An Open Letter to Taylor Swift

Hey Tay Tay,

Last week I defended, at least vaguely, your call for women to support other women as a response to both perceived and real slights of your character. However, when you aimed it at Nicki Minaj this week in response to her indignation towards the VMA’s (and society at large’s) historical racial bias, you abused (and perhaps even inverted) the intent of the concept and, as I’m sure you’re now aware, you struck quite a nerve in the process.

We are all imperfect creatures. I don’t doubt you will continue to grow as a person and feminist as you have so fervently done before the public eye in recent years. Mistakes are an inevitable part of that growth and we all make them every day. I don’t think your entire character deserves to be scraped for this one, but society would be foolish to allow this to be swept under the rug when millions of young girls listen to your every word and will defend your position, even if it’s a naive one, to their graves.

I understand your journey because, as a white feminist myself, I’m on the same one. While it’s innately easier to be vigilant about our own oppression as women, if we don’t equally invest in the struggles of others we are failing many of the women we both so deeply seek to support. Race and gender are not separate issues for black women, and trying to separate them is futile and only stands to magnify our ignorance.

We were both born affluent and white and those unearned traits came with a deluge of racial and class-based privilege we can’t dream of fully comprehending.

Just as we ask people to question themselves when they boldly proclaim their feelings “have nothing to do with gender,” so too should we, as white people, heavily pause before ever assuming something “has nothing to do with race.” This was the grave mistake you made when you took Minaj’s criticism of society as a slam against you.

Racism is not your fault, nor is her lack of nomination. But to deny your race has played a part in your success is to deny the struggle so many women and people of color face every day.

In the past years your eyes have been opened to the struggles of women because your music and character were being unfairly attacked. But feminism and equality aren’t just for you and your struggles. Millions of women need it for reasons far beyond your personal purview and experience.

As you’ve grown and changed within the media circus that is fame, you’ve come to be quite poignent in your spreading of positive female messages. It’s time for you to acknowledge your privilege in the same breath. I don’t doubt you have it in you.

What Minaj needed from you in that moment was not a call-out, but a show of support and solidarity, the very thing you asked for her to give you. For the privileged, admitting our own ignorance is often a huge part of progress. A willingness to extend a helping hand to those who don’t enjoy the freedoms earned through mere birthright, a picking of straws, is the mark of a true feminist.

You are not a bad person for not yet fully grasping the issue Minaj was calling out. But you’ll fail yourself and your fans if you aren’t open to second-guessing yourself. Just because something is not your express fault does not mean it’s not your responsibility. This is especially true for public figures.

Your quick apology for misunderstanding, while noble, does not excuse your gut reaction, which wouldn’t have been appropriate even if she had meant to point out you specifically.

A willingness to admit the larger context of your mistake and learn as you go is a more powerful example than you could imagine. You’ve done it before and I urge you to seize the opportunity now.

Still a fan, but only if you keep trying.

Haley

10 thoughts on “An Open Letter to Taylor Swift

  1. Excellent! But I want to be even harder on her. I was allllll about Katy perry’s slightly incoherent, though spot on tweet critique of Taylor’s hipocracy. The song she is profiting on is literally pitting woman vs. woman and the origins speculate it’s directed at Katy. Personally I see her whole collecting friendships thing not so much a feminist move, but a calculated and manipulative one to get famous people on HER SIDE and not Katy’s. I just don’t buy what she’s selling. PLUSSS… calling out Apple, but not paying photographers properly…. she’s throwing stones in a glass house and I think she just made a crack that could take the whole thing down someday. Time for the media to tear her down after putting her on a pedestal… Ahh, the circle of celebrity life!

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    • We see this a bit differently.

      I think you should question your desire to be so hard on her and have her torn apart and destroyed by the media. Valid criticism of a flawed human who is trying? Yes, but such strong language is just another version of unnecessary female competition. That kind of talk is exactly the type of drama the media grabs onto and associates with women! Let’s resissssst, if possible.

      I didn’t care about Katy’s tweet. She’s making the same flawed point (that women should support other women above all misgivings) I accused Taylor of making. Neither are valid and I think both or at least Taylor will grow out of that blanket statement as she gets older (if she keeps paying attention). Their fued isn’t about pitting women against each other for the sake of it, it’s literally about not liking each other due to perceived wrong-doings. And whether or not I think those are completely stupid (I do), they have less to do with feminism than Katy’s indicating. Immaturity? Yes.

      Do I think Taylor’s token friend group is kinda lame? Yes. Is it a bummer that someone like her has to try and find non-white friends? Yeah, but I think she’s trying and it’s not hurting the cause. I’d argue it’s helping it. Even if we don’t love her approach, ultimately it’s not that problematic. A female in the spotlight who says “I just don’t get along with girls, I like to hang with the dudes” is what hurts us. Her approach isn’t perfect but it’s a start.

      The apple and photography thing also don’t necessarily call her character into question for me. I think that was a witch hunt. I don’t think her view on streaming is as monumental as everyone says it is. I think it’s kinda dumb. But she’s trying and doing what she thinks is right. I can’t really get mad at that UNLESS she starts closing her ears and being ignorant to her own mistakes. But I just don’t think she does that or has ever done that.

      If us commonfolk are allowed to be dumb and learn from it, so should people in the spotlight. Not that she shouldn’t be called out, but accusing her of being super shitty because she’s on a learning curve feels gross to me.

      You can dislike her because her style and personality type is not your jam. You can want her to be better. You can want people in the spotlight that are different from her. I agree with almost all of those things! But the fervent hate for her strikes me as buying into the media’s fucked up desire to tear down confident women more than it is indicative of her character.

      AM I BEING TOO HARSH? Sorry Chels you know I love you. But question your hate! It sounds unfair to me.

      Also, I’m just reading you for the sake of the argument.
      :*

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      • I wasn’t saying I wanted her to be hated and torn down, I was making a commentary on society + celebrity. My intention was to point out that people put others (not just celebrities) onto a pedestal. But once the esteemed individual doesn’t fit into the unrealistic standard people invented in their heads, the only place to go is down. And on that journey down, people can be viscous. I’ve seen it with YouTube personalities and I’ve witnessed it with friends. Recent, less relevant example because she wasn’t as loved as Taylor, but Ariana Grande was such a “sweetheart” to some and everyone seemed to just LOVE her getting caught doing something awful. News media JUMPED all over that incident, it happens time and time again! Basically, we’re a sick society and we love tearing someone down just as much, if not more, than we love revering them!

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  2. Another great post! I actually avoided this whole…debate? controversy? when I first saw it on twitter cause I really didn’t want to read up on it but from what you said it does make me sad for Taylor as someone whose not a really a fan but objectively enjoying her growth? as a feminist/creating positivity towards women cause it seemed like she was doing well in that regard but then now it seems like she took a few steps back. Though I completely agree with your point that she should be called out on it but shouldn’t be completely shamed for it.

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    • Totally agree. I’m actually starting to feel super conflicted. Not that my decision on T Swift has any bearing on literally anything (LOL) but the bad press has been disturbingly effective. Did you see that some guitarist from her band came out and said she was the coldest most calculating person he’d ever met?! Omg, I’m being such a freak for gossip right now. I’m gonna go read my book.

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  3. When I read the title, I immediately opened the post and planned to give a long, thought out comment, prepared to debate. However, I think you covered all the bases. Everything you stated I believe with. I feel as though Taylor’s comment was bred from ignorance and immaturity, but I can also see how being constantly judged and attacked (being in the public eye) might make you be on guard and assume the worst. If anything, this showed how much white privilege is so rooted in us – she did not even think of race as a part of the issue, because for her, it never has been. I am slightly younger then Taylor but can understand where her thought process is coming from, she has the same mentality I did growing up: trying hard to be a better, more compassionate person, trying to be aware of the issues in society, but not being fully there yet (maybe from lack of experience? Research? Reading? Not sure). The best thing for her to do, and what I hope she does, is what you said: Admit being wrong, admit ignorance, work towards being more aware and better in the future. We all have different mistakes which become stepping stones into self-betterment, and I hope this is one for her. She can do so much with the influence she has over this generation.
    I also liked how Nicki Minaj did not become immediately offended and aggressive back, as girls have a tendency to do. She just basically said, “I think you’re mistaken” (paraphrasing, obviously) and explained a bit more where she was coming from. Knowledge is power, after all, and by explaining with more detail I am sure she made others aware of a race issue they might not have otherwise realized about.

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    • PS. I’ve been loving all of your blog posts. Possibly obsessively checking daily to see if there are new posts…
      Whether it’s fashion, fun, or more serious topics like as of lately, I love them all. I hope to see you continue on!

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    • Completely agree with you!

      I have to admit though, I’ve fallen a bit victim to some of the more recent rumors circulating that call her authenticity into question. Have you wavered at all? I’m starting to feel like she’s less open to baring her soul when it doesn’t play to her favor. Kind of disappointing. Hmmmmmmm.

      I sometimes laugh at the level of analysis with which I approach my opinion of T Swift…but she’s just so relevant in pop culture, it’s hard not to!

      Like

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