Our treatment of Taylor Swift and her political activity (or lack thereof) is a microcosm of many greater problems.
Sitting in the post-Harvey traffic gridlock, my father made an observation: “Taylor Swift is a lot like Hillary Clinton.” This didn’t come out of the blue—we had spent a while discussing why Taylor Swift gets so much flack—but the comparison shined a new light on our conversation. The more I thought about it, the more it made sense. Two successful but imperfect women attacked by the internet meme culture for being slightly cringey or not doing “enough.”
Ever since Taylor dropped her admitted iffy single “Look What You Made Me Do,” the mock-Taylor-Swift apparatus has come back full force. This is nothing new—she’s been criticized for everything from dating too many people to cultural appropriation—but that doesn’t make it justified in any sense.
Why does Taylor Swift have to put up with this? The answer lies in a combination of sexism and the polarization of our political climate.
The sexism count is obvious. Ever since she showed up strumming a guitar, Taylor Swift has been crucified for writing songs about boys. How is she any different from the Justin Timberlakes of the world who have built a career off making songs about relationships? She isn’t. But tabloids and 4chan love to create drama around women, especially ones that are so successful. This is where the Hillary Clinton parallel comes back into focus. Sure, both Taylor and Hillary have flaws, but those are magnified by the intense societal spotlight placed on successful women.
One example of blatant sexism in both their lives are the repeated claims that they are not responsible for their own success. Taylor has had two claims of this regard. First is that her parents bought a record label so she could record her first album. I won’t go into details and bore you—but know that this is wrong. Even more wrong is its implication: that Taylor Swift bought her way to the top. Money certainly helps, but you can’t buy talent. Secondly, the Kanye West fiasco. While I’m sure he meant it as a joke, taking credit for Taylor’s fame by saying he “made that b***h famous,” is another sexist insult. Hillary, meanwhile, has had to deal with accusations that she’s only successful due to her husband, even though she was a successful Senator from New York before Bill’s presidency.
Even the accusations of Taylor being a “snake” or Hillary being “crooked” play off the negative stereotype of women as conniving and untrustworthy. Even then, our society is just looking for excuses to make a strong, successful woman fail.
Taylor Swift’s involvement in politics is murky. She rarely talks about her stances. While it should be perfectly acceptable for a celebrity (or any human being, for that matter) to keep their views to themselves, this has simply made for another conduit for people to attack her. Her silence has even led to ridiculous speculation. Google “taylor swift trump supporter” and you will find far too many articles claiming she supports Trump. Even this ties into sexism. Bruno Mars has never made a statement regarding his political views, but he does not get lambasted for it.
However, Taylor can’t win. Even when she gets involved in politics, she gets attacked for not doing enough. For example, during the women’s marches, she tweeted out her support for the movement even though she did not attend. That’s perfectly fine. If your friend tweeted that she was proud of the people who marched, you wouldn’t bat an eyelid.
Another example of political backlash to Taylor involved a recent sexual assault case. She took a radio host to court for groping her butt earlier this year and won. First of all, it’s notable that while celebrities such as Kesha have received much support from the celebrity community (including Swift), Taylor received nary a helpful tweet. Secondly, Taylor Swift was actually criticized for the sexual assault case. It was suggested that classifying groping as sexual assault, as she did, was an insult to rape victims. Others attacked her self-satisfaction in victory when she had done nothing for the real victims of sexual assault. Taylor Swift took a man to court for something that fits the definition of sexual assault, won the case, and got attacked for it. What was she supposed to do?
This all comes down to a fundamental critique of Taylor Swift: her views on feminism. She’s long claimed to be a feminist and has actively promoted it as part of her persona. This opens her up to a lot of attacks, and frankly, some are legitimate. If she’s a feminist, why didn’t she attend the women’s march? Why did she go out of her way to attack Katy Perry? Is she using feminism as just a part of her brand?
These are valid talking points. However, I think this points at a greater issue in the liberal sphere of thinking there is a right way to interpret an ideology. Feminism is an idea with no set definition that is open to interpretation by each individual. I’m a feminist, but I may see feminism as different from another feminist. We both might see it different from Taylor Swift.
What becomes an issue is when you have groups that try to police what feminism is. They heap criticism on people like Taylor Swift, when they’re really on the same side. The fact is, not everyone will be a staunch feminist. And that’s fine, because even if you’re not all-in, you can still contribute to a cause. This policing of “feminism” will only lead to an alienation of those who are more mild feminists and a perception of the cause as extreme.
The same goes for the idea of a “liberal,” this time in the context of Hillary Clinton. Especially since she was running against Bernie Sanders, Hillary was repeatedly criticized for not being liberal enough. This infighting only serves to weaken a cause by turning it against itself.
The saga of Taylor Swift can teach us two things that are more critical than ever. First of all, we can never count out sexism. It will always be there. Secondly, we don’t have the right to impose our views on anyone, especially when you and that person are on the same side. This only leads to a decrease in moderation, which does not bode well for our nation.
This is not to say you should love everything about Taylor Swift and Hillary Clinton. I don’t. It’s just that we need to be more aware of the patriarchal and divisive elements at play before we retweet that meme. This isn’t just about these two either. Next time you want to mock a public figure, especially if it’s a woman, examine why you’re doing it before you do. The motivations may be more sinister than they appear.