Pop-Culture | Posted by Julie Z on 12/15/2010

Taylor Swift: Possible Feminist?

yup. read it.

yup. read it.

I love Taylor Swift. According to iTunes, I have listened to her latest CD, Speak Now, 31 times. I have bought every magazine that featured her on the cover in the past two months and read each interview multiple times. I stalk her Twitter account. Basically, I have become a fangirl stereotype.

I know. You’re probably thinking, “Wow, another teenage girl who likes Taylor Swift. How out of the ordinary considering that she is ranked #12 on Forbes’ Powerful Celebrity List and seems to win something at every award show she attends, whether she was nominated or not.” But this has been an interesting experience for me because I have never really looked up to celebrities.

When virtually all of my friends went through a fanatic phase for a certain emo pop punk band Sophomore year (literally all of our conversations were dominated about musings of their inner thoughts, likes, dislikes, childhood dreams, whether they preferred Unicorns or Narwhals etc.) I rolled my eyes and ambivalently dealt with it. As my friend literally writhed in her seat next to me while watching Taylor Lautner take off his shirt in New Moon and immediately began to plan their wedding, I internally struggled with the messages about unhealthy relationships the movies was sending.

But for Taylor Swift, I have become a stereotype. And normally, I’d feel unsettled by such a fact. But not this time. Why? Because Taylor Swift is feminist (even if she doesn’t identify as a feminist…that I know of). I know there has been debate about this, especially here on the fbomb, but let me explain.

I think my personal journey with Taylor started when my boyfriend and I broke up (of course it did). My best friend was also dealing with a break up, and to her credit, she found T-Swizzle first. During one of our marathon bitch sessions about how the opposite sex and people in general really do suck, she mentioned how she had bought the Deluxe version of Speak Now and had it on repeat. She said that while nobody else really understood, Taylor did. I was skeptical, but the next time I was at Starbucks trying to convince the barista to fill my Speedway 64-ouncer with coffee (FOR THE RECORD I offered to pay extra but they weren’t having it), I noticed Speak Now at the register, and just as Starbucks assumed I would, I saw the swirly purple of her pretty dress on the cover and impulse purchased it.

Speak Now: The Holy Grail

Speak Now: The Holy Grail

Thus began the Taylor Swift immersion. Dear John outlined everything I wanted to say to my ex-boyfriend. Better Than Revenge perfectly summed up what I wanted to say to my former friend who had written the love letter to my boyfriend that spurred out break up, as did Mean (um, I’m pretty sure I actually shook the house with the loud volume I mustered to spew the line, “All you are is mean, and a liar, and pathetic, and alone in life and mean.”). And HELLO The Story of Us perfectly summed up the first time I had to see both of those jerks again at school (*general note* don’t date people that go to the same school as you. Especially when your school only has 400 people and like 5 square feet).

Even when my friends were sick of listening to me, I could sing along to Taylor Swift – it was as good as therapy. When I felt guilty about how petty my emotions seemed, when I wanted more than anything to just forget and move on and not spend another minute thinking about things that didn’t really deserve my time, her music reflected that. And how did I know that I had officially moved on? When I played Speak Now from start to finish and realized I was jamming just because it was good music, not because I had a bevy of pent up emotions.

But what about her being feminist? Well I haven’t forgotten that. The music industry in our society has gotten to the point where listening to the radio is really not so much better than flipping through a fashion magazine. Both bombard us with messages about how to look and act, and those messages aren’t necessarily the healthiest. If it’s not the Pussycat Dolls (I mean, really, Pussy. Cat. Dolls. Enough said.) telling us to try to be hotter than other girls to compete for guys, it’s some rapper telling us to shake our asses or lick their lollipop. Or, in the less detrimental realm, songs that try to capture real experiences are so base and are more reflective of a half-hour situation comedy than real life.

Now, Taylor may have written a few songs that err on the ridiculously romantic side. And I get that those generally employ gender stereotypes, heteronormativity and set us up for disappointment in our relationships. But REALLY how many of us can say we haven’t had similar fantasies? Also, I don’t think there’s anything wrong with having high standards in our romantic lives, even if a prince riding in on his steed may be a little too high. And as long as we supplement those love stories with songs that remind us that we were all naïve freshmen once, everybody makes mistakes, and that it’s okay that that douchebag hurt you, he doesn’t deserve you anyway- which Swift also supplies us with – well, then, we’re just listening to an accurate description of the range of emotions we experience in our lives. I just don’t see her being a hopeless romantic dreamer as hugely detrimental to the feminist cause when she backs it up with songs that clearly show the converse to those fantasies, and plenty of songs that are straight up empowering.

Taylor Swift tells the truth. She is able to sum up the teenage experience in a way that completely expresses every emotion I’ve felt in the past 4 years in 4 minutes increments. She honestly depicts what teens feel from the most embarrassing regrets of our lives to the ultimate high points, and makes us feel like feeling all of those things are good. There’s no shame. There’s no sense of not living up to some fucked up societal standard. She’s just plain honest and wants to connect with her audience – rather than be an unattainable ideal — and that comes across. She inspires connections; not just between her and her fans, but amongst fans — when we listen to her lyrics and think to ourselves It’s like she understands my life we realize that that is the same thing the rest of her fans are thinking, and we’re able to connect with each other. If that’s not sisterhood, then I don’t know what is. Also, her willingness to be a real girl amongst a sea of over-produced, image-controlled feminine ideals posing as “artists” is something that as a feminist I can seriously appreciate. She is very aware of her position as a role model to young women, and takes great care to set a good example.

Maybe Taylor Swift’s songs don’t represent a perfect feminist ideal. But we don’t live in an ideal world. And in my opinion she represents the epitome of a poised, gracious, philanthropic role model in the reality that we’ve got. And I sure as hell appreciate her for it.

So, Taylor Swift. Rock on. And learn more about feminism. I think you’d like it.

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  • Hiroko @ at 11:37 am, December 15th, 2010

    I’m not buying it… The first time I ever thought about Taylor Swift is when “You Belong With Me” blew up, and seriously – the lyrics, the video are not doing anything but promoting stereotypes about women. And the fact that she is both girls in the video? I mean, c’mon. Are you telling us that being more masculine as opposed to feminine is the best way to go to attain a man? What about that is feminist?

    I clicked through all of your links to see your complete argument, but I didn’t see anything that really stood out about her. I’m sure she does a great job, like you said, of relating to her audience, but countless other artists do that, albeit maybe not the Pussycat Dolls. Most celebrities are poised because they are trained to be, and are philanthropic without having a critical consciousness about what cause they are supporting. The songs you linked were all about men.

    Maybe she has the potential to be feminist, like anyone, but… for now, I think you’re just speaking from the part of you that is a huge fan of her and hoping to connect it to the part of you that is feminist. She may be better than those “over-produced, image-controlled feminine ideals” but… I don’t think that makes her feminist.

  • Miriam @ at 12:03 pm, December 15th, 2010

    Great post! I think I agree. In any case, I don’t think you can boil ANYONE to being either “feminist” or “not-feminist,” so people who completely dismiss Taylor Swift are being too judgmental in my opinion.

  • Miriam @ at 12:03 pm, December 15th, 2010

    Great post! I think I agree. In any case, I don’t think you can boil ANYONE to being either “feminist” or “not-feminist,” so people who completely dismiss Taylor Swift are being too judgmental in my opinion.

  • Liz @ at 12:10 pm, December 15th, 2010

    Awsome! I am a huge Taylor fan (I saw her in concert this summer–it was awesome. I was 6 years older than the median age of concert attendees though…), and I feel bad sometimes reading feminist criticism of her music. It’s really not EVIL (though Better Than Revenge is KIND of evil… but I still love singing loudly to it in my car), I think she just gets a lot of flak because she is so popular. On the upside, I think she is a really good role model for young girls… she’s not scandalous, she seems like she has a weird side, and she’s breaking all kinds of records that women don’t usually break–especially women who just turned 21. She’s a really impressive person!

  • Zoe @ at 12:46 pm, December 15th, 2010

    That’s great that Taylor Swift helped you with your breakup but I don’t see the part where you convince me that she’s a feminist.

    I don’t care for country music and I don’t care for her, which is fine. Other people may love her and that’s fine too. I don’t consider her a femininst but I don’t consider her an anti-feminist either. She’s a fine role model for girls who want to look up to her.

    I just get tired of her pure-as-snow white dresses (is it symbolism for virginity? Maybe not but maybe). And the lyric in “Fifteen” where her friend gives “everything she had” to a boy (aka her virginity)…well, I’m sorry but a girl isn’t only her virginity.

    I’m not trying to play Devil’s advocate here, I’m just saying…she might be a talented young girl who is doing amazing things with her life but that doesn’t mean that she’s a feminist. And saying that she’s a “real” girl because she swings to the virgin side of the Madonna/Whore spectrum…well, seems sort of lame and a little slut-shamey.

  • Liz @ at 1:09 pm, December 15th, 2010

    @Zoe I’ve heard that whole criticism of “Fifteen” before and I’ve never really been able to fully agree with it. Mostly because I don’t WANT to think that it’s all about being a virgin. Also she’s never come out and said that the line “everything she had” meant the state of her hymen, and I just think that’s a really conservative interpretation. I’ve always seen it as that her best friend fell in love with this guy who turned out to be a douche (and if they had sex… yeah, sure, maybe) and that “everything she had” meant like her emotions and stuff. I feel like that is a lot more realistic…

    I don’t necessarily think that Taylor is a feminist, but I work with 14-15 year old girls and I think that “Fifteen” offers a really important message about not trying to grow up too fast and being aware that emotions run high when you’re a teen. Things change, people change, and after awhile, what happened when you were 15 isn’t that big of a deal.

  • Amy CT @ at 3:10 pm, December 15th, 2010

    I’m a Taylor fan and I was brought up on country music (bizarre, for a girl from a small town in the UK, I know, but you can blame my Dad for that).

    I never made a connection between Taylor and feminism, though. I never saw her as especially unfeminist either.

    I see her as a singer in a genre I adore telling me about things I understand – and that’s why I love her music.

    I think you’re right, though. You’re going to get a lot of negative or contraversial comments about this argument, but I think if Taylor knew a little more about feminism, she might just love it, too.

    Even if “love” isn’t quite the word I’m looking for.

  • natasha @ at 5:23 pm, December 15th, 2010

    im pretty impressed because she’s a republican and a lot of feminist seem to hate republicans.
    but yeah her music is pretty great.
    what annoys me though is how she is always singing about how annoying cheerleaders and popular girls are(while wearing a sparkly mini dress) when at my school it was the cheerleaders who all listened to her

  • Hiroko @ at 6:57 pm, December 15th, 2010


    Try Sara Bareilles?

  • Marisol @ at 8:15 pm, December 15th, 2010

    I don’t really care for Taylor’s music. Maybe it’s because, being bisexual, my dating experiences are worlds away from hers and I find it nearly impossible to relate to. I suppose I’ve felt like the song “Dear John” before, but sometimes it’s “Dear Joanne.”
    I’m also not really feeling the part where you can convince me that Tay is a possible feminist? Because all I’m seeing is how she tells the truth and helped you through a break-ups, which is good but this doesn’t support what the article’s title suggests.

  • A @ at 9:02 pm, December 15th, 2010

    @ Hiroko- LOVE Sara Bareilles. I don’t know if she’s a self- proclaimed feminist, but her song “fairytale” is spouting feminist ideals. “bottle it up” and “king of anything” have similar vibes.

  • JJ @ at 10:32 pm, December 15th, 2010

    Her songs are catchy, but I feel that personally, I can’t relate to her experiences. I’ve had relationships with the other sex, but when I was 15, I would have never believed a boy if he told me that he loved me. Are you kidding me?
    And I’m still probably not going to in most cases, no matter how sweetly and sadly Miss Swift sings it…
    And the other problem that I have with her songs is that some of them really push a hate-the-other-girl agenda. I suppose she’s had some bad experiences with so called “snobby” and “popular” girls, but feminism will never succeed with any kind of girl-hate amongst the ranks. What I have learned from feminism is how to put myself in the other person’s shoes, which usually makes me feel more compassionate about the other person, be it girl or boy. All I could derive from her song “You belong to me” and the most recent, “Speak Now” was an encouragement to put down the other girl’s dress and hate on her appearance and social status just because she wasn’t kind or as laid back, or as “cool” as you, because, that’s how you get the guys, ladies, by stepping on the heeled toes of the snobby girl next to you, trying to feel better about yourself by telling yourself that the other girl’s dress looks like a pastry mess and that her man secretly longs for you.

  • Samuel W. @ at 1:49 am, December 16th, 2010

    I’ve never had a heartbreak, thus far, and when that eventually happens I see myself listening to Elvis Costello, Frank Sinatra, MAYBE Elliott Smith, the 70’s singer-songwriters, The Smiths, The Beatles’ darker material, The Cure…rather than someone like Taylor Swift. But she’s a far, far better celebrity to admire than Miley Cyrus, Katy Perry and Jessica Simpson COMBINED.

  • Katherine C. @ at 11:49 am, December 16th, 2010

    Um, sorry, but no. To me, Swift screams anti-feminist: the slut-shaming, the boy-crazy repitoire, the oh-poor-little-me message.

    And you really don’t think Taylor Swift is controlled by handlers? You don’t think there’s a certain “image” she’s trying to sell? What makes her a “real girl” exactly, as opposed to a fake one?

    I’m glad her songs helped you through your breakup, but I think that you just like her music so much that you’re trying to fit it into another important area of your life: feminism. Your appreciation/admiration of Swift does not make her a feminist.

  • Natalia @ at 11:55 pm, December 16th, 2010

    Her songs are damn catchy, I’ll admit that. I watched “Valentine’s Day” and the song “today was a fairytale” has been stuck in my head forever! Even though I hate the lyrics.
    You’re right though, she does tell the truth. I’m twenty now and I’m in a happy stable relationship. But if Taylor Swift had been this popular when I was 15-17 I would have lover her! You belong with me was totally the story of my high school love life with this douchebag…anyway

    Yeah she tells the truth, but she’s turning 21, I expect her lyrics to mature a little. I feel that her lyrics are simple, any high school girl could have written that. So in that sense, I don’t find her talented.

    As I said, when her lyrics start to mature and they step away from boys, then I’ll take her more seriously. And then I might consider her a feminist.

  • Emily @ at 5:06 pm, December 17th, 2010

    I agree that “You Belong With Me” is a very slut-shamey, girl-bashing song that’s not feminist at all, and in general she seems to put a lot of value on purity of some sort or another. Also, her life has been privileged in pretty much every way possible, and she acts like her privileged high school experiences reflect the experiences of every high school girl out there (except the horrible slutty popular ones, of course).

  • Natalia @ at 1:52 am, December 18th, 2010

    As I said, she’s 21, so why is she still writing about high school? I guess that’s all she knows.

    Also, I agree with people who call her an “image”. I’ve seen her interviews and she will compliment every person in the audience who asks her a question. “Omg i love your hair!”…yeah it reminds me of mean girls. I bet she was one of the mean girls in high school, not the innocent one.

  • kanadra @ at 12:36 am, December 19th, 2010

    @natalia; Funny thing, she was home schooled…. she doesn’t actually know as much about high school as it seems.

  • Natalia @ at 11:10 pm, December 19th, 2010


    Are you serious!? Actually that makes more sense. Since she missed out on it, she romanticizes and that’s all she can write about :S

  • K.P. @ at 2:26 pm, December 20th, 2010


  • Amie @ at 12:39 pm, December 27th, 2010

    i don’t overly enjoy taylor swift, but i don’t dislike her either. she’s talented, he songs are catchy & i give her credit for being different from a lot of other female artists.

    but, i disagree with you. i don’t get the feminist vibe from her at all. her songs are girly love songs, and they’re all safe and easily relatable. she’s not SAYING anything in her songs, she’s not taking any risks.

  • Siobhan @ at 6:07 pm, January 10th, 2011

    I love love love Taylor Swift. I would never have particularly picked her out as a feminist icon but I really don’t think she deserves all the criticism she seems to get on many feminist blogs. I agree that the subject matter of her songs is a little one-dimensional and centered exclusively on her heterosexual teenage relationships but she writes about what she knows and she does it well, in a way that is relatable to a huge number of teenage girls from many different walks of life.
    Arguably some of her imagery tries to play up the innocent virgin thing and borders on slut-shaming but compared to some other teen icons at least she isn’t shoving absinience down anyone’s throats or sporting a purity ring. Also keep in mind that a lot of her earlier songs were written when she was very young, probably before she had any sexual experience of her own. I personally think her latest album has shown a level of growth and incresed maturity. “Dear John” for example deals with more than teenage infatuation and, in my opinion, sends a very good message to girls about getting out of controlling or manipulative relationships. (No arguments about the attack of “Speak Now”, only track from the album that I didn’t like). Also, like Liz said above, I never for a second interpreted that line from “Fifteen” about Abigail giving “everything she had” to mean exclusively her virginity. I think reading it like that is just trying to find fault with the song.
    I also have to respect Taylor for what she has acheieved as a musician. I love her for the fact that she has brought country music to a new generation of listeners in Ireland and the UK. Her music has opened the eyes of many young people in this part of the world to a genre that used to be completely socially unacceptable to express any interest in whatsoever (I would know). This has to be a good thing!
    At the end of the day I think Taylor Swift is just a normal young woman finding her way in the world, possibly not in the most feminist fashion but hardly in a way that deserves to have her labelled as an enemy of the feminist movement. I enjoy her music for what it is and I like her because I think she is the kind of person I could be friends with, feminist or not.

  • Is Bethany Cosentino Taylor Swift for hipsters? « Feminist Music Geek @ at 2:42 pm, February 7th, 2011

    […] part of that number with Swift, though I side with Julie Zeilinger and hope that she’ll adopt feminism. Cosentino has gotten it from folks like Marnie Stern, though I’m more than a little […]

  • Ren @ at 10:18 pm, May 15th, 2011

    While all of Taylor Swift’s music may not be totally feminist it does not always focus on boys (think The Best Day). And in my opinion part of modern feminism is being able to be who you want to be. If Taylor Swift doesn’t want to be a slut who drinks and has drug addictions, I don’t see the problem. She may not be the best role model but she isn’t the worst either. And while sex may be a good thing in the right context….well it does complicate things, especially in high school. If sex is what the song Fifteen is referring to (“everything she had”)….I don’t necessarily think it is wrong. Break-ups are hard with or without having had sex, but with sex there are more feelings of connections often times.

    @Natilia, Taylor Swift now mainly writes about the guys she has dated recently (John Mayer, Joe Jonas, Taylor Laughtner) that isn’t high school…that is her real dating life now.

    And by the way @kanadra Taylor Swift went to real high school for at least freshman year. And just because one doesn’t go to all of high school in order to peruse a career in music doesn’t make them socially inept. One of the main people in Def Leopard (I forget his name) did not finish high school in order to join Def Leopard. She doesn’t act like she knows high school, she acts like she knows relationships. She knew Freshman year. And from what she has said in interviews middle school was bullying hell for her. So she knows teen/tween drama.

  • Emma @ at 7:52 pm, July 12th, 2011

    Actually, I agree with this. Taylor’s songs ‘Fifteen’ and ‘Better than Revenge’ are actually very feminist songs, although not in a obvious way.

  • Elektrische Zahnbuerste @ at 7:15 am, November 21st, 2011

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  • rain @ at 9:23 pm, May 9th, 2012

    Although I like Taylor Swift’s MUSIC, I’m not completely sure about her messages. Songs like “Belong with me” and “Mean” set up girls against each other. They also are against sluts.. e.g. “she wears short skirts, I wear t-shirts”

  • Erin @ at 12:18 am, December 7th, 2012

    I think this has to be one of my favourite articles on this site. Taylor inspires you, even when you feel helpless, and it’s that connection that has me head-over-heels in love with her. I think that as a feminist, you do need to realise that you can experience pain, heartbreak and hurt. But as Taylor says: “There are two ways you can deal with pain; let it ruin you, or make you stronger”. That is exactly what Taylor does. She uses her pain and makes a song that helps a broken heart. This is what makes her a feminist. Using those horrible experiences to take her revenge and say “Well, hah. Shame on you.”
    Taylor inspires me, and I think she should inspire all feminists.

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