What She Can Teach Us This Women’s History Month
Now, more than ever, we need to include amongst our influencer figures strong and outspoken women who are unafraid to speak their truth, and who will do so for those who can’t. I think it’s time to finally recognise Taylor Swift as one of these figures. Moving past what the media told us in 2014, she uses her platform at every opportunity to call out sexism: from casual comments to failures in her industry, she holds people a little more accountable, and we can all emulate this, however small our own platform may be.
It would have been hard to miss Taylor’s response to the joke made at her expense in Netflix’s Ginny & Georgia at the start of the month, but in case you did, the show joked ‘you go through men faster than Taylor Swift’, and her public response called them out for a ‘lazy, deeply sexist’ line, asking them to ‘stop degrading hard working women’. The response sparked global criticism of the show and a trending phrase ‘#RESPECTTAYLORSWIFT’, but the singer’s response wasn’t just about herself: we’ve all heard a joke like this at some point in our lives, that half-laugh, half-dig which makes someone question themselves. Taylor’s response has sparked an important conversation about standing up against comments like this, which have a lot more power than you’d think in shaping our opinions of women.
But Taylor has acted on far more personal incidents than a line in a TV show. In 2013, she was sexually assaulted by an ex-DJ while they were taking a picture together. He made the incident public by filing a defamation lawsuit against her, but in a landmark response she counter-sued him for assault, asking for just one dollar. After a legal battle lasting four years, Taylor won the case, and when asked why she’d spent all of this time over a single dollar, her lawyer explained she wanted to send a message to all women that ‘they will decide what will be tolerated with their body’. We shouldn’t forget that Swift relived her assault in court in order to give a voice to anyone who had suffered the same thing.
You may have heard that Taylor has been re-recording five albums since late last year, after the originals were sold without her knowledge to Scooter Braun, and then again to a private equity firm. At each stage of this process she has taken the opportunity to share her experience with the public, to ensure that new artists don’t experience it too, and to stress the importance of owning your own work. She has used what was an extremely personal loss of her life’s work to educate, inspire and finally turn the narrative around as she takes back control by releasing her re-recordings this year.
Taylor said in her 2019 Billboard Woman of the Decade speech: ‘I saw that people love to explain away a woman’s success in the music industry, and I saw something in me change due to this’. She has used every type of sexism she’s encountered, from casual comments to advantage being taken of her body and art, to spread a message of strength and hope to other young women. I think that for this, she deserves the title of feminist role model that so many have tried to take from her.
Image: Raphael Lovaski via Unsplash