Taylor Swift and I: Damned if we do, damned if we don't


Kesha’s abuse trial and the reverberations her plight has made throughout pop culture has instilled in me fresh anger and a fear that no matter what women do, our feminism will never be good enough. Some of the most powerful women in the music industry have expressed their support for Kesha, from Adele to Lady Gaga to Taylor Swift. In a better world, people who want to see Kesha fight this legal battle and win would celebrate the industry for coming out in waves to show its compassion for Kesha, whether it’s using the #FreeKesha hashtag on social media, mentioning Kesha during a speech or donating money to help her with legal fees.

But of course, no good deed goes unpunished.

I am a big fan of Taylor Swift. Before I understood what feminism was, I was one of those people who said something must be wrong with Taylor for dating so many famous men. I wish I hadn’t slut-shamed her when I was too young to understand what the term even meant, just as Taylor wishes she hadn’t slut-shamed women in the songs she wrote as a teenager.  I’ve seen Taylor Swift progress as a woman and an artist, including seeing her declare her feminism to the world and letting the haters hate if she went on too many dates. Her 1989 album and music videos have been a big hair flip emoji to everyone who wanted to bring her down.

When Taylor accepted her Grammy award for best album, she said, “I want to say to all the young women out there: There are going to be people along the way who will try to undercut your success or take credit for your accomplishments or your fame.” It was a pointed response to Kanye West’s song “Famous,” released days earlier, with West rapping about Taylor and how he “made that bitch famous.” Some people cheered; others thought Taylor was being fake, passive aggressive, annoying and petty, and that she should stop bragging about the prestigious award she had just won. 

Several days later, Taylor donated $250,000 to Kesha to help her in her legal battle. I thought, “Awesome. Someone putting their money where their mouth is and actually doing something to help.” Demi Lovato, however, hopped on Twitter and issued a scathingly passive aggressive response, accusing her of being a fake feminist, and that she’d be impressed when Taylor actually went to Capitol Hill and had the uncomfortable conversation on social media, creating a media firestorm that only detracted from the issue at hand: Kesha’s safety and artistic freedom.

This anti-Taylor fake feminist argument always strikes a nerve in a me, because it shows how powerless as women we really are. I recognize - as I hope Taylor Swift does - that my privilege is part of what allows me to express my frustrations about the current state of feminism in our society and pop culture. What does it mean for all women - especially those whose voices aren’t heard as loudly - when one of the most powerful feminist voices in pop culture can’t be heard or taken seriously without climbing through the trenches of criticism and media backlash first?

I fully agree that women should support other women, but I also agree that as women, we should call each other out on our shit. But we shouldn’t let these mistakes and missteps take away from how far we’ve come as women in a society that is constantly trying to take away our freedoms and pit us against one another. At what point can we move past how problematic and privileged another woman is and accept that her positive influence could far outreach the negative, if only her words and actions were given a chance?

Social media is not synonymous with social justice, and those with the means and power to go beyond a tweet and support a cause in a real, tangible way should not be vilified for going outside the bounds of 140 characters.

Mia is an aspiring cat lady and obsessed with books, beauty, and pop culture. By day she works in publishing in New York City, and by night she can be found in bed, drinking Moscato and binge-watching YouTube videos.