And she always dresses “modestly” and is a good role model for preteen/young teen girls and doesn’t swear or talk about having sex. But she also talks (sings) trash about girls who ARE slutty, or are boyfriend-stealers, or are bullies. She’s doing as much of the hating on other women as she’s accusing Amy and Tina of doing.

Personally, I think Taylor Swift could do with taking time off from recording and touring and do something normal, like go to college. That way she can skip the public breakdown that other young pop stars have endured (like Britney Spears), establish the post-pop-music career, and spend some time with people who aren’t blowing rainbows up her backside (or “picking on her”) just because she’s Taylor Swift. And she can go on dates and have boyfriends without it being instant tabloid fodder. AND, this will really make her a good role model for preteen/young teen girls, because she’s being smart about her future and not just counting on her voice and physical appearance to still be appealing as she gets older or on marrying someone who’s also famous/rich. And, well, a few years out of the public eye will give her the chance to grow up a bit more without having paparazzi staking out her favorite coffee shop or cafe or wherever. She could go on one-time dates without having to make public statements.

I apologize in advance I’m totally about to rant:

In my opinion Taylor Swift needs to take a little break from music to grow up and mature in private.

Sure Tina and Amy’s comment was not nice but Taylor kind of brought it upon herself by being so public about her relationships. I feel like she’s using men now rather than experiencing in relationships. She doesn’t give herself space to grow. She is with a guy, poses for paparazzi, gets “annoyed” at her lack of privacy, break up, write between 1 to 12 song about how much of a jerk he was, makes millions and do it all over again. She cages herself into stupid teenager stereotypes.

I always read about how she loves to be a good role model for young girls and so on and so on, but she is not true to herself, the very polished image was good when she was 16 but now at 23 it really is time to grow up. She recorded 6 albums which all involve the same pattern (I’m better than her because I don’t do what most girls do, crying because he cheated, omg like we are like never ever getting back together).

While on the other hand someone like Adele was able to move on and grow. She put out two albums, two of them were about the same break up, she made it her form of therapy now she is happily in love and has a child. They are the same age.

/rant over.

But seriously if she were honest with herself she would be able to take the joke and poke fun at herself.

It’s an interesting topic. I’m of the belief that no one should be the arbiter of what is appropriate/offensive of a comment about a specific person if it’s not about them; since the comment was about her specifically, it seems that she’s the only one whose opinion on how it made her feel is relevant. I just bristle at any notions dismissing how someone feels and saying that something is ‘just a joke’ and someone should lighten up and get over it merely because… why? It wasn’t meant with malice? She’s not likable? It’s somewhat hypocritical? She’s rich? None of those seem to be valid reasons to say it’s okay to hurt someone.

There could be many reasons why it hurt her; maybe she looked up to those women and felt it was more personal coming from them, maybe she was being especially sensitive, who knows. Bottom line is, she was upset by it, and Poehler made a classy apology, and Fey used the ‘lighten up’ line. It’s troubling to think that there is so much hypocrisy about a woman who’s ‘liked’ like Fey is – she’s given a pass that would not be excused so dismissively if it were either done by someone else or against someone else.

Different Than All The Other Girls, IMO, is the female equivalent to Nice Guy Syndrome.

The image Taylor Swift has crafted and sells is mos def Different Than All The Other Girls. I don’t like or support that, but I didn’t start recognizing my own internalized misogyny until the last years of my twenties. I didn’t go through that publicly. I hope she keeps making music. I’d like to see where she ends up in her thirties, what she’s thinking about, how/if her priorities have changed.

Poor Taylor Swift. She’s experiencing her awkward early 20s in public. I think she is still figuring things out, and unfortunately for her, she has a media audience when she does it. I’m sure in a few years she’ll see that the comment from Tina Fey and Amy Poehler was, if not entirely kind, very light teasing.

This is a mess. And media is a big part of it, because I think/assume/guess that Taylor Swift really isn’t walking around every day with this situation on her mind. But we “need” women pitted against each other, so we’ll ask about it again. Frey replied about Swifts’ remark as well. All wrong, in my opinion.

If Swift would’ve gone with ‘Not cool, but whatever’ and Frey would have said ‘Okay, it will stay an one time thing’ both sides could have dropped it without making it the Next Big Women Battle. But if they wouldn’t have commented about it, it would have been blown up as well. If they would have said ‘O come on, we both know what we’re on about’ media would have continued digging.
There is no right way to this, because the majority of society won’t allow it.

I think you’re on to something re: public lady fights. How much of the entertainment industry is focused on actual, perceived, or completely made-up “feuds” between women? And it’s never a one-off thing; men dislike each other, sometimes have a fistfight, but nobody expects them to keep sniping at each other or to work with someone they really dislike. And, well, I’m using my google powers, and the biggest guy vs guy feuds are usually instigated by one particular person (Charlie Sheen, Mel Gibson, Chris Brown, Donald Trump, Perez Hilton, Ryan Murphy) who’s generally accepted to be an asshole and, usually, the other party is only “guilty” of being on the business end of that man’s wrath, OR it was all a misunderstanding and they’re best friends now. The real conflicts are about something serious. It’s never because one man was “seen” talking to another’s wife/girlfriend, it’s always something big.
Everything else is Britney/Christina, Brandy/Monica, Tiffani Theissen/Jennie Garth, Madonna/Lady Gaga, Angelina/Jennifer, Hilary/Lindsey, Miley/Selena/Demi, and other rivalries about a man, or a dress, or a role, or “she said something about me”, or something else that isn’t “important” but has been turned into the battle of the year, and it will keep going and going for years even if the women in question have made peace or there wasn’t a conflict in the first place. And *everyone* knows, years later, that the rivalry “happened”, and they all have theories, and it’s still news.
Famous women photographed being friendly are seen as “scheming” against someone, or otherwise assumed to be filming. If they’re together and not obviously best friends (like, one is checking her phone and the other is looking away), they’re having a fight. Famous Lady BFFs are seen as a rare thing, and usually presented as an “alliance” (like, any photo of Jennifer Aniston and Courtney Cox while the former was/soon after she divorced Brad Pitt; it was always “Jennifer is brokenhearted, Courtney is helping her get back at Angelina for stealing Brad”). Men can be photographed in the same place but not actively engaged, and they’re just “guys hanging out”. Don’t even get me going on couples.

It’s interesting to me that the entertainment industry just keeps feeding us these stereotypical conflicts (men have a fistfight and they’re best friends the next day, women have an argument about a guy and hate each other for decades) and the typical reaction is “well, that’s because they’re guys” or “women always make a bigger deal out of something than it is”. And “we” (society, not individuals) want to know every detail of a feud between women, but readily dismiss fights between men.

I think Taylor sort of blew the whole thing out of proportion. Amy & Tina (yes, we’re on a first name basis) didn’t deliver their comment in a mean spirited way – maybe I am reading too much in to it, but to me it seemed like they were also poking fun at the media’s obsession with Taylor Swift’s love life, not her real romantic decisions (Like: “Stay away from the menfolk, chuckle chuckle” EYEROLL). Also, they were so lighthearted in their delivery – it seemed like the same comment could have been made about George Clooney or John Mayer or other celebrities with highly publicized social lives- I really didn’t feel like it was a sexist jab that was calling Taylor out for being a “promiscuous” female.

That being said I think there is a lot of shade thrown Taylor’s way from other sources that is definitely sexist – I just didn’t feel that way in this instance. And I feel like Taylor’s response showed her to be more vindictive than Amy & Tina’s were with their joke.

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