The Sexist

Taylor Swift: Feminist, Princess, Avatar


Over the past few months, the feminist blogosphere has struggled to come to terms with the girl power enigma that is Taylor Swift.

Sady Doyle bashed Swift's songs as a "triumph in girl-on-girl sexism." Alyssa Rosenberg found in Swift's lyrics a hint of "feminist reclamation." I accused Swift of re-branding "patience is a virtue" for a new generation of young women. And Kate Harding differentiated between "Taylor Swift, lyricist"—not so feminist—and "Taylor Swift, public figure"—pretty girl-powerful.

If it seems silly to you that feminists would spend precious patriarchy-dismantling energy going back and forth over what Taylor Swift truly means, consider this: Thousands of kids, tweens, and grown women alike are seriously affected by this woman's music. They want to be her. And if they can't do that, they will settle for playing puppetmaster to their own little Taylor Swift avatars.

Submitted as evidence: Swift's music video catalog, recreated, shot-for-shot, by fans . . . on Sims 2. You thought Swift was hard to figure out? Try these people.

I don't know if Taylor Swift is a feminist role model, or a palpable pop princess sent from the Christian right to corral the youth of America into antiquated gender roles. But in light of these videos, I'm beginning to think the Swift question has become . . . urgent.




  • observer

    you crazy bloggers are the ones freaking me out. You go after Swift for her music and videos but you never actually listen to anything but her singles. What about the song and video "Change" she did..and "The Best Day"...and "Tied together with a Smile" What about all her home videos and blogs and the interviews she talks about how she doesnt have to have a man to have a complete life, if he's not important to her? If you really are going to go to all the trouble of trying to pick her apart, do some actual in depth research into what she really is saying and what she really is like, don't just look at a few singles and what other websites report and think you know all about her and what she is.

  • Amanda Hess

    The thing is, observer, Taylor Swift;s lyrics wouldn't be terribly interesting to us if she was just a 19-year-old girl playing songs for fun in her basement. her work is so interesting because it IS so popular, and because the antiquated roles in her most popular singles are beloved by so many people. That's not to say that Swift doesn't have more interesting things to say in some less-popular tracks, but in speaking about her influence on society, it is totally fair to focus on her most popular works.

  • observer

    I'd say over 90 % of the girls and women that follow Swift know every one of her songs from both albums. If you ever go to one of her concerts they sing every single track along with her, so I think you do have to consider the body of her work. Attacking her without including it is misinformed and an injustice to her as a woman and an artist, and puts you on a level lower than what she has been accused of being in the past by feminist bloggers. Have any of you ever actually tried to get an interview with her personally? I'd be interested in reading such an interview, as long as it was done intelligently and not on the level of a TMZ attack mode for the sake of finding things that support your preconceived and preformulated opinions.

  • observer

    Another point I'd like to make, or suggestion if you will. Go out to a mall or somewhere else and randomly poll the young women and girls that you find and ask them what Swift's music means to them, what messages does she convey and how much of what she says in her songs impacts their choices and reaction to men and other situations in their lives. You bloggers write out article after article of what you think her music is teaching people, go out and ask questions of the actual people and see where it leads. And be unbiased about it before you get your answers and results.

  • Amanda Hess

    observer, the four feminnist pieces I quoted are, in turn: anti-Swift, pro-Swift, anti-Swift, and pro-Swift. So maybe it's you who has some preconceived notions about what "feminists" are saying about her. There's a lot of disagreement among feminists about her work. Why? Because some of her songs offer traditional femininity, and others offer traditional femininity with a bit of a subversive, feminist twist. Also, her public persona as a young female singer/songwriter provides a much more empowering example than the themes running throughout her songs. These are interesting and complicated dynamics, and the feminist bloggers I know acknowledge that.

    Good idea about the mall questions. I'll try that out if I end up writing further about Swift.

  • Natalie

    I dont think she is a feminist. I think you blogger are only looking at her more famouse songs look deeper and you will find interviews and songs ect..

  • Em

    Maybe she's a palatable, dumbed down version of feminism? I mean feminism is pretty unpalatable to modern culture--it says that we, as women, are powerful and perfect just as we are, and that's not always traditionally pretty or sexy or whatever. And here comes Taylor Swift, with the "I am woman, hear me roar (but not too loudly and in order to win a man)" message in the package of this blonde, conventionally beautiful, tiny little girl (I mean, I'm not that strong and I'm pretty sure I could snap her in half with no effort, not that I'd want to).

    It's watered down for public consumption, but I don't think she would be popular if she was truly feminist. It's easier to be popular if you fit gender roles (i.e. patience is a virtue). Example? Lady Gaga does her own thing and refuses to be corralled into gender stereotypes, and while very popular, she's also the kind of performer people either love or hate. While most people either adore OMG Taylor Swift or are generally ambivalent to her.

  • Kim

    May I do some commentary on all the Taylor Swift commentary? Looks like feminists themselves are torn over her (see this article). I think with all the definitions and ideas and depending on what you look at and from where you get your ideals Swift is good or bad. What does this say about modern feminism? I think the bottom line is that no matter what she does, says writes someone somewhere in the feminist world is going to criticize her for something.

    And another thing: Stop, for the love of God, implicating Christianity in the continued promotion of "antiquated gender roles", and associating it with the right. I am Christian and I am feminist; although the wording in your last paragraph implies that a woman can't be both. Your statement is a further re-enforcement of the stereotypical and equally as antiqued idea that Christianity is a detriment to feminism. If I can't be both then I will be Christian. My Church does not prevent me from living my life the way I want, it is a guide to living morally, which I value as a person.

  • CC

    I tend to see Taylor Swift as a symptom, not a cause. She writes songs that reflect real feelings. Teenage girls who lose their virginity to a guy who turns out to be a dick often feel really bad about it, teenage girls like to fantasize about being rescued and, yes, a teenage girl will often hate the girl who is dating the guy she likes. I remember feeling all of those feelings.

    I think the central question should be "what can we do to make being a teenage girl suck less" and that saying anything about Taylor Swift is just shooting the messenger.

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  • Cin

    Swift is a commentary on young women when she uses botox at nineteen. Come on. Why does she use it?

    When her songs are kinda stupid and she wins artist of the year, mostly because people are impressed by the promise of her demographic who buy records. Like Obama, she can win a prize without actually doing much - it's all on future "promise." When you overlook actually great female artists because they are older or who write about gritty subjects, that's a feminist issue.

    When she uses electronic pitch correction in her recordings. Of course, so many country singers use electronic pitch correction that their voices sound metallic and robotic. Funny, when "country" was about common folk and its voices are more fake and metallic than an aluminum christmas tree.

  • Comrade Al Gonzales

    The appalling ignorance of American women surpasses the gargantuan ignorance of American men. One poster claims that feminism promotes the idea that women are perfect just as they are. Huh? Where the fuck did this stupid woman get this idea?

    Taylor Swift is just a product of Madison Avenue marketing. Her music is banal - there's no there there. Her looks are pedestrian - just walking across any public university at noon, one can see dozens of girls who are prettier.

    Ms. Swift is simply a capitalist product, a tool used to take money from working people. Worse, Ms. Swift is used by the powers that be to promote an example of how to be a submissive, docile, patient, spineless, brainless sperm vessel, just as capitalists want all women to view themselves.

    Taylor Swift is one more exhibit proving that America is at the end of its reign atop the world. Once the great ignorant unwashed masses of America reach the majority - 2012, more or less - look to see the American Leviathan come crashing down, crumbling into a pile of execrable ignorance as exhibited above.

  • Rita

    I really don't care what she writes about, the only thing that offends me about her is her inability to carry a tune and her poor songwriting skills. And I don't mean the subject matter and whether it is "feminist" or not, I'm talking about how banal her lyrics are. An 11-year-old could write more mature lyrics. I'm aware that a 19-year-old who's had an idealistic upbringing generally won't have much life experience, and therefore will be more limited in what they can write about, but geez, can she at least make her minor breakups sound more mature? I mean, Alicia Keys was just a year older than Taylor when "Fallin'" came out, that song alone is way more respectable than Swift's entire discography! It just bugs me how someone with not much talent can have such a huge following and be lavished with praise and awards left and right. It definitely has to do with her looks and image. She's the cute, blonde, girl-next-door that mothers can trust their daughters to look to as a role model. I've nothing against Swift herself, I'm sure she's a nice person and all, but when your musical career is based on your looks and charm instead of actually having anything to do with real talent and quality music, don't look for your career to go past the 5 year mark, at best. Looks and charm can only take you so far, especially when there's another teen sensation waiting in the wings to take your spot and have your success while you're getting older and becoming less appealing to teenagers. That's how the music industry is these days, like a factory, keep manufacturing whatever is guaranteed to sell quick.

  • Terry

    I love Taylor Swift and I'm not a teenage girl, I'm a 54 year old guy. Her songs are happy and listening to them makes me happy. She can take a tragedy and turn it into a happy love story. "He pulled out a ring and said 'Marry me Juliet, you'll never have to be alone...I talked to your dad, go pick out a white dress...'". Not only are the words happy, but the music is incredibly happy.

    Name any act, Elvis, The Beatles, Michael Jackson, Madonna, Brittany Spears, none of them were as successful at age 20 as Taylor Swift is. She has the top-selling album for the year (2009), a massive sold out concert tour, and four Grammy awards including best album. No other act achieved that by age 20.