Sunday, December 06, 2009

Taylor Swift and feminism

I read some feminist blogs, though what I read there doesn't always make it back to The Chaliceblog. But it has been interesting to watch a slow backlash to the popularity of pop singer Taylor Swift creep across the blogosphere. It started with this post a month or two ago, and it appears to be picking up steam. CC-favorite blog The Sexist wrote about Swift this week.

On one level, I totally get it. Swift writes about hating the girl who is dating the guy she likes, how a friend of hers felt totally humiliated and ruined after she slept with a boy who turned out to be a jerk* and about wanting her boyfriend to rescue her by marrying her so she won't be alone. None of those themes delight me either. Actually, I'm sort of embarrassed to think of them.

Because I remember those feelings. I was very worried that no boy would want to marry me ever and I remember desperately wanting someone to want me enough to want to marry me. (I ended up turning down the first marriage proposal I got.) I know of at least one woman whose under-duress though not exactly date rape "first time" really REALLY screwed with her. (She's ok now.) And yes, I really owe a completely innocent girl an apology for my bitchiness to her because a boy I liked at 14 or so preferred her. (I ran into this boy awhile ago and he is WAY less awesome than theCSO.)

I have listed to some Taylor Swift songs, and while I don't adore the implicit social messages, I certainly don't see those messages as at all original to Swift. What's original to Swift is pop music that might not be your taste, but is well-written great stuff and the work of a 19-year-old. If she's reflecting things about our culture that we don't like, maybe it's time to change the culture, or at least sit down with our favorite teenage girl and have a talk about these sorts of cultural messages.

Anyway, I get really sick of people letting TV raise their kids then whining about it when TV screws up.


*It says something that when Buffy the Vampire Slayer slept with a boy who literally TURNED EVIL, this was regarded as more or less symbolic truth and I don't recall any feminist critiques of the matter.


hsofia said...

A few weeks (or months?) ago, I happened to catch some part of Oprah and Taylor Swift was the guest (along w/ a tween journalist who was Swift's "biggest fan." My impression of Swift is that she seems nice and is doing what she loves, working hard, etc. The only thing that bothered me was how the tween showed up to visit her at her house and she was completely dolled up like a Hollywood starlet. Country music sure has gone Hollywood.I don't know how wlese to put it. And I felt like it was a real shame that our culture is such that if she always has to be made up like that for tv appearances - it's what's expected (maybe demanded), and as a young woman you always have to be your absolute "prettiest" - but not too slutty!

Everything is so calculated, prepared, and airbrushed. I think being an A-list celebrity is a skill in and of itself, separate from any particular talent. I would never want that for myself.

Chalicechick said...

Well, Jane Magazine tried to give Dolly Parton a "Natural Woman Award" and Dolly thanked them but said she wasn't a natural woman and certainly wouldn't want to be photographed as one, so there is some Nashville precedent for the "only wanting to be seen in full makeup" thing.

That said, Taylor Swift is no Dolly and it would be nice if she didn't go quite so overboard with the sparkly dresses and such.


PG said...

Dolly's artifice is very much part of her persona; it would be *unnatural* for her to be without blond hair, inflated breasts and a pound of makeup. She's one of very few celebrities who openly discusses and jokes about all the work she's had done; it would go against who she is to pretend that it's real.

Whether artists' responsibility is to portray what people actually feel even when those feelings are despicable is an interesting question. I really loathe Toby Keith's song "Courtesy of the Red White & Blue" because I think Natalie Maines's criticism of it is correct: in the guise of patriotism, Keith promoted hatred toward a vague, unnamed enemy, and celebrated ignorant rage. On the other hand, Keith no doubt accurately represented exactly how many Americans felt. (I also dislike Keith's "How Do you Like Me Now" for its nasty, misogynistic attitude, but I'm sure there are plenty of guys who did feel angry at being ignored by the cheerleaders and who feel good about those girls having grown up into unhappy women.) Or to go outside the country music genre, rappers who say "kill the pigs" are promoting the assassination of police officers, but they're also expressing how many people feel.

I tend toward thinking that especially when making claims of political or social relevance with one's work, there is a responsibility not to promote ethnic hatred, cop-killing and the like, no matter how genuinely one is representing the sentiments of some people. (Also, there's always ways to frame those sentiments without endorsing them; e.g. in 2Pac's "Changes" where the main narrator of the song has a little back-and-forth with the guy trying to justify his selling crack in the black community. You can give space for expression and explanation of the destructive ideas and behavior without letting them go unchallenged.)

But anyone who is giving Taylor Swift a hard time who didn't do the same to Avril Lavigne ("Girlfriend" promotes not just disliking the girl who dates the guy you like, but trying to undercut her by promising the guy more sexual favors, and video is even more overtly mean to the girlfriend) is just a country music hating hypocrite.

hsofia said...

Gosh, sorry for all the typos; I was just typing really fast!

Joel Monka said...

Reminds me of the controversy about 20 years ago over Holly Dunn's Maybe I Mean Yes" The song pretty much destroyed her career- but it really was a reflection of a large segment of society.

hsofia said...

In response to the blog post you linked to, by the way, I cringe a bit. I'm a little tired of everything in society being treated as text. As a person who studied ... well, "cultural studies," I understand the concept. But it just pains me that this practice (particularly of hugely popular works and personalities) has become so mainstream, and every time I turn around it's some other person holding up some beloved (or well selling) person or product as sexist/racist/etc.

It's not that I don't think these things can be problematic ... but ... so what? This post about Taylor Swift ends, "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."

Really? Let's say a bunch of people on the interwebs agree that Taylor Swift is sexist. Then what?!

Anonymous said...

Yes, Taylor Swift wears too much make-up, but at the Macy's where I work in Vermont, there's a lot of teen bling going on in the watches. Most of the folks who buy them seem pretty normal, just enjoy sparkly jewelry. Frankly, as long as we have a natural-look dress code, spoken or unspoken, we are going to be an excluding religion for superficial reason.