Beginning as a teenage singer-songwriter to now becoming the personified music industry itself, Taylor Swift rests in the eye of a storm of vastly differing opinions. While adored by her devoted and eccentric army of ‘Swifties’, there also exist populations who either fain indifference, have not ventured into her extensive discography, or, in cases of the extreme, genuinely hate her.
Most of the hate Taylor receives on the Internet comes from men, who often use ad-hominem arguments to dismantle her success on the grounds of her being a woman. Ingeniously, Taylor uses these baseless arguments to her advantage, often manufacturing feminist anthems in response, from Lover’s veraciously witty ‘The Man’, to folklore’s painstakingly true ‘mad woman’.
Taylor has been critically examined under the guise of the male gaze for the duration of her career. At the beginning of her career, her smiley good-girl persona affectionately earned her the title ‘America’s sweetheart’, but the second paparazzi-released tabloids displayed her walking hand and hand with some of the world’s most sought-after heartthrobs, her once-praised ‘innocence’ lost its novelty.
While having partook in relatively normal romantic behavior for the average twenty-something year-old, Taylor’s false reputation has made her the pinnacle of media-induced slut-shaming. While I’d like to think that, as a society, we’ve somehow moved past this, somehow there’s nothing more terrifying to the male gaze than a woman comfortable in her sexuality. Even in 2021, the Netflix original series Ginny & Georgia included a deeply machismo quip against Taylor, earning a spirited come back from the singer herself via Twitter: ‘Hey Ginny & Georgia, 2010 called and it wants its lazy, deeply sexist joke back.’
However, because we exist in a patriarchal society, Taylor’s grossly male-conjured disdain generationally trickled down into an all-female-lead hate club. Though, in my experience, it has nothing to do with preference or indifference, and everything to do with male validation. It’s the same, age-old ‘she’s-not-like-other-girls’ phenomenon that many women, including myself, experience daily. It became fashionable to reject stereotypically feminine concepts, like pink nail polish, Disney princess movies, and female singers who write songs about boys.
While I attended her Fearless stadium tour at six, and now patiently await the release of her upcoming album Midnights at nineteen, I can admit that I haven’t always proudly bore the title of being a self-declared ‘Swiftie’. It may be humiliating to admit, but I’ve found that a number of my fellow Taylor stans also went through an ‘I-hate-Taylor-Swift’ arc. Yet now they also recognize that this female phenomenon represents something much greater on a societal scale.
I distinctly remember singing ‘You Belong with Me’ with my closest friends in a talent show when I was young. I had so much pride standing beside the other girls and singing all of the words with complete confidence. When did that change? I suppose with the onslaught of puberty came the recognition of boys as the seemingly more influential other, and the sudden realization that being a girl was less about solidarity and more about fulfilling stereotypes.
At that age, it’s easy to ride the high of confidently declaring your abandonment of what plays on the radio for a more underground taste in music, relishing in your egocentric, new identity as somehow different from other girls. Because when you’re twelve, on the cusp of your teenage years, yet still held back by the restrictions of your awkward phase, you don’t want to be lumped into an all-encompassing group that defaces your identity. You want to stand out. You want to sit at the lunch table with boys. You want to laugh at the other girls. And because Taylor Swift represents a glittering, guitar-playing manifestation of girlhood, you want to make fun of her, too.
Nevertheless, my closeted admiration for the singer still found its way to the surface. I found myself absentmindedly memorizing every lyric and desperately trying to ignore that familiar impulse to dance at the first beats of ‘Shake It Off’. I found that I hated pretending to hate her, because I felt the exact opposite way: I loved her. I loved her sparkly dresses and red lipstick and her painstakingly relatable lyrics about love and friendship and growing up. But I didn’t hate her because of something she did or the way her songs sounded; I hated her because I was misogynistic.
Despite my own feminist agenda, I too hadn’t managed to outsmart the mind-numbing poison of internalized misogyny. I’m convinced it exists inside all of us like a festering, invasive disease. It manifests itself in symptoms of victim-blaming and adhering to the male gaze, and most times, you hardly even realize it’s there until you’re twelve years old and suddenly decide to hate a singer you once loved so dearly. But if internalized misogyny is a disease, then Taylor’s music is the medicine, and now I’m back up on that talent show stage singing every song at the top of my lungs.
Dismantling internalized misogyny is a continuous battle, but oddly enough, the solidarity of the Swiftie fandom makes it easier. After having her first taste of fame at sixteen, she’s come a long way. And so have we. From the pseudo-chauvinistic lyrics of ‘Better Than Revenge’, to delivering her empowering Billboard Woman of the Decade award in 2019, it’s evident that Taylor has fought her own internal battle with misogyny, too. She’s relatable, despite being arguably one of the most successful entertainers of our generation.
It’s part of what makes Taylor Swift such an important figure to the female population: she performs sold out concerts in some of the world’s biggest stadiums and gets to give speeches at college graduations, but she also shares cookie recipes and throws pool parties with her best friends. She’s just like other girls, and she’s not ashamed of it, either.
Because at the end of the day, hating Taylor Swift as a part of the ‘I’m-not-like-other-girls’ agenda doesn’t make you an honorary member-of-the-boys-club deemed ‘cool girl’, it just makes you a misogynist.