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Memo to Taylor Swift: You're a Feminist

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Mar 05, 2013 | 1:13pm EST

Taylor Swift on cover of Vanity FairOnly Anne Hathaway seems capable of inspiring as much ire as Taylor Swift these days. Many seem to have long found her annoying, but it feels like we’re reaching some sort of peak hatred for Swift. (I hope, anyway.) Even Michael J. Fox has snark to spare for her.

In a new Vanity Fair interview, Swift comes out swinging — and she's more than capable of standing up for herself, thanks. She even has some words for Golden Globes hosts Tina Fey and Amy Poehler — who took the jab at her love life that led to Fox’s joke. When asked about Fey and Poehler’s crack that she should stay away from Fox’s son (who was onstage helping with the awards), Swift quoted something Katie Couric once told her: “There is a special place in hell for women who don’t help other women.”

As painful as this is, it’s hard to deny: Taylor Swift is right, and the usually impeccably feminist Fey and Poehler are wrong. Or maybe not so much wrong as likely inclined to agree with her that these jokes could use some rethinking, and are, in fact, sexist. As Swift continued, directing her ire at the broader judgy, tabloid culture, “For a female to write about her feelings, and then be portrayed as some clingy, insane, desperate girlfriend in need of making you marry her and have kids with her, I think that’s taking something that potentially should be celebrated — a woman writing about her feelings in a confessional way — that’s taking it and turning it and twisting it into something that is frankly a little sexist.”

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I hate to tell you this, Ms. Swift, but given those last few statements, you are a feminist — even though you sidestepped the label in a recent interview with The Daily Beast. Feminism isn't just “guys versus girls,” as you put it there. And, if you really feel that "if you [meaning women] work as hard as guys, you can go far in life," you're a femisist, whether you adopt the label or not. Given that she’s still only 22, hopefully she’s in the process of figuring that out.

Despite her eschewing of the feminist label, I can’t help feeling a little defensive of a girl who has managed to keep her wits and intelligence about her through her teen years in the spotlight, and who is a damn good songwriter. (Otherwise, we wouldn’t all be talking about her in the first place.) Yes, she takes her chances by putting her love life out in her songs for public consumption. Being an artist means being vulnerable, and she has nailed that since the beginning of her career.

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Swift has in the process emerged as a confounding creature to many feminists, and thus has ended up the subject of surprisingly vitriolic diatribes from the likes of Camille Paglia and Jezebel. One, these are ridiculous rants against Swift, reflecting far more about the ranters than about the woman herself. What they’re saying is: We don’t think we’d like to hang out with her, and we don’t enjoy her music, therefore she can’t be a feminist like we are.

None of us are perfect feminists. If any of our lives were dissected piece by piece, you could put some parts in the “feminist” column, some parts in the “not,” and I’d hope we’d still be “allowed” to be feminists. Dating back to her teens, Swift has been inspiring little girls to pick up guitars and to write their own truths into song. She has also been perpetuating endless fairy tale, princess-in-distress fantasies through her songs, though I’d argue that that’s her truth. A then-teenage singer/songwriter couldn’t be held responsible for reflecting what her culture had taught her. And incidentally, her newer songs, like “We Are Never Ever Getting Back Together” and “I Knew You Were in Trouble” drop the Prince Charming delusions.

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For me, she lands squarely in the feminist camp — whether she embraces that word or not — when she says this to Vanity Fair: “There’s a lesson in all this, in knowing that you can live your life in a way that you’re proud of and people are still gonna take shots.” Hopefully, she’ll keep doing just that, and growing.

Hollywood.com correspondent Jennifer Keishin Armstrong is the author of two forthcoming books, Sexy Feminism and Mary and Lou and Rhoda and Ted, a history of The Mary Tyler Moore Show. For more information visit  JenniferKArmstrong.com.

Follow Jennifer on Twitter @jmkarmstrong 

[Photo Credit: Vanity Fair]


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