But I really disagree with both of them, as well as with Sady Doyle on Bitch magazine’s She Pop blog, about Taylor Swift, specifically how detrimental it supposedly is that Swift’s songs “reinforce some not-so-woman-friendly stereotypes in extremely annoying ways,” as Harding wrote.
I know. Heavy stuff for a Monday.
In fairness, Harding was nuanced in her analysis and came to the conclusion that “there might be a legitimate feminist argument in favor of Taylor Swift” because Swift is a successful songwriter and businesswoman. Harding ultimately agrees with Hess, writing, “[Songwriters like Swift] don’t deserve our ire, but they don’t deserve a cookie, either. Swift should be celebrated as a promising entertainer who writes catchy tunes I like to listen to on the radio. Feminist? Not so much.” The implication seems to be Swift only deserves to be considered a guilty pleasure. Sady Doyle at Bitch gets even harsher and calls Swift’s video for the song “You Belong With Me” a “triumph of girl-on-girl sexism.” Oy.
To be sure, I critique pop culture with a feminist lens, too. But I also believe when people start qualifying creative works as GOOD FOR WOMEN or NOT GOOD FOR WOMEN, they can sometimes venture too far into heads-up-their-asses territory. Getting obtusely qualitative about art, qualifying it as FEMINIST or NOT FEMINIST, is where we start to lose people. (I know this is kind of a Camille Paglia-esque argument, but so be it.)
Truthfully, as Harding and Hess point out, there is ample evidence to support the argument that Taylor Swift’s lyrics depict teen girls and women as stereotypes. Take, for example, the lyrics to “Love Story,” a song that sounds like it was stolen from a box of discarded Disney princess plot lines. Romeo and Juliet? Waiting around for a guy to save you? Asking for her father’s hand in marriage? Picking out a white dress? Oh, brother …
You were Romeo, I was a scarlet letter
My daddy said stay away from Juliet
But you were everything to me
I was begging you please don’t go and I said
Romeo take me somewhere we can be alone
I’ll be waiting all there’s left to do is run
You’ll be the prince and I’ll be the princess
It’s a love story, baby, just say yes….
Romeo save me, I’ve been feeling so alone
I keep waiting for you but you never come
Is this in my head? I don’t know what to think
He knelt to the ground and pulled out a ring
And said marry me, Juliet, you’ll never have to be alone
I love you and that’s all I really know
I talked to your dad, go pick out a white dress
It’s a love story, baby, just say yes
If that doesn’t gum up a feminist’s hair, then check out the lyrics to “White Horse”—as in a knight in shining armor who rides in on a white horse—which are even more princess-y than the first:
Holding on, the days drag on
Stupid girl, I should have known, I should have known
That I’m not a princess, this ain’t a fairy tale
I’m not the one you’ll sweep off her feet
Lead her up the stairwell
This ain’t Hollywood, this is a small town
I was a dreamer before you went and let me down
Now it’s too late for you and your white horse to come around
True, waiting around for a man on a white horse to save the day is not so feminist. But I still I hate branding Swift as NOT FEMINIST, especially as aggressively as Sady Doyle did because that injects an element of judgment into the enjoyment of her music. The reality is that people are complicated human beings with messy lives. Swift, even if she’s not writing feminist lyrics, resonates with us and brings us comfort in our own-personal un-feminist moments. What’s the usefulness of creating a stigma for liking something that’s NOT FEMINIST? We need art that’s NOT FEMINIST and BAD FOR WOMEN to relate to for our own sanity. That’s just a fact. These lyrics resonate with the part of me who has had a messy past in a way that more feminist-”approved” musical acts, like Le Tigre, Ani Di Franco or even Alanis Morrisette, do. I know this point-of-view sounds achingly similar to that obnoxious “Sarah Palin is good for women!” argument — simply because she is a woman — that we all heard in the ’08 election. But Palin is a female politician who might’ve been given the power to seriously affect women’s lives; Swift is not. It’s apples and oranges.
I’m personalizing this issue because, to me, Taylor Swift’s lyrics are pretty personal. Generally, I would say my feminist beliefs are like a religion to me and, as with any religious beliefs, though, I sometimes judge myself harshly for past behavior in relationships. Why did I stay in a relationship with my high school boyfriend after he cheated on me? Why did I let him keep having sex with me on prom night even thought I didn’t want to and I started crying during it? Why didn’t I break up with a college boyfriend who got angry at me and crushed my hand into his own?
I don’t have GOOD FEMINIST answers to any of these questions. But when I listen to Taylor Swift’s moon-y teenaged lyrics, I remember I’m just human and guilt over liking songs with un-feminist lyrics is a waste of my energy.
The Frisky last wrote about Taylor Swift in “Quick Pic: Taylor Swift Is Kinderwhore Chic.”