TAKING A STAND
Taylor Swift’s Spineless Feminism
The pop superstar endorsed the women’s march in a simple tweet, but after staying remarkably silent during the election, many saw it as opportunism—and far too little, far too late.
If I learned anything from Trump’s inauguration and the subsequent Women’s March, it’s that Taylor Swift and Tom Hiddleston belong together. While hordes of women descended on Washington in pink knit hats and righteous indignation, sparking emotions from hope to confusion to mild annoyance, celebrities attempted to do their part. Their efforts ranged from exemplary—what did we do to deserve you, America Ferrera? –to polarizing, to Lena Dunham. Rihanna put on a pink tutu and dabbed outside of Trump Tower. Ashley Judd put on an uncomfortable accent and did her best spoken word routine. Scarlett Johansson advocated for Planned Parenthood and showed off her amazing haircut. And dozens of celebrities braved the slushy streets of Park City for Sundance’s own edition of the Women’s March.
Celebrities who exercise their political muscles walk a fine line between helpful advocacy and self-serving opportunism. As a collective, they occupy the same uncomfortable space as, say, men at the Women’s March. We recognize that resistance finds strength in numbers, and that these powerful constituents, be they dudes or Hollywood actresses, can shed vital light on crucial issues. Still, there’s something performative about a white dude surrounded by pussy hats, proudly raising his witty poster in the air, patiently waiting for his cookie, praise, Pulitzer prize and/or Academy Award. Of course, cynicism could easily reduce the entire march to much-needed image control. Men know that now is the time to insist that #NotAllMen view women as playthings, PMS-ing nags, or potential pee-pee parties. White women know that they helped elect Donald J. Trump. And celebrities may suspect that they could have done more to push our first female president towards the Oval Office.
With all of the pink posturing on display last weekend, conversation naturally turned towards Taylor Swift, our nation’s most opportunistic celebrity. Taylor has an unrivaled ability to read the room and seize a moment. The country star leveled-up by crossing over to pop music, widening her fan base and earning Swift the title of queen of the tweens. She’s turned Kennedy’s into boyfriends, break-ups into hit singles, and friendships into headlines. Swift’s airtight image control is at once calculating and enviable. On the one hand, she’s a badass black widow, sucking all of the fame (and blood?) out of A-list white boys. To say that Taylor Swift is more famous than all of her exes combined—and that she wears the high-waisted, size two pants in every romantic relationship—is an understatement. On paper, the 27-year-old pop star has earned a spot in the pantheon of terrifying-but-totally-awesome females—Tracy Flick with a better wardrobe, or Regina George with a bigger clique. But strangely enough, Swift has no interest in leaning in to her true potential; instead, she’s resolutely tried to preserve her public image as the sweet, romantic girl next door.
Other than Calvin Harris’s tears and teenagers’ money, Taylor Swift runs on bland feminism and Pinterest-friendly patriotism. Despite the fact that she spent years denying that she was a feminist, Swift’s public image is now centered around her squad of social media-friendly sisters. Nobody loves women more than Taylor Swift—as long as the woman in question isn’t allergic to cats, dating her ex-boyfriend, or Katy Perry. Additionally, no one loves America more than Taylor Swift. Or, at the very least, no one owns more patriotic onesies and red, white, and blue towels than TayTay. The pop star annually displays these two passions, alongside her love of baked goods and giving Ryan Reynolds Stockholm Syndrome at her infamous Fourth of July party.
Given Taylor Swift’s love of ladies, cats, and the U.S.A., one might think she’d have an opinion on America’s own pussy-grabber-in chief. Unfortunately, the pop star’s dedication to female empowerment appears to begin and end at letting Ruby Rose and Lena Dunham share her spotlight. Taylor Swift wasn’t just not with her—she didn’t even know her. The full extent of Swift’s involvement in the 2016 presidential election was a nonpartisan selfie from the polls. Courtesy of the Instagram, we learned that Swift endorses democracy and cold-shoulder blouses. But in terms of candidates, it was impossible to deduce if she’d voted for Donald Trump, Hillary Clinton, or Jill freaking Stein.
Asking why Taylor Swift isn’t publicly political is like asking if Meryl Streep is appropriately rated, or if Calvin Harris is sad. As a pretty white girl who has written songs that rely heavily on fiddles, Swift undoubtedly counts a healthy handful of Trump supports among her fan base. In fact, the so-called alt-right has crowned Swift as the Aryan prom queen of their burgeoning neo-Nazi movement. The Daily Stormer—deemed a “neo-Nazi website” by The Southern Poverty Law Center—has published articles like “Taylor Swift, Avatar of European Imperialism,” “Aryan Goddess Taylor Swift: Nazi Avatar of the White European People,” and “Aryan Goddess Taylor Swift accused of Racism for Behaving Like an Ape in a Music Video.” Andrew Anglin, the site’s white supremacist founder, explained that, “Taylor Swift is a pure Aryan goddess, like something out of classical Greek poetry.” She was his queen, and God help anyone that dared to disrespect his queen.
Most celebrities would be infuriated by the insinuation that they were the Eva Braun to a virtual community of racist egg avatars and Pepe’s—especially if they’d been accused of racial insensitivity in the past. But Taylor Swift has always valued apoliticism, even to a fault. Her girl squad has been infamously silent on social issues, with card-carrying members like Selena Gomez earning internet ire for her refusal to discuss Black Lives Matter. Let’s put it this way: Josh Kushner attended the Women’s March, but Karlie Kloss didn’t. While Swift refused to do the bare minimum of sharing her pick for President, she did deign to comment on the march in the most typical Taylor Swift fashion. “So much love, pride, and respect for those who marched” she tweeted. “I’m proud to be a woman today, and every day.”
There’s a craven calculus to winning brownie points without offending your most offensive fans. Unfortunately, the Women’s March offered a loophole for any female celebrity looking to appear engaged. By reducing the political protest to a girl power party, stars could express pride in their gender without pissing off the pro-Trump masses. Of course, this totally erases the spirit of resistance, as well as the intended intersectionality of the action. It’s the social media equivalent of a white female protestor tuning out Janet Mock or Angela Davis’s speech to take a selfie in their fuchsia knitwear. Cutesy sentiments and political palatability are no longer acceptable. If you’re not overtly on board with the resistance, then you’re tacitly chill with being proclaimed an Aryan goddess. If you refuse to denounce your “alt-right” supporters, you risk alienating all of your queer, trans, black, Latino, undocumented, Muslim, and indigenous fans. Taylor Swift’s patriotic one-pieces might transition well to Donald Trump’s America, but her penchant for opting out of the political discourse is already passé.
Trying or pretending to be woke, without displaying any sort of political preference or informed opinion, is almost more offensive than saying nothing at all. Which brings us back, naturally, to Tom Hiddleston.
Just like his ex, Hiddleston recently used a public forum (the Golden Globes) to try and look good, which resulted in one of the most tone-deaf speeches of the night. On an annoyance scale from one to “Welcome to New York,” Hiddleston hit a solid eight with his wide-ranging soliloquy on South Sudan. In an anecdote that can only be described as lengthy, Hiddleston explained that he was “immensely proud” of the fact that his show provided relief to aid workers in the South Sudan. Tom Hiddleston has played many roles, from Thor to Taylor Swift’s boyfriend. He has worn an “I heart T.S. tank top” and lived to tell the tale, and risked hypothermia to be “caught” canoodling on a frigid beach in New England. But he’s never been more convincing than in this new role as self-important dude activist.
In hindsight, this speech proves that HiddleSwift may have been more compatible than we ever thought. Can’t you just picture the face of watered-down feminism and 2017’s proudest white savior, taking a break from swapping spit to congratulate one another on staying so woke?