Taylor Swift just can’t win. Someone might read that and think, What do you mean she can’t win? She has 10 Grammys! She’s worth a quarter of a billion dollars! But those units of measurement merely apply to her success as an artist—not as a person. Taylor Swift as a person is a completely different entity. First off, she is, in fact, human, something that many of her critics and haters choose to ignore by rote. She’s also miles apart from her superstar persona, which she parodied in her number-one hit “Blank Space” and demonstrated in that leaked phone call between her and Kanye West wherein she admitted to being “this close to overexposure.”
Recently, after Swift filmed the video for her recent musical collaboration with Zayn Malik, boyfriend of gal pal Gigi Hadid, the public was quick to question Swift’s motives with the former One Directioner. This led several outlets to presume that Swift, the compulsive maneater that she is, had her eyes on him. Thankfully (sarcasm intended), TMZ cleared all that up after speaking with Hadid’s team, which said the supermodel is confident in her relationship with Malik and doesn’t try to restrict his work “even if it’s with a hot chick, who happens to be her friend.” Meanwhile, others noted it strange for Swift to collaborate with her ex Harry Style’s former band mate. Mind you, Swift didn’t even do press for the video. All she did was film it.
Understandably then, as media, fans and adversaries have become quick to attack her on just about everything, Swift, who is between albums and touring, has been cautious as of late about revealing too much about her personal life—and her political beliefs. But now, it appears, even that abstention is a problem.
On January 21, Swift tweeted “So much love, pride, and respect for those who marched. I’m proud to be a woman today, and every day. #WomensMarch.” Afterward, tabloids and blogs reported on a movement to label Swift a “bad feminist” for tweeting about the event instead of attending it.
Swift’s tweet summoned a volcanic outrage. Many believed that sending a message with no political leanings was more offensive than saying nothing at all. Evidently, Swift wasn’t aware that offering support in an apolitical way would start a fire; if she had been, she’d likely have said nothing at all. Still, it’s hard to believe that people would have tolerated her not tweeting anything at all. So, you see, Taylor Swift can’t win.
It’s lonely at the top, and nobody has reached peak fame in the current landscape quite like this 27-year-old pop queen. But before we review the effort to label her as a bad feminist, let’s tally some stats. How many times has she been in rehab? Zero. How many times has she been married? Zero. How many times has she starred in a leaked sex tape? Zero. How many reality shows has she pursued for fame and money? Zero.
When confronted by the reality of unemployment and public disgrace, few of us would make the decision to be a martyr.
To say Swift is a bad feminist is irresponsible. The pop star has been promoting girl power long before the Women’s March, writing songs of female empowerment and personally tweeting victims of bullying. In 2014, DoSomething.org ranked Swift first on its “Celebs Gone Good” list for the third consecutive year for her charity work and impact as a female influencer. In 2016, Swift donated more than a million dollars to charity, showed up to jury duty and spent a half hour on FaceTime with a young woman suffering a congenital heart defect. For outsiders to say, “You didn’t march, so nevermind, you'e not a feminist” is without merit.
Some worry that Swift didn’t march or publicly endorse a candidate during the 2016 presidential election because she fears dividing her fan base, much of which was built in red states when she emerged as a country star in the late-aughts. It very well could be true that Swift doesn’t hate President Donald Trump as much as the rest of Hollywood, but do we really believe that? It’s more believeable to think that Swift, who for years has kept Hollywood wrapped around her finger, is simply an A-student in the study of celebrity science.
In 2003, when Dixie Chicks’s lead singer Natalie Maines declared, “We do not want this war, this violence, and we’re ashamed that the president of the United States is from Texas” in opposition to President George W. Bush, she nearly ended her band’s career. Fans launched insurmountable amounts of hatred at the trio; as a result, the Dixie Chicks were boycotted from radio airplay and lost millions of dollars in concert ticket sales. In 2007, the Recording Academy offered redemption when they awarded the Chix three Grammys for “Not Ready to Make Nice,” their record about the backlash they received for Maine’s political statement. But the band never quite recouped their reputational losses as a much-adored super-group in America’s Heartland.
Are so many of us so willing to say goodbye to our careers like the Dixie Chicks—or more recently, Sally Yates—have? We can say we are, but when confronted by the reality of unemployment and public disgrace, odds are few of us would make the decision to be a martyr. That is, of course, ignoring the fact that as an American, Swift is well within her rights to keep her political beliefs private, even if the rest of her life is anything but.
So who are we, the public, to judge Swift’s feminism? Just because it’s not in line with what some perceive to be the “right” way to protest isn’t a reason to villainize her. (And by the way, “good feminists” Selena Gomez and Anna Kendrick didn’t attend the Women’s March either.) Criticizing a woman for choosing to protest the way she wants is more anti-feminist than supporting a women’s decision not to. If the message is positive at the end of the day—and Swifts’s message to 83 million followers was—let’s leave it as that, especially since Queen Bey, as Hillary Clinton’s biggest supporter, exemplified the diminishing returns of celebrity activism in Trumplandia. For all she’s worth, Swift might owe us many things—a new record for her fans, a break from the spotlight for her haters—but the last thing she owes us is an explanation.