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Op-ed: In Defense of Taylor Swift and Why the Hate Is Just Plain Sexist

Op-ed: In Defense of Taylor Swift and Why the Hate Is Just Plain Sexist

Op-ed: In Defense of Taylor Swift and Why the Hate Is Just Plain Sexist

Swift is a successful young woman and a terrific philanthropist, so why so much unending hate?

A few weeks ago there was a hilarious skit on SNL. It was one of their classic faux commercials, this one for a drug called “Swiftamine.” The drug treats a new and growing health problem: "Realizing you love Taylor Swift has become the leading cause of vertigo among adults.” 

What made the skit so LOL funny was just how true it was: Admitting that you don’t hate Taylor Swift or worse, that you really like one of her songs, or worst of all, that you really like her is anathema to coolness. Because Taylor Swift is such a girl and her music is so, you know, girly.

I mean, you can love Beyoncé even though she writes unsingable songs like “Drunk in Love” or catchy songs with a wtf message like “All the Single Ladies.” You can love Rihanna, despite some really disturbing lyrics and pairings with woman-hating misogynists like Eminem and Chris Brown. You can love Iggy Azalea and Tove Lo and Rita Ora , but you can’t admit to loving Taylor Swift or worse, her music.   

Even as I write this, a Swiftian refrain from her mega-hit ”Shake It Off” is on a loop tape  in my head: “haters gonna hate, hate, hate, hate, hate.”

Why can’t we love Taylor Swift?

Is it because those cool girls, Tina Fey and Amy Poehler dissed her at both the 2013 and 2014 Golden Globes and then told Taylor–less than half their age–to grow the f*** up when she objected in a subtweet? Is it because she didn’t throw a tantrum when Kanye West interrupted her speech at the 2009 VMAs (Swift was only 19 and accepting her first Best Female Video Award for “You Belong to Me.”) to say she didn't deserve it?

Is it because she’s made some bad love choices (who among us hasn’t?) because she’s still under 25 and much older guys like Jake Gyllenhaal and John Mayer have dated her because she’s smart and talented and adorable? (Meanwhile Fey and Poehler had joked that she was the predator for dating a guy all of two years younger than she.)

The disturbing reality is Taylor Swift gets negative press because she is smart, talented, adorable, funny, nice, an extraordinary philanthropist, an activist looks great in clothes from any era and unlike some of her peers in the music business (we're looking at you, Justin Bieber), has never been in trouble, except in song lyrics.

Sadly, it’s still not okay for women to succeed. And when young women succeed, it must be a fluke, like Snoop Dogg implied in his sexist takedown of Iggy Azalea. (He’s 43, she’s 24.) Or Eminem’s rape lyrics about Iggy Azalea (he’s 43 and she responded, “I’m bored of old men threatening young women.”) Previously, 22-year-old Charli XCX and Adele have taken heat, as has Miley Cyrus.

So Swift isn’t the only one–she’s just the one with the most awards, the most top singles and the most money.

I admit I’m not a huge fan of Swift’s music–there are some songs I like, but most aren’t in my musical wheelhouse, catchy though they may be. As for Swift herself, however, to paraphrase a line from Charli XCX’s hit she wrote for Iconapop–I don’t care, I love her. Swift’s massively talented, has one of the most highly developed senses of irony of anyone in current pop music and she’s about as real as it gets.

Swift’s also an amazing businesswoman, as evidenced by her recent decision to pull her music from Spotify. (Male musicians have already done so and it wasn’t a scandal when they did so, but this is Taylor Swift, so it made business and bash-Taylor news, although Sony used her as their rationale to rethink its deal with Spotify, and Spotify will still have to pay Swift more than $300,000 for its streaming of nearly 44 million plays of “Shake It Off” in October).

What does it mean that a 24 year old’s grace under pressure and ironic song lyrics have stood up to all the mean-spirited attacks from people twice her age? 

It means we not only shouldn’t hate Taylor Swift, we should like, seriously, adore her. And the reason we don’t is pathetically, programmatically, stereotypically simple: Sexism.

Partly, it is Swift’s  massive success across two genres, country and pop. There are few recording artists who have Swift’s resume. On Nov. 19 she actually bested herself, knocking “Shake It Off” off the number one spot in the country with “Blank Space,” both songs from her already-platinum album 1989. Swift is the first female recording artist to knock one of her own number one hits off the top of the charts with a different hit.

And then there’s the rest of it:  Swift has seven Grammys, 15 American Music Awards, 11 Country Music Association Awards, seven Academy of Country Music Awards, 12 Billboard Music Awards and several Golden Globe nominations. Her songwriting has been honored by the Nashville Songwriters Association and the Songwriters Hall of Fame. 

Last year Swift became the first woman and only the second artist to receive the Country Music Association's Pinnacle Award. She was named Billboard’s Woman of the Year in both 2011 and 2014, the first woman to win the award twice.

Rolling Stone named Swift “an immortal” in 2013 and wrote of her, “If Taylor Swift stopped producing hits right now, at 23, she could tour a killer oldies show for the rest of her life.” And according to RIAA (Recording Industry Association of America), Swift is the second best selling digital singles artist in America.


There’s something daunting about a young woman who succeeds at everything she does, and that’s Swift. We’re conditioned to expect men to succeed. But when women excel to the degree Swift has, particularly without any actual scandal like substance abuse or public meltdowns or beating up paparazzi–the haters come out in droves. Tearing successful women down is a national past time. Just ask Hillary Clinton.

It’s also a past time we really need to stop.

When I first watched Swift’s brilliant music video for “Blank Space" I wanted to share it with every woman I know. So I posted it on Twitter with the comment that it was indeed brilliant. Because it is.

Some feminists gave me the thumbs up. But more responses came from the haters. 

Oh come on–how could you possibly miss the oh-so-clever irony in both her lyrics and over-the-top video?  You’d have to work hard to miss the genius in Swift’s send-up of not just the dissing and dismissing of Swift herself as nothing more than a boy-crazy “girl,” but of all women as hysterical, bunny-boiling, wardrobe-shredding  Fatal Attraction-style lunatics. Lines like “Oh my God, look at that face/You look like my next mistake” or “Boys only want love if it’s torture/Don’t say I didn’t say I didn’t warn ya” are perfect in-your-face rejoinders to the Feys and Poehlers and everyone else focusing on what a girl Taylor Swift and her girly ilk are.

Yes, she’s a girl.

Yes, she writes about love and loss and bad break ups and her clever lyrics like “And he's long gone when he’s next to me/And I realize the blame is on me” or “I think that the worst part of it all wasn’t losing him/It was losing me “in “Trouble” strike such a chord with us, whether we’re 15 or 50, we need a strong dose of Swiftamine. Yet isn’t Swift writing those particular lyrics about the perennially self-obsessed John Mayer whose own lovelorn lyrics are considered oh-so-profound and angst-ridden?

Why the double standard?

Take a deep breath instead of the Swiftamine and think about what it is you’re slamming when you’re dissing Taylor Swift, because the only real argument anyone has against her is that she’s such a girl. Even asForbes–yes, Forbes–was focusing on her achievements on Nov. 19, they couldn’t help knocking her down a few pegs while doing so. 

“Swift is now the only performer to secure two number one hits this year, though there’s still more than a month left, and anything can happen.” So–she’s achieved something no other performer, male or female, has, but there’s still a few weeks left in the year. Please, someone, knock Swift off her high-performing pedestal!


Then there’s the fact that she’s the first woman to ever knock herself out of the top spot with another one of her own songs (something even Beyoncé and Adele couldn’t do), but Forbes notes smugly that guys did it first. And who were those guys? The Beatles. Outkast. Usher. The Black Eyed Peas. Some of the top-grossing bands of all time.

And Taylor Swift is, after all, just a girl.

Heavy sigh.

Grudgingly, at the end of their screed about Swift, Forbes acknowledges that the sales figures (her album sold two million copies in less than three weeks) are “unprecedented, even for her.”

Oh–so she’s huge success, is she? Even for a girl? 

What’s so bad about being a girl? What’s so bad about writing out the pain and excitement and drama of falling in love and having your heart broken? Isn’t that what the guys are writing about? Oh yeah–it is. No one says Ed Sheeran or Sam Smith or John Legend or Justin Timberlake or fill in the blank with a male artist is such a girl. And Billy Joel even said outright last week that he was tired of all the hating on Taylor Swift–he thinks she’s nice and he likes her songs.

First Lady Michelle Obama likes Swift too. She gave her an award in 2012 for all the work Swift has done to make the world a better place. FLOTUS–who has two young daughters, herself, as we know–called Swift a role model. But since Swift doesn’t trumpet her philanthropy with press conferences and press releases, people may not be aware that she’s given millions toward a host of causes and has been hands-on in many of those. Her philanthropy includes rebuilding efforts after natural disasters like Hurricane Sandy or tornadoes in various places, educational efforts for kids without books, literacy programs, music programs for schools and colleges, women’s issues, LGBT causes and a myriad of cancer causes for kids and adults. Swift has traveled to various hospitals to cheer up patients—from Walter Reed to visit wounded war vets to various children’s hospitals to visit cancer-stricken kids. 

In fact, it could be said about her philanthropy what Rolling Stone said about her musical achievements: she’s an immortal. She’s done many of the things Bono has done and is poised to become another Oprah in terms of her philanthropy–she’s just a few decades younger than both of them. 

The raw truth is, every time you hate on Taylor Swift, you’re hating on women. So maybe stop that. It’s not cool, but it is sexist. Just because we were trained to be that way doesn’t mean we should be.

As Swift says at the end of “Blank Space,” “They'll tell you I'm insane/But I've got a blank space, baby/And I'll write your name.”

Swift may be plagued with haters, but when she appeared on Good Morning America a few weeks ago, Times Square had to be shut down because the crowd to see her was so vast.

Swift topped Billboard’s  2014 Money Makers Rich List–exceeding sales of Beyoncé, P!nk, Justin Timberlake, even the Rolling Stones. So while the “haters gonna hate hate hate hate hate,” Swift continues to add fans to her repertoire. Maybe there aren’t that many takers for Swiftamine after all, and we should all just admit, “It’s a love story, baby, just say yes.” Because loving Taylor Swift? That’s loving the girl in all of us.


Victoria A. Brownworth is an award-winning journalist, editor and writer and the author and editor of nearly 30 books. She has won the NLGJA and the Society of Professional Journalists awards, the Lambda Literary Award and has been nominated for the Pulitzer Prize. She won the 2013 SPJ Award for Enterprise Reporting in May 2014. She is a regular contributor to The Advocate and SheWired, a blogger for Huffington Post and a contributing editor for Curve magazine and Lambda Literary Review. Her reporting and commentary has appeared in the New York Times, Village Voice, Los Angeles Times, Boston Globe and Philadelphia Inquirer. Her book, From Where We Sit: Black Writers Write Black Youth won the 2012 Moonbeam Award for cultural & historical fiction. Her novels, Ordinary Mayhem and Cutting will both be published in winter 2014. @VABVOX 

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