It Was Never About The Music: Why The Patriarchy Made Us Hate Taylor Swift

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Growing up, we were taught by the media and society to mock Taylor Swift for having ‘yet another boyfriend’, and to be annoyed at her ‘good girl’ act. Despite celebrities having romances fizzle and new ones blossom all the time, with Taylor the narrative was always different. The media saw this young, talented girl, taking over country music at only 16 (the youngest artist ever to write and sell a country album), and they weren’t happy about it. So what to do rather than celebrate her success? Hound her for every new relationship status and her intent to focus on her career, opposed to praising her for her rapid success as they might if she weren’t a woman. This is spoken about in Swift’s song ‘The Man’, as she sings “And I’m so sick of them / Coming at me again / ‘Cause if I was a man / Then I’d be the man”.

Why do people hate her still? If you ask someone, they’ll likely respond with something about her excessive number of relationships, or often that they ‘just find her annoying’. Taylor Swift has immediate connotations of annoying, dramatic (Kanye feud, etc.), dumb, slutty, and so on – all words commonly associated with, and used to belittle, women. To hate Taylor Swift without reason, aside from the narrative the media has pumped into you, is practically giving into anti-feminism. We were taught to tear her down, mock her, feel ashamed for listening to her music, but why? All because she was a successful woman in love, albeit with various partners, but that wouldn’t matter if she were a man. 

In her Netflix documentary Miss Americana (2020), Swift delves into the vast and endless amount of media scrutiny she has faced throughout her 14-year career. One Vice headline read “Taylor Swift isn’t like other celebrities. She’s worse“, a television presenter said “she’s going through guys like a train”, and comedian Nikki Glaser even stated “she’s too skinny. It bothers me” to name a few. Glaser has since apologised, stating she herself struggled with an eating disorder like Swift, explaining that it was most likely a projection of jealousy. However, that projection and the narrative the media threw at Swift (her first magazine cover, OK Magazin, being titled ‘Pregnant at 18?’) caused Swift to believe it was “normal to feel like I was going to pass out at the end of every show” due to the starvation required to be ‘thin enough’. She now realises this is impossible, and powerfully stated in her documentary that “there’s always some standard of beauty that you’re not meeting. Cause if you’re thin enough, then you don’t have that ass that everyone wants. But if you have enough weight on you to have an ass, then your stomach isn’t flat enough. It’s all just… fucking impossible”.

Jealousy, fear, and patriarchal stereotypes have followed Swift for as long as she has been about, to the point where #TaylorSwiftisOverParty was trending number one on Twitter in 2016. Though it surrounded a battle about song credits between Swift and Calvin Harris, it occurred shortly after her feud with Kanye West escalated, as he released his song ‘Famous’ which featured the line “I feel like me and Taylor might still have sex / Why? I made that bitch famous”. And so, Swift disappeared, noting how “nobody physically saw me for a year and that’s what I thought they wanted.” Within this year she learned to move away from expectations and other people’s wants, and finally accept her Reputation, with her groundbreaking comeback album. Using a montage of media headlines to open her Reputation tour, and snakes as a central staging theme (Kim Kardashian famously linking the snake emoji to Swift), Swift finally put her middle finger up to the media and reclaimed her reputation. Fittingly, the tour ended with the words “and in the death of her reputation, she felt truly alive” appearing on the screen.

So why did the media hound Taylor Swift? She tried to be a nice girl, and they hated her, she lost weight to appear skinny, but was too thin, she disappeared, and still faced critique. No matter what Swift tried, it was always wrong. But to return to ‘The Man’, in this song she states how society and the media unfairly discuss men and women in completely different narratives. If a man has multiple romantic/sexual partners, it is a conquest, but for a woman, it is shameful and whorish. In work, this is prevalent too, whereby Swift notes that “what I was wearing, if I was rude / could all be separated from my good ideas and power moves” if she were a man. She even touches upon sexual assault, whereby women are frequently silenced or greeted with disbelief in order to protect their abuser; “when everyone believes ya / what’s that like?”. It is a powerful song that not only expresses the inequalities and scrutiny she has faced due to her gender but that which the majority of women can relate to.

This is further highlighted in Miss Americana when Swift details her desire to be political but feared doing so due to its impact on the Dixie Chicks career. Following an anti-Bush comment, this country girl band shot from fame for being outspoken women with political thoughts (how dare they!), one television presenter coining them “women who deserve to be slapped around”. This occurred in only 2003, showing the narrative surrounding women, and how they must be passive, un-opinionated entertainment objects, or else their career is over. Thankfully this is not so much the case anymore, but Swift still feared this up until 2018, when even then her anti-republican sentiment caused statements such as “Taylor Swift just ended her entire career”.

If you think of any big female pop star – Cher, Madonna, Britney Spears, Lady Gaga, Miley Cyrus, Beyonce, etc. – they always have to change themselves to remain exciting. By the time a female star is 30, she reaches a point where she is becoming old and tiring. Swift notes on this, saying “the female artists that I know of have re-invented themselves 20 times more than the male artists. They have to, or they’re out of a job” society screaming “be new to us, be young to us, but only in the way we want”. Hence, Swift has transitioned from country to pop, right up to her latest album, Folklore, which exceeds all genres and gains itself an alternative genre label, showing how the star has continuously reinvented herself as all great female stars must. Sadly, Swift is extremely aware of these unfair expectations put upon female musicians, sharing “as I’m reaching 30 I’m like, I wanna work really hard while society is still tolerating me being successful”, though ‘tolerating’ is an interesting choice considering society has always hated her.

Taylor Swift is an asset to the music industry, has won numerous awards, and broken multiple records throughout her career. To name a few, she’s won 10 Grammy Awards, 29 American Music Awards (most wins by an artist),  seven Guinness World Records, 23 Billboard Music Awards (most wins by a female artist), and 12 Country Music Association Awards (including the prestigious Pinnacle Award). As Graham Norton said, upon release of Lover, Swift has achieved “something only the Beatles have done” by having four albums in a row place 1st in the charts for six consecutive weeks.

As a young girl, I hated Swift. I never knew why, but now I admire and thank her for rejecting the expectations placed upon her by society and embracing a powerful stance on feminism. If you still hate Taylor Swift but have no reason behind these thoughts, I implore you to listen to her albums a little closer so you can appreciate her lyricism, and to watch Miss Americana where you will see the impact of this unjustified hatred.

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4 Comments

  1. avatar

    I think there have been genuine criticisms of Swift throughout her career–she harassed a small blogger who pointed out how nazis embraced her, wrote maybe a little too much about year-old feuds, had homophobic lyrics, etc. But none of these things would’ve made a dent if she were a guy. They simply wouldn’t have registered. I’m all for holding celebs accountable, but at this point I think we owe Taylor Swift a break.

    • avatar
      Charlotte Grey on

      hun, she’s literally putting out songs about equality. she is starting petitions supporting the lgbtq community. she is speaking out on important matters. and with the immense power and influence she holds- it is rather helpful. so how tf do you call her homophobic? On her album reputation (which is said to be all about feuds) only look what you made me do and this is why we can’t have nice things are songs which even touch the topic of feuds. plus when kanye west can make a whole crowd scream – “fvck taylor swift” after putting out a song with vulgar language and pictures of her without her consent then she has an absolute right to talk about it in her own songs. Songwriting is basically all about expressing one’s feelings and experiences. And as far i know she has never ever harassed anyone. she literally is the kindest and sweetest person.

    • avatar

      I was looking on the internet for an explanation why people hate Taylor Swift, and don’t think this article gave me an answer. Basically, it argues that she is hated because of her gender. But there are other female celebrities out there, who change boyfriends, highlight their own sexuality, write sexual lyrics, are not too intellectual, an yet it’s ok for them. So I will keep looking for the answer, but I appreciate the author’s effort to put the spotlight on the gender issue.

  2. avatar

    I will declare up front that I am a long time musician (guitarist) and a huge fan of Swift’s music. She really is a brilliant melodist, and songwriter, and all round musician. I don’t really see her as a saint or a sinner and I don’t take a huge interest in her personal life (although many of her fans do). She does play the victim card a little too much, but then she really has been at the rough end of an awful lot of mean hate. I think some of it originates from her own insecurities about her singing voice; she was relentlessly and meanly attacked for having a weak voice (technically) when she was young. I always thought that was quite horrible, picking at someone’s flaws whilst ignoring their obvious considerable talents. She does have a tough, relentless inner strength and drive though .. a kind of “f*** you” attitude, that I admire. She comes out fighting and blitzes her detractors with songs like “Mean”. She kind of attacks exes with “break up” songs that are just a little too specific in detail (we all know exactly who she’s singing about) and some people don’t like that. She has also come out fighting against other women who have hurt her with songs like “Better Than Revenge”. This cycle of getting hurt and upset, then writing brilliant but cutting songs in response, kind of reinforces a slightly negative feedback loop and IMO this is what polarises people’s attitude towards her. But let’s not forget that, despite “the patriarchy”. she achieved stellar success at a very young age. Being constantly in the media spotlight as you’re effectively growing up, must be really difficult. She basically couldn’t make any kind of move without getting criticised for it by someone. She’s young, beautiful, and wanted to have some fun .. what’s so wrong with that?
    The article talks a lot about the feminist angle. Well Swift has not always been particularly consistent on this issue herself, so using Swift’s own documentary to make a case is slightly flawed. But then as I said, she was a young female musician – not a social issue activist! Parts of her personality set an excellent example for young girls (and boys) – being polite, nice (there is NOTHING wrong with being nice!!!), respectful, working hard, and having inner strength and drive to maximise your talents.
    She’s grown up now, and her musicianship is at an absolute peak, complete with a singing voice that is mature and really strong. With Miss Americana she has identified misogyny and sexism as the bane of her existence. I find this slightly hard to swallow hook, line and sinker. There are strong counter arguments to many of the points she makes (and believes) in the documentary. The majority of top music acts today are female, so the patriarchy is hardly conspiring against female success. Pressure to look a certain way in figure and fashion is driven by female commentary and interest; celebrity gossip magazines and fashion mags are overwhelmingly written for women by women. Generally speaking, men set impossible standards for men (be strong emotionally, slim, muscular, well dressed etc.) in society and women tend to set equally impossible standards for women – welcome to the human race! About 95% of Swift’s fanbase is female, so if she ceases to become popular (a fear she articulates in Miss Americana) it is because girls/women have decided to stop buying her music, and I’m not quite sure how you pin that one on “the patriarchy” (I don’t think young girls listen to their own parents’ musical cues, let alone “the patriarchy’s”!). The necessity to “reinvent oneself” to stay relevant in pop music is absolutely true for male acts/groups as it is female (I could reel of dozens of examples here – Queen for one). Do females have to do it more often? Maybe, it is quite hard to quantify honestly, but ultimately pop is a very fickle beast driven by the youth of the day who decide what’s hot and what is not, not the “patriarchy” (old crusty men who epitomise “the patriarchy” are hardly purchasers of pop music!). Tina Turner had a second wind to her long career and became a global superstar at age 45 with “Private Dancer”. Taylor’s a superb musician and way too good to just fade away. Her song “The Man”, brilliant though it is, is listing the most abhorrent male characteristics and somehow implying that it is OK to exhibit them. That is completely untrue. Masculinity is not toxic, but the behaviours she lists in the song are; I don’t know anyone who is championing or defending these behaviours.
    Taylor is just a person at the end of the day and has inconsistencies and hypocrisies, like we all do.

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