This isn’t really a video about Taylor Swift — although you would assume that from the title. This is a video about the ‘Good Feminist/Bad Feminist’ complex, about media literacy, and about how you are allowed to enjoy your guilty pleasures. And okay. It’s a little bit about Taylor Swift.
[Text: @fyeahmfabello] This isn’t really a video about Taylor Swift – even though, you know, you would guess that from the title. This is a video about the “Good Feminist/Bad Feminist” complex, about media literacy, and about how you are allowed to have guilty pleasures.
Because here’s an interesting fact: I’m a vocal feminist media critic. I talk a lot about how screwed up pop culture is and how it informs our knowledge and attitudes surrounding stuff like gender roles, sexuality, and violence.
So people tend to interrogate me sometimes about the musical choices that I make. “How can you fight against misogyny and still listen to Kanye West?” “How can you be for sexual autonomy and Ke$ha?” “How can you be a feminist and still like Taylor Swift?”
Apparently some people miss the whole media literacy angle that I take.
Because I whole-heartedly believe that you can be a feminist – and a good feminist at that – and still engage in your guilty pleasures – especially female pop stars.
So here are five reasons why – using T. Swift as an example.
1. Let me start off by admitting that yes, absolutely, Taylor Swift has some lyrics that are problematic. I could make you an entire list of problematic T. Swift lyrics. Want a great example of slut-shaming? Look up “Better Than Revenge.” [Link to video] Want the perfect lyrical explanation of the myth of “other girls?” Look no further than “You Belong with Me.” [Link to video]
But, personally, when I look at her discography as a whole, what I see is a young woman who owns her experiences – good and bad, empowering and not. And as far as I’m concerned, that openness about how conflicting society can be is feminist. Because at the end of the day, lyrics are a reflection of the world that we live in. It’s art imitating life.
And I think we need to put more blame on the patriarchal structures that allow misogyny (and internalized misogyny) to exist and a little less on artists who are addressing and being honest about their experiences in this world.
2. Because I don’t think that media literacy is about writing artists or music off completely. I don’t think that it’s about censorship or dictating what artists can and cannot – or should and should not – approach in their music. I don’t even necessarily think that artists have a moral obligation only to produce music that is uplifting and empowering.
What I do think is that media literacy is about us – the consumers – having the skills necessary to critically analyze media. I don’t expect the media to be perfect because I don’t expect the world to be perfect. Instead, I expect people to think critically about the media that they consume and to make judgments on it, rather than to take it at face value. And since I can do that, I’m confident that I can deal with sexist or anti-feminist content, even if I find it frustrating – which I do.
I just think we should be fighting a little harder to have media literacy education be a part of everyone’s tool box of skills, instead of fighting to keep certain artists off the air. Feminism is awesome. But I personally think that we need to take an inside-out approach to social change.
3. Now, I realize that Taylor Swift has said in the past that she does not identify as a feminist. And that’s cool. It doesn’t bother me, even though I know it bothers a lot of other people. Personally, I don’t care whether or not people call themselves feminists.
What I care about is whether or not people act toward gender equality. That is what feminism is to me – not a label. It’s about raising women up. And Taylor gives a voice to millions of people (particularly girls) who have been told their whole lives that their emotions make them crazy, make them weak, make them not-good-enough. Whether she’s actively meaning to or not, Taylor’s music tells girls that their life experiences are valid. How is that action in and of itself not feminist?
4. Feminism, in my opinion, is about women being empowered to make choices for themselves. Taylor makes her own choices, and she’s been vocal about the fact that she’s open to people making their own choices toward and decisions about her. And I support that, whether I agree with everything that comes out of her mouth or not.
As my friend Imran at Miss Representation told me recently: “I have a hard time labeling any female pop artist as anti-feminist.” And I agree with him. Because any woman who has the power in herself to put herself out there, write her own music, work really hard, get to the top, and influence millions – in a male-dominated industry – is already a hero. And I know a lot of you are going to disagree with me. And that’s fine. Because that brings me exactly to my last point:
5. It isn’t my job — or your job or anyone’s job — to decide what is and isn’t feminist. In my opinion, it is a ridiculous waste of time when feminists bicker about whether or not someone is a feminist. This whole “Good Feminist/Bad Feminist” thing that we have going on right now is a huge hypocritical mess.
The number of articles that I’ve seen popping up about Taylor and Beyonce and whoever-the-hell-else is driving me absolutely crazy. There are serious issues in the world right now affecting women. And I don’t mean to imply that media icons and the effect that they have on culture aren’t significant. Because they are – or else I wouldn’t do the work that I do.
But defining feminism for yourself and then holding that definition up to every female public figure and then judging them based on that personal definition is such a waste of feminist energies. We have more important work to do than to worry about whether or not Taylor Swift is a feminist or whether or not another feminist recognizes whether or not Taylor Swift is a feminist.
Because, at the end of the day, you know what the patriarchy loves? Getting women distracted with fighting with one another over how to be a “good feminist.” Last time I checked, feminism wasn’t about policing how women experience and express their womanhood.
So, as far as I’m concerned, just like you can shave (or not shave!) your legs and still be a good feminist, and just like you can wear (or not wear!) make-up and still be a good feminist, you can listen (or not listen!) to Taylor Swift and still be a good feminist.
So keep fighting the good fight – whether you do it with Taylor’s Red album as your soundtrack or not.