(Un)feminist Guilty Pleasures: Taylor Freaking Swift

Anyone who has ever been foolish enough to entrust me with the creation of a playlist intended for public consumption knows that I have terrible, terrible taste in music. I pretend to like country ironically, and I act like I only listen to bubblegum pop to keep up with the zeitgeist, but that’s because I’m a filthy liar. I am a filthy liar with horrendous taste in music. My Grooveshark playlist currently contains Miley Cyrus, Ke$ha, Justin Bieber and of course, Taylor Swift. And yes, in case you were wondering, I am thoroughly ashamed of myself.

I’ve been hearing Swift’s new song “Mine” a lot on the radio here in Sydney, and I’ve been bopping along to it while remaining totally aware that it’s, well, completely in keeping with my usual taste. The song is typical Taylor: true love (heterosexual, monogamous and blonde love, I should say) is tested and ultimately prevails. Despite the hardships, Taylor and her One True Love make it work and make it last and have two adorable blonde babies because their love is, like, so strong. Some observers have noted that instead of daydreaming about a prom date, Swift is now singing about a husband and father to her children,  a sign that she might be attempting to grow up in the public eye without taking the “sex it up” route that aging teen starlets are so prone to. All the same, this song doesn’t deviate from her tried, tested and very popular formula. Jamie Keilies at Teenagerie has been listening, too, and she doesn’t like what she hears:

This song is rife with freaky-deaky, weirdo language that frames Swift as someone perpetually under the ownership, or at least care, of a male authority. The lyrics describe her as not a woman, but as a “careless man’s careful daughter” that her new boyfriend has “made a rebel of.” This is problematic to me, in the sense that it implies a transfer of her ownership from one man to another. I think it’s weird in this song that she doesn’t seem to have any sense of her own identity away from the love interest, or her father. I do, however, give her props for the use of the line “we got bills to pay.” Though grammatically incorrect, it implies that Taylor will be helping to pay the bills though some means of gainful employment. Let’s go back in time 50 years so that I can congratulate her on being progressive!

When you’re a feminist who believes in the power of pop culture to reflect and shape our values, it can be really hard to just sit back and enjoy pop culture. It can be so difficult to switch of the voice in your head that says, “this is really sexist!” long enough to watch a so-bad-it’s-good reality TV show or grind to reggaeton. There are lots of critiques to be made of Taylor Swift’s message and branding and yeah, Beyonce really did have the best music video of all time. But I do hereby declare: despite all this, despite my suspicion that it’s rotting my brain, despite the mockery that it earns me from my friends and family, that Taylor Swift is my (un)feminist guilty pleasure.

New York, NY

Chloe Angyal is a journalist and scholar of popular culture from Sydney, Australia. She joined the Feministing team in 2009. Her writing about politics and popular culture has been published in The Atlantic, The Guardian, New York magazine, Reuters, The LA Times and many other outlets in the US, Australia, UK, and France. She makes regular appearances on radio and television in the US and Australia. She has an AB in Sociology from Princeton University and a PhD in Arts and Media from the University of New South Wales. Her academic work focuses on Hollywood romantic comedies; her doctoral thesis was about how the genre depicts gender, sex, and power, and grew out of a series she wrote for Feministing, the Feministing Rom Com Review. Chloe is a Senior Facilitator at The OpEd Project and a Senior Advisor to The Harry Potter Alliance. You can read more of her writing at chloesangyal.com

Chloe Angyal is a journalist and scholar of popular culture from Sydney, Australia.

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  • http://feministing.com/members/shahida/ Shahida Arabi

    I think it’s important to note the fact that Swift’s song is about mutual ownership– the man in question is “mine” or hers, and she is “his” — let’s be careful about labelling everything in a black-and-white fashion–her intention was probably not to imply that she is the sole property of a man but to document a love story (what else is new?) and a sense of belonging to each other. Swift does emphasize love a lot in her songs, and it is true that this detracts from a sense of personal identity and places the focus on her object of romantic fascination. Even “Fifteen,” a song about the loss of innocence and naivety deals directly with the loss through the medium of a romantic relationship–thus one could argue that Swift is always defined by her relationship to another male figure. However, I initially saw the line about being the “careful daughter” of a “careless man” in “Mine” as more of a juxtaposing technique in the song rather than an intended reinforcement of patriarchial constructs.

    But now, I would challenge why is it that she is never a “daughter” of her mother, of course, and I would also look at some of her other songs which threaten a cheating male with her father’s violent payback (e.g. “And if you come around saying sorry to me/My daddy’s gonna show you how sorry you’ll be”) and this is a common dose of “Daddy’s little girl” and Daddy as the aggressive protector of his daughter. Even “Love Story” draws on this motif, saying, “My daddy said stay away from Juliet” and “I talked to your Dad go pick out a white dress”…I think contextually, this is personal to Swift and her relationship with her Dad, but I can see how it can be interpreted within a framework of misogny–after all, why does ‘Dad’ get to decide everything? Why is ‘Dad’ the angry defender against male predators?

    It’s always important to challenge the music we listen to–even though as a feminist it can get frustrating always identifying things we “should” not like, but do–I say, continue with our guilty pleasures, but stay mindful of the messages music sends.

  • http://cabaretic.blogspot.com nazza

    And I suppose we can either isolate ourselves from it and live in a bubble, or try to find some other path between the two.

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