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I'M SORRY TAYLOR SWIFT
a lesson on internalized misogyny
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Note: This essay is an expansion of a PowerPoint I made for a Taylor Swift-themed Powerpoint party I went to pre-Eras Tour. For the sake of this essay, when I say women, that also includes (but may not be limited to) those socialized as women. I aim to use inclusive language while also knowing how misogyny shows up is different in various experiences and identities.
I’ve always loved sad music. It’s no wonder my introduction to Taylor Swift fandom was in 2020 when folklore came out. I had reached a point in the pandemic where listening to music I loved pre-pandemic sent me to a dark place. I couldn’t emotionally afford to listen to bands like Bright Eyes, Julien Baker, or Death Cab for Cutie and remember memories of concerts with those I loved. I needed something to put a pep in my step, something to dance to forget the trauma of it all–something to help me live for the hope of it all. But I needed a bridge between sad music and pop music I’ve come to love. Enter folklore.
I reluctantly called myself a Taylor Swift fan, and even felt unsure about enjoying pop music because I spent my teenage years and early 20s talking trash on anything Billboard Top 100 or Top 40 Song Charts. I had a hard time connecting to pop music.
As a teenager, I listened to "cool" "underground" music. I went to Midwest punk shows! Only losers listen to Taylor Swift! Literally, how embarrassing of a take. I can’t help but think about how the media made calculated attempts to bring Taylor Swift down, alongside other female celebrities, are ways misogyny continues to show up in the world.
Despite it all, here I am now: A traveler of the folklore to watching Easter Egg breakdown YouTube videos pipeline. This opened up an understanding of my internalized misogyny.
What is internalized misogyny?
Misogyny is the term described as the “hatred of women.” Internalized misogyny is when women (and those socialized as women) are sexist against women too. More specifically, it is the belief that the lies, stereotypes, and myths about girls and women delivered to everyone in a sexist, patriarchal society are true.
Other terms to know: Misogynoir is the dislike of, contempt for, or ingrained prejudice against Black women.
On Slut Shaming & Men Being Gross
I grew up in the same purity culture you did, so when people Taylor Swift was singing about carving names in bedposts, my silly, young brain was like, “Oh, you're not allowed to talk about sex that way.” But when I sang along to Metro Station lyrics alluding to a man being sexually involved with an underage girl, I was like, “Oh, that’s so romantic!” Come on. Gross.
You are young and so am I /
And this is wrong, but who am I to judge /
You feel like heaven when we touch /
I guess for me this is enough /
We're one mistake from being together /
But let's not ask why it's not right /
You won't be seventeen forever /
And we can get away with this tonight
I’ll be honest, it’s only in recent years I’ve begun to unpack my understanding of how slut-shaming seeped its way into my consciousness and how it shows up in music. The way we were raised to talk about sex and pleasure is just another way society takes power away from women and femmes. Songs like 29 by Demi Lovato and even Taylor Swift’s Would’ve Should’ve Could’ve are great examples of people starting to understand how older men have groomed and abused younger women. When I was a teenager, I thought it was very cool that I was “dating” a 25-year-old man when I was 15. Yuck.
Further, the patriarchy pits women against each other. "One woman's success is another women's downfall," they tell us. The notion of lifting yourself up by putting other women down revolves around slut shaming, body shaming, stigmatization, and questioning others’ promiscuity. Women and femmes should be allowed to feel pleasure and create art about pleasure! When we shift our language around this, the stigmatization of sex and pleasure can change, ultimately creating conditions to talk about things like consent, boundaries, and safety.
When I Say We Are All Teen Girls
Many believe that since Taylor Swift was so popular among teen girls and gained popularity when she was one too, society widely deemed her as being “for girls,” thus, she was given less respect, merit, and time of day.
Society loves to talk down on teenage girls as if they are one-dimensional. In our society, they are frequently and ruthlessly ridiculed and shamed for their interests, often being turned into stereotypes. As Olivia Gatwood says, we are all teen girls. There is nothing wrong with feeling it all and having “surface-level” interests because, let me tell you, they actually aren’t surface-level. They go deeper than the sea.
How the Media Treats Women
It's no hidden secret that the media loves to criticize women. The aughts and early 2010s were prime time in the media shitting on women, and it persists. It's clear as day when we look at celebrities like Britney Spears, Pamela Anderson, Megan Markle, and Demi Lovato. When the media tells us women are nothing but "crazy" or "sluts," leak private sex tapes, make racist comments, or leak a 911 call from an extremely vulnerable and traumatic situation, the media teaches us how women should be treated. We must begin being aware of this and know this contributes to our internalized misogyny.
As recently as 2019, Hattie Troutman wrote an op-ed, Taylor Swift is a Bad Influence on Girls. She writes, "Instead of showing girls how to respect men and set an example of how to have a healthy relationship, Swift only sends the message that unstable, sporadic relationships are okay because you can make money off of the breakup."
It's okay for women to make money! It's okay for people to have sporadic relationships! Some relationships are unstable, especially in people's early 20s! Let me tell you, all of my relationships up until 24 years old were unstable and sporadic. That’s just how growing up goes. Be sporadic!1 Get your bag Tay! Chill Hattie!
Taylor Swift is a Mastermind. Is This a Good Thing?
Hear me clearly when I say I think Taylor Swift needs to be held accountable for her actions, including her problematic dating choices in Matty Healy and the disappointment of her recent lack of acknowledgment of anti-trans legislation after positioning herself as an advocate for LGBTQIA+ rights in her documentary, Miss Americana. I have listened to Black women express that she has contributed to misogynoir, which is inexcusable. She isn’t above critique.
I am curious, though, about how we as a society have chosen to hold women to a different standard and how we don’t critique male artists the same way. Of course, this is even worse for Black women.
I am curious about what we choose to name as frivolous or shallow. I think Taylor Swift is a talented storyteller, her concept albums are artistically impressive, and she can transcend generations through her lyrical relatability. I think this is true for many pop musicians. Taylor Swift calls herself a mastermind, and I do often wonder if that’s a good thing. I am weary of Swifties coming to her defense, no matter her actions. However, I can confidently say for myself that any dislike or critique of Taylor Swift is unrelated to her gender.
It’s Okay to Like Things
I no longer look at pop music as something superficial or tacky. We could all take a page out of the teen girl how-to handbook. May we squeal and jump at pop stars who put something into words that we have felt in our bodies. May we speak loudly about our pleasure. May men be given less power. May we dance and scream.
I want to tell my past self that it's okay to like things when many people like them too. Liking Taylor Swift doesn't make you any less cool or unique. Hating on people for liking popular things, especially hating on women for liking popular things, is very uncool. There is no such thing as a guilty pleasure. Just pleasure. You can dislike Taylor's music, although I suggest diving deeper into her discography because much of the songwriting is brilliant. And even if it still isn’t for you–if she isn’t for you–that’s okay.
People love to hate women, and I think, specifically, millennials were taught to hate successful women. I think there is always room to critique people, especially white women. In fact, I am always considering how whiteness clouds2 my understanding of things in the same way I have to understand how misogyny may cloud my viewpoints.
Whether the internalized hatred of women came from envy, self-loathing, or systemic prejudice, I had to unpack it. The media perpetuates this; how we talk about sex and success does too. Let Taylor Swift be a lesson that women are allowed to want to be successful, sexy, and in love. And we are allowed to want that for ourselves.
I’m obsessed with song:
I also can’t stop listening to this album:
Thinking about this:
Returning to this article about healing justice.
I wrote an article about ethical porn. Read it here.
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This is not an invitation to be toxic and manipulative
I am always down to be held accountable and be told when I have a bad or misinformed take