Dear Taylor: Shake off sexism 

Katie Sidlowksi, Contributing Writer

It’s hard to deny that at multiple points in her career, Taylor Swift has profited from her position as a “victim.” Whether she purposely positioned herself in this role or if it was one she simply found herself in (after the 2009 Video Music Awards, perhaps?), she nonetheless perpetuates this narrative.

It’s a theme she continually draws on in her music. Classic examples are songs such as “Picture to Burn,” “Mean,” and “Dear John,” the lyrics of which clearly position her as the victim of betrayal, bullying, and the advances of an older man, respectively.

Swift has also claimed this position during media-fueled feuds, like her supposed fight with Kim Kardashian West, during which Swift famously said, “I would very much like to be excluded from this narrative, one that I have never asked to be a part of, since 2009.”

The connotation of this, of course, is that Swift was an unwilling participant in this narrative from the very beginning and was simply swept into the media storm as an unwitting victim.

Feminist theory highlights the lack of suitable roles for women in a society dominated and structured by men. One of the acceptable roles, however, is a victim. According to bell hooks’ article “Sisterhood: Political Solidarity between Women,” “Sexist ideology teaches women that to be female is to be a victim.”

Women then bond on the grounds of this victimization and the common experience of feminism becomes one controlled by sexism instead of one focused on confronting it. hooks’ analysis also tells us that sexism is fundamentally divisive: “Between women, male supremacist values are expressed through suspicious, defensive and competitive behavior.”

Swift buys into this divisiveness by constantly pitting women against one another. We see this in the song “Better than Revenge” in which she again positions herself as a victim of a boy-snatching actress, “better know for the things she does on the mattress.” Similarly in “Bad Blood,” Swift is betrayed by someone she thought was a close friend. What’s worse is that these lyrics are simply stand-ins for real women, actress Camilla Belle and singer Katy Perry, respectively. Not only does Swift tear down fellow industry women with her music, but she also buys into a larger patriarchal narrative that perpetuates, rather than challenges, sexism.

Her music video for new single “Look What You Made Me Do” marries these two concepts. Swift reminds us of her status as a victim by portraying her past selves and pitting herself against an unknown “you,” whom she addresses throughout the song as the reason behind her actions, effectively shirking all responsibility.

More recently, Swift was the plaintiff in a sexual assault lawsuit against radio DJ David Mueller. In this instance, Swift was a victim who used her platform, substantiated by her eight years of simply “playing” the victim, to speak out against sexual assault.

While it’s admirable and important that Swift took her abuser to trial in a countersuit and came out on top, it doesn’t mean she didn’t perpetuate, once again, her status as a victim. If Swift wants to defeat this stereotype and its sexist overtones, she must reposition herself as above it, rather than playing into the narrative that has been so profitable for her in the past.

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