Know Your Feminist Celebrity: Taylor Swift

Taylor Swift, the cat obsessed superstar who has won 7 Grammy awards, has had an interesting relationship, to say the least, with feminism. Back in 2012, for example, during an interview with The Daily Beast, when asked whether or not she was a feminist, Swift responded:

“I don’t really think about things as guys versus girls. I never have. I was raised by parents who brought me up to think if you work as hard as guys, you can go far in life.”

Clearly, Swift didn’t have an accurate understanding of feminism nor could most of her work at the time be considered feminist. For example, in just her music video for “You Belong With Me” alone, there was girl bashing, slut-shaming and a Madonna/Whore complex (a sexual double standard).

A couple of years later, in 2014, when Swift was asked about feminism she changed her tune and told Maxim (oh, the sweet irony):

“Honestly, I didn’t have an accurate definition of feminism when I was younger. I didn’t quite see all the ways that feminism is vital to growing up in the world we live in. I think that when I used to say, ‘Oh, feminism’s not really on my radar,’ it was because when I was just seen as a kid, I wasn’t as threatening. I didn’t see myself being held back until I was a woman. Or the double standards in headlines, the double standards in the way stories are told, the double standards in the way things are perceived. A man writing about his feelings from a vulnerable place is brave; a woman writing about her feelings from a vulnerable place is oversharing or whining. Misogyny is ingrained in people from the time they are born. So to me, feminism is probably the most important movement that you could embrace, because it’s just basically another word for equality.”

Swift partly credited her new found understanding of feminism to her friend Lena Dunham (another celebrity with has had a turbulent history with feminism). She told The Guardian:

“Becoming friends with Lena [Dunham] – without her preaching to me, but just seeing why she believes what she believes, why she says what she says, why she stands for what she stands for – has made me realize that I’ve been taking a feminist stance without actually saying so.”

Swift has since gone on to talk about sexism in interviews; she has stopped slut-shaming and bashing girls in her music; and she has even made a music video (i.e., “Blank Space”) which mocks how the media and society view her as a crazy man-eater. She has also, however, objectified women, appropriated culture and romanticized colonization in some of her newest videos. Furthermore, in 2015, when Nicki Minaj tweeted about how race and body-size influence VMA nominations, Swift made Minaj’s tweet all about herself and she (Swift) effectively disregarded and dismissed Minaj’s conversation on race. Swift is thus currently considered by many a “White feminist” (i.e., Swift’s feminism is not intersectional).

Campaigns, Philanthropy and Activism

  • Swift has performed at several benefit concerts and has donated items to charities like the Elton John AIDS Foundation, the UNICEF Tap Project, Habitat for Humanity, MusiCares, Oxfam International and Feeding America.

2007

  • Swift partnered with the Tennessee Association of Chiefs of Police and helped launch a campaign to protect children from online predators.

2008

  • Following the murder of Larry King, Swift recorded a Gay, Lesbian and Straight Education Network PSA to combat hate crimes.
  • Swift donated the proceeds from her merchandise sales at the Country Music Festival to the Red Cross’s disaster relief fund.
  • Swift donated $100,000 to the Red Cross to help the victims of the Iowa flood.
  • Swift donated a pink Chevy pick-up truck to the Victory Junction Gang Camp which was used to transport sick children from the airport to the camp.

2009

  • Swift donated $250,000 to various schools in the U.S.
  • Swift supported the Victorian Bushfire Appeal by participating in Sydney’s Sound Relief concert.

2010

  • Swift made a $75,000 donation to Nashville’s Hendersonville High School to help refurbish the school auditorium’s sound and lighting systems.
  • Swift participated in Read Now! with Taylor Swift, a live broadcast which broadcasted  in U.S. schools to celebrate Scholastic’s Read Every Day campaign.
  • Swift worked as a phone operator in the Hope for Haiti telethon and recorded a song for Hope for Haiti Now album.
  • Swift donated $500,000 to the relief fund for those who had been impacted by the Tennessee floods.
  • Swift donated $100,000 to help rebuild a playground in Hendersonville, Tennessee that had been damaged by floodwater.

2011

  • Swift’s music video for her anti-bullying song “Mean” addressed homophobia in schools.
  • Swift donated 6,000 Scholastic books to Reading Public Library, Pennsylvania.
  • Swift raised $750,000 for victims of tornadoes in the U.S. during the final dress rehearsal for the North American leg of her Speak Now tour.

2012

  • Swift donated $4 million to fund the building of a new education center at the Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum in Nashville, Tennessee.
  • Swift donated 14,000 books to Nashville Public Library, Tennessee.
  • Swift partnered with Chegg and they donated $60,000 to the music departments of six U.S. colleges.
  • Swift co-chaired the National Education Association’s Read Across America campaign.
  • Swift participated in a PSA encouraging kids to read.
  • Swift promoted Scholastic’s broadcast “power of reading.”
  • Swift donated $25,000 to St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital, Tennessee.
  • Swift participated in the Stand Up to Cancer telethon, and she performed “Ronan,” a song she wrote in memory of a boy who had died of cancer, and the proceeds from the digital release of the song were given to various cancer charities.

2013

  • Swift donated $100,000 to the Nashville Symphony.
  • Swift donated 2,000 Scholastic books to the Reading Hospital Child Health Center’s early literacy program.

2014

  • Swift participated in the READ campaign.
  • Swift participated in a Scholastic broadcast.
  • Swift donated all of the proceeds from her song “Welcome to New York” to New York City Public Schools.
  • Swift donated $100,000 to the V Foundation for Cancer Research.
  • Swift donated $50,000 to Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia.

Quotes

When asked by The Daily Beast on whether or not she was a feminist, Swift responded:

“I don’t really think about things as guys versus girls. I never have. I was raised by parents who brought me up to think if you work as hard as guys, you can go far in life.”

When Jessica Roy from Maxim interviewed Swift and she commented on how vocal Swift had become about feminism even though she had previously avoided being associated with the ideology, Swift stated:

“Honestly, I didn’t have an accurate definition of feminism when I was younger. I didn’t quite see all the ways that feminism is vital to growing up in the world we live in. I think that when I used to say, ‘Oh, feminism’s not really on my radar,’ it was because when I was just seen as a kid, I wasn’t as threatening. I didn’t see myself being held back until I was a woman. Or the double standards in headlines, the double standards in the way stories are told, the double standards in the way things are perceived. A man writing about his feelings from a vulnerable place is brave; a woman writing about her feelings from a vulnerable place is oversharing or whining. Misogyny is ingrained in people from the time they are born. So to me, feminism is probably the most important movement that you could embrace, because it’s just basically another word for equality.”

 Swift talked about feminism and told The Guardian:

“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. What it seemed to me, the way it was phrased in culture, society, was that you hate men. And now, I think a lot of girls have had a feminist awakening because they understand what the word means. For so long it’s been made to seem like something where you’d picket against the opposite sex, whereas it’s not about that at all. Becoming friends with Lena [Dunham] – without her preaching to me, but just seeing why she believes what she believes, why she says what she says, why she stands for what she stands for – has made me realize that I’ve been taking a feminist stance without actually saying so.”

Swift talked to Esquire and told them how she took control of how she was portrayed by the press:

“…I really didn’t like the whole serial-dater thing. I thought it was a really sexist angle on my life. And so I just stopped dating people, because it meant a lot to me to set the record straight — that I do not need some guy around in order to get inspiration, in order to make a great record, in order to live my life, in order to feel okay about myself. And I wanted to show my fans the same thing.”

Swift talked to Cosmopolitan and told them:

“My girlfriends and I talk a lot about feminism and the inequality between the way men and women are talked about. The kind of things we say are: ‘Why is it mischievous, fun and sexy if a guy has a string of lovers that he’s cast aside, loved and left? Yet if a woman dates three or four people in an eight-year period she is a serial dater and it gives some 12-year-old the idea to call her a slut on the internet?’ It’s not the same for boys, it just isn’t and that’s a fact.”

When asked by Vanity Fair whether or not she is boy-crazy, Swift responded:

“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.”

On the French Canadian television show Tout le monde en parle, Swift told the host that she hated how the media portrays women as rivals instead of allies:

“I think when it comes to females in the media, you’ll see something that kind of upsets me, which is that females are pinned up against each other, more so than men. One thing I do believe as a feminist is that in order for us to have gender equality we have to stop making it a girl fight, and we have to stop being so interested in seeing girls trying to tear each other down. It has to be more about cheering each other on, as women.”

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