Until recently, Taylor Swift would have not have been anyone’s first choice as a feminist idol. In August however, Swift announced that she is now a feminist, citing her friendship with Lena Dunham and Emma Watson’s UN speech as inspiration for her change in perspective.
Despite her announcement, Swift has not had a very pro-feminism history in her career as a singer and songwriter.
Notorious in the media for writing almost exclusively about boys, most notably her several ex-boyfriends, Swift has also come under fire for her adherence to the patriarchal-friendly “American Good Girl” stereotype as well as the slut shaming and homophobic messages in her lyrics. Riese from Autostraddle named Swift as a “feminist’s nightmare” for perpetuating the notions that other women were obstacles in the way of the boy she liked and that she was of course more worthy of his affections because she is more innocent or talented than other girls. Indeed, from lyrics such as “Well all those other girls are beautiful/but would they write a song for you” to “She’s an actress, whoa/ But she’s better known for the things that she does/ On the mattress, whoa” Swift endorses the idea of “not being like other girls.”
Swift’s repeated problematic and offensive material in her songs as well as her avoidance of feminism has even inspired the formation of the Feminist Taylor Swift Twitter, which posts politically correct versions of her lyrics.
It’s been a few years though, and Swift has since then moved to New York, where she has grown up. Her music has grown with her; Swift’s new album 1989 has begun to move away from boys and more towards other topics such as her own sexuality and self-discovery. It seems that she is also, hopefully, dropping her use of the Madonna/Whore complex storyline to put down other girls just because they happen to like the same boy.
Not that there’s anything wrong with continuing to write about boys; while on Australian talk show Jules, Merrick & Sophie, Swift addressed her critics, saying, “Frankly, I think that’s a very sexist angle to take. No one says that about Ed Sheeran. No one says that about Bruno Mars. They’re all writing songs about their exes, their current girlfriends, their love life and no one raises a red flag there.”
What’s more, Swift has previously always shied away from the f-word. In a 2012 interview with the Daily Beast, Swift was asked if she considered herself a feminist, to which she replied, “I don’t really think about things as guys versus girls. I never have. I was raised by parents who brought me up to think if you work as hard as guys, you can go far in life.”
Swift attributes her aversion to the feminist label as ignorance, saying that she had grown up incorrectly believing feminism was synonymous with misogyny. As she told The Guardian “As a teenager, I didn’t understand that saying you’re a feminist is just saying that you hope women and men will have equal rights and equal opportunities.” Having now understood what feminism really is, Swift says that she realized she has always taken a feminist stance. Unfortunately, this is a common belief from many who interpret feminism as a war on men when this is not the case. If anything, Swift’s ignorance is merely another reason it’s so important that feminists continue to spread their message
Regardless of her past, Swift seems to be taking great strides to promote feminism now as she continues speaking out against sexism and that is definitely a good thing. Swift is a product of the importance of continuing to spread awareness as well as proper education on what the feminist campaign really is. Hopefully we will see more of that change in the future.