AS I SEE IT - Why Taylor Swift is a 21st Century Feminist Icon By Betsy Goodfellow

Not only has Taylor Swift maintained a career spanning almost two decades and a discography full of chart-topping, award-winning albums, the Nashville born singer-songwriter has also spoken out on politics, feminism, and various other controversial topics. Swift is undeniably a feminist icon of the twenty-first century, as well as being a hugely talented musician. But her career hasn’t been without its controversies. Swift’s had her fair share of drama with Kanye West, as well as the more recent dispute over the rights to her older albums (which she doesn’t actually own). However, she has survived these situations and remains a role-model for many.

In an Instagram post uploaded in October 2018, Swift broke her rule of not sharing her political views publicly, and decided to talk about the midterm elections, encouraging her followers to vote against her home state Tennessee’s Republican senator, Marsha Blackburn. Her family and team warned Swift against getting political, reminding her of the Dixie Chicks, a band who dropped from fame after speaking out against President Bush. However, in her documentary, Miss Americana (2020), Swift explains that even if they lost, she felt she had to “be on the right side of history”. It seems that the first two years of Trump’s presidency had enough of an impact that Swift no longer felt that she should waste the platform she had grown through her music, instead trying to use it for good in an attempt to improve America’s political situation.

In the documentary it is clear that this is a difficult decision for Swift. She is seen arguing with her father, who ultimately wants to protect her and her career and therefore didn’t want her to get involved. Swift seemed to struggle with the decision herself, as she explains she’s always had a need to be seen as a “good girl” but also feeling that “a nice girl doesn’t force her opinions on people”. Swift seemed to be commenting on the internalised misogyny we have all been conditioned to believe.

"it was a brave decision to start sharing her political views, especially as Swift became famous at such a young age"

She has also written her political views into a few songs, such as ‘Only the Young’ (written after the 2018 midterm elections), which encouraged young people to vote and involve themselves in politics. In my opinion, it was a brave decision to start sharing her political views, especially as Swift became famous at such a young age. This must have come with the added challenges of being seen as a child and not being taken seriously. However, as I see it, Swift’s political statements only make me respect her more.

As well as sharing her political views, Swift has clearly been a feminist role-model specifically for her young, female fans. Her feminism is clear through the lyrics of songs such as ‘The Man’, which includes lines such as “I’m so sick of running as fast as I can/wondering if I’d get there quicker/if I was a man”; obviously questioning the patriarchal systems that dominate many aspects of society. The song goes on to further criticise the media’s criticisms of her dating history as well as her career.

Personally, I think that the reason a lot of people are ashamed to admit they like Taylor Swift stems from some internalised misogyny; her fans are predominantly young women and teenage girls, who are often mocked for liking things. When I think back to secondary school, girls were teased whether they were into Harry Potter, makeup, sports or basically anything at all. In this way, the fact that Taylor Swift’s fans fall into this demographic has seemingly allowed people to not take her seriously, despite the fact that she is an award-winning musician in her own right.

Another way that Swift has become a feminist icon for the twenty-first century is by speaking out on difficult topics, personal to her. In 2017, Swift was involved in a sexual assault case, after a radio DJ groped her in 2013. Whilst the perpetrator was fired, he decided to sue for defamation. However, Swift counter-sued for a symbolic $1 and won, then pledged to donate to organisations that help sexual assault victims. Swift has since spoken out about this situation and criticised the ‘victim blaming’ that often occurs in cases like this, explaining that she was asked “why didn’t you scream?” as if her silence condones the DJ’s behaviour. She has also openly condemned societal beauty standards for women, calling them “fucking impossible”.

On the whole, it is clear that Taylor Swift has become a feminist icon of the twenty-first century. Much of the criticism of her stems from a place of internalised misogyny, which she has spoken out against, as well as having shared her political views and her thoughts on various feminist issues. Personally, I’ve enjoyed Swift’s music since hearing ‘I Knew You Were Trouble’ on my NOW 84 album way back in 2013, but the fact that she has become a feminist role-model for so many only makes me like her more.


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