I quit listening to Ani Difranco years ago, and not because she attributes her miraculous health and happiness to finally marrying a man. I guess I felt I’d outgrown her, but when I read that Taylor Swift had disavowed feminism
I am not a pretty girl
that is not what I do
I ain’t no damsel in distress
and I don’t need to be rescued
so put me down punk
maybe you’d prefer a maiden fair
isn’t there a kitten stuck up a tree somewhere
I’ve always been equally compelled by pop princesses and alternative voices. For every Britney Spears song on my iPod, there’s one by some cranky lesbian you’ve never heard of. It takes more work to dig up an unconventional performer; you have to know you want something different before you can search for it.
Taylor Swift, on the other hand is easy to find. If you missed the Grammys, you can flip open any issue of US and read about her. Turn on the radio and there she is. Now she even has her own aisle at Walgreens. Of course I’m drawn to it like a gawking moth to a mainstream blond flame. We’re talking posters, T-shirts, planners, bracelets, a variety of notebook covers (because sometimes you’re in the mood to see Taylor cuddling a kitten and other times you’re in a Taylor touching an empty birdcage kind of headspace.) and more.
Let me stop here to say that there are so many recent developments I would have killed for in my tweens. If I wanted to dress like a slutty drag-queen (which I did) I had to forage in costume shops, get my mom to drive me to goodwill. I had to recognize the impulse for something different, and work to meet my goal. Now, Madonna sells red lace crinolines at Target, three-year-olds wear gold lamé Uggs and girls can find their favorite country-cum-pop star in the same aisle as the gum.
Which is great for the Taylor Swift empire; the brand she’s cultivated through a combination of looks, talent and ambition. Taylor Swift is ubiquitous, a life-size Barbie on whom little girls and parents alike can pin their dreams. There’s no pop singer as trendy yet accessible. While Katy Perry’s being all Betty Boop-peppy about binge drinking and Lady Gaga leads the rebel robot army fearlessly into the future, Taylor keeps serving up girl next door realness. She’s just like us, and also like many of us, she doesn’t know what feminism really means.
“I don’t really think about things as guys versus girls,” Taylor said, when asked if she identifies as a feminist. “I never have. I was raised by parents who brought me up to think if you work as hard as guys, you can go far in life.”
How the definition of feminism became so misunderstood is a subject for a longer essay. (Probably one in which I go all conspiracy theory, cite Rush Limbaugh’s coining of the phrase “feminazi,” hyperventilate and overuse the word patriarchy.) The distressing fact remains: a good percentage of the population, no matter how they may have benefitted from feminism’s efforts (Dear Women: Vote much?), have turned from it, misinterpreting feminism’s simple quest for equality between the sexes as a movement to set women against men.
The truth about feminism is out there, but you have to want to look for it. Not every young woman does. Back to Ani Difranco. Those drawn to her were probably a little bit off to begin with, already open to questioning authority, society, patriarchy. (Sorry, I had to.) What would it mean for a young woman to stroll down the aisle at Walgreens, pick up a Taylor-themed notebook for math class, and know that her idol believes in equality between the sexes? If someone as wholesome and mainstream as Taylor Swift vouched for feminism, how many “pretty girls’” minds might she change?