By Eliana Buenrostro
To many, Taylor Swift is a breath of fresh of air, a nice change from the many overproduced sexualized pop stars. She plays guitar and writes her own songs. Swift has been lauded as a role model for young girls and she might be single handedly responsible for bringing pop country songs to the forefront of youth culture. The truth is that Taylor Swift is talented. She can write great pop songs with catchy melodies and lyrics that resonate with anyone with any capacity for emotion. The problem is with the image she creates for all her devoted followers to admire.
Swift frequently gives herself the image of the pure virginal girl, while her counterparts are left to be enemies with sexualities. Her lyrics revolve around the idea that a girl or woman’s value is somehow tied to her sexuality. Her songs are another part of a culture that values an image of purity over a healthy sexuality and places girls who are upfront about their sex lives within the label of a “slut” or “whore.”
In “You Belong With Me” she assigns her character the role of “quirky outsider” (she wears t-shirts, sits on the bleachers, and listens to different music) who is more deserving of her crush’s love than the popular girl. Instead of concluding that maybe the guy just doesn’t want her, she makes the other girl the enemy. The other woman wears short skirts, high heels, and frequently hangs around other boys. So she must be promiscuous. Swift establishes the idea that if a girl gives any hint of being sexual that she is less valuable than the woman who has no incidence of being sexual. She is making that girl with the boyfriend who has sex, the girl to be berated and ostracized. The girl we are supposed to look down on for owning her sexuality.
And this isn’t an isolated incident in just one song and music video. In the song “Better Than Revenge,” Swift attacks the girl who has supposedly taken her boyfriend from her: “she’s not a saint…she’s better known for the things she does on the mattress.” By writing this she places emphasis on what the other woman does sexually, therefore immediately vilifying anything related to her sexuality. It takes away the fact that sexuality is complex and reduces her to a sexual object. In doing this she also takes away all the blame from the man in the relationship, as though he is incapable of making his own decisions about who he dates.
In Swift’s mind, all it took was the so-called vixen to take him away. She purposely pits women against each other as if there weren’t enough girl hate permeating popular culture. The truth is that this mode of thinking and labeling hurts all women. Because girls aren’t called sluts because they’ve been acting like “sluts.” There is no set definition for this word. Girls are called sluts when they have stepped out of line in what is considered appropriate sexual behavior for a girl. That is to be sexy, but not sexual.
Girls must be desirable and appealing to male eyes, but in order to be worth chasing they must be virgins. It’s not about what would make us happy, but about what men would like to see. There is no room for women to have complex and individual sexualities. In fact, girls don’t even have to be having sex to be called a “slut.” According to Indiana University of Pennsylvania professor of psychology Dr. Maureen McHugh, “the label slut is not really about objecting to the sexual behavior of a girl, but is used as a weapon to hurt girls and women. It is frequently not about the sexual behavior of the target. It is a form of relational aggression.”
Swift thinks she is sending a positive message to girls in her songs, but instead she is actually normalizing the idea that it’s acceptable to hate on someone for being sexual. The research conducted by McHugh concludes that “girls have begun by eighth grade to monitor the sexual conduct of other girls, and 70 percent of students have experienced some kind of non-physical sexual harassment, including sexual rumor spreading — known as ‘slut bashing.’”
The model for the majority of Swift’s songs revolve around the idea that romantic relationships It has girls chasing the simple ideal of marriage. In “Love Story” – a song about a guy she can’t be with – the shocking conclusion results in a marriage: “He knelt to the ground and pulled out a ring and said marry me Juliet…I talked to your dad, go pick out a white dress.” The song is about a romance that almost cannot be, but what I find to be problematic is that she doesn’t make any decisions for herself. Her idea of romance is waiting for a guy to come and save her: “Romeo save me, they’re trying to tell me how to feel.” A resounding number of her songs are all about the ideal romance, which is to say almost all of them. In Swift’s world the only thing that matters is the fairytale romance.
Swift is considered to be a role model for young girls because she is supposedly that outsider looking in. Yet her narrative consists of bringing other girls down, giving limiting views of sexuality and aspirations that rely solely on romantic love. But women are so much more than their sexuality and constricting norms don’t allow us to focus on achievement, personality and intelligence. Those are the attributes that truly matter.