clock menu more-arrow no yes

Taylor Swift may never be the perfect feminist, and that’s okay

Recording artist Taylor Swift at the 58th Annual Grammy Awards on February 15, 2016, at the Staples Center in Los Angeles, California.
Recording artist Taylor Swift at the 58th Annual Grammy Awards on February 15, 2016, at the Staples Center in Los Angeles, California.
Jason LaVeris/Getty Images

Since her 2014 feminist awakening, Taylor Swift has been the subject of much praise and criticism. Fans delight in her willingness to criticize society's double standards while promoting #SquadGoals and female friendship.

But some argue that her words are not enough. Article after article criticizes Swift for not taking action on real issues and limiting her perspective to elite, white feminism. Many argue that she should work to put a spotlight on issues that affect low-income, minority, non-Western, and queer women.

On Sunday singer Demi Lovato took to Twitter to call out Swift on her lack of action. Lovato's criticism came after news broke last week that singer Kesha was denied a court injunction that would have allowed her to release music outside of her contract with Sony and producer Dr. Luke.

Kesha claims that over the past 10 years the producer "sexually, physically, and verbally abused" her, and she has received an outpouring of support from fans and fellow celebrities. But, without explicitly naming Swift, Lovato appeared to be unimpressed with Swift's silence on the issue, and voiced her thoughts in a series of tweets.

She continued to tweet even after Swift announced that she donated $250,000 to assist with Kesha's case.

After attracting a lot of attention, Lovato switched gears, stating on Instagram that "our focus should be on the topic of victims of sexual and physical abuse being afraid to come forward with their stories."

Though most Twitter rants tend to be pretty fruitless, Lovato struck a nerve. Swift does consistently encourage other women to stand up for themselves. But as far as deeper feminist thought goes, she has yet to address or advocate for a diverse range of issues that contribute to systematic gender inequality.

In 2012, Swift was politically ambiguous, telling Time that she avoids talking about politics "because it might influence other people." She added, "I don't think that I know enough yet in life to be telling people who to vote for."

She also shied away from the feminist label, but started to embrace it in the following years.

"As a teenager, I didn’t understand that saying you’re a feminist is just saying that you hope women and men will have equal rights and equal opportunities," she told the Guardian in 2014.

With her newfound understanding came a new, outspoken persona, the most recent example being at the Grammys this month after 1989 won Album of the Year. During her acceptance speech she fired back at Kanye West, who released the controversial song "Famous" several days earlier, with lyrics taking credit for making "that bitch" (i.e., Swift) famous.

"As the first woman to win Album of the Year at the Grammys twice, I want to say to all the young women out there, there will be people along the way who will try to undercut your success," she said. "Or take credit for your accomplishments or your fame."

Swift boldly stood up for herself. But to reiterate a point mentioned by a number of Swift critics, feminist issues are much deeper and more complex than encouraging pluckiness and female friendship.

But even if people criticize Swift's approach, is there really a point to imposing a litany of required feminist behavior on her? Policing other women's feminism does not actually help the cause. Plus, Swift is a beloved pop megastar before anything else; how much can we really expect from her?

Swift's brand is brilliant and well-constructed. It allows her to exude confidence and sex appeal, and also look like a dorky girl next door. It allows her to come from wealth and look like a runway model while the New York Times labels her an "underdog."

But in addition to beauty and talent, Swift's success is built on her openness and personal connections with fans. A 2011 article from Fast Company sums this up well:

She’s a poster child for millions, and for the new music business model. She wears her young heart on her sleeve and exposes her feelings in everything she does. And now, through her values and personality, she is a true, purposeful, and extremely recognizable brand.

But maintaining this image can require a kind of balancing act: empowering her fans with strength and confidence without being too controversial or political.

Swift has also worked to dispel the idea that feminism "means something angry or disgruntled or complaining ... or rioting and picketing," as she said on a Canadian talk show.

At the moment, sure, one can see celebrity feminism and female empowerment as nothing but a marketing ploy. Swift's appeal is broad, and while it may be en vogue to call yourself a feminist, it's still (for some reason) a touchy subject. This is not an easy thing to overcome and may be a limit to her feminist approach.

Swift has done some great things with her status: Last year she donated $50,000, proceeds from her single "Welcome to New York" to the New York City Department of Education. She also gave another $50,000 to a fan with leukemia that same year.

Even with these good deeds, we shouldn't expect to see Swift out protesting police brutality against women of color or condemning violations of reproductive rights anytime soon, even if other celebrities are vocal on these issues.

All of this does not mean Swift will never develop a broader understanding of feminism — in fact, it's entirely possible that she will. But we should not expect her to reach this level, nor should we hold our breath in anticipation.

Sign up for the newsletter Sign up for The Weeds

Get our essential policy newsletter delivered Fridays