Taylor Swift recently dropped her seventh album Lover. The whole album is full of a wide range of songs that explore a wide scope of the complex feeling that is love. One song, in particular, stood out to me and a lot of other people: “The Man.” “The Man” is a song where Taylor Swift imagines how she would be perceived if she were a man and honestly, it’s a bop. More importantly, the song addresses an important piece of sexism (or any harmful ideology)—perception.
Systemic oppression is effective because society as a whole, even those being oppressed, consent to the oppression and participate in it. Through media, cultural practices, academia, religion, and many other social institutions we have in place, we learn and develop ideologies. The forming of an ideology is not something we are aware of. Louis Althusser said, “Ideology has very little to do with ‘consciousness’ – it is profoundly unconscious.” These ideologies that we form as we interact with our world shape how we experience and perceive particular groups.
Taylor Swift skillfully crafted a song to address the way society has been trained to see women. Swift is one of the most beloved celebrities of my generation, and many people quite literally grew up with her. Somewhat contrary to this, it’s easy to say she’s one of the most disliked celebrities of our generation. No one is obligated to like Taylor Swift, but in some instances, this isn’t just dislike, it’s hatred.
I’ve heard a whole slew of reasons for why people don’t like Taylor Swift so I made a list:
Lyrics are bad, shallow, meaningless
She’s not political and doesn’t advocate enough for marginalized groups.
She’s too political and shouldn’t speak out on issues for marginalized groups.
She’s a complete prude and needs to loosen up
She’s a whore and needs to be more virtuous.
Kanye West and Kim Kardashian feud—she’s a snake
She plays the victim
She seems stupid
Basically, just go watch the Look What You Made Me Do music video.
As you look at the reasons people hate Taylor Swift, it’s clear that there is no concrete clear reason to hate her but just a bunch of contradicting reasons, which is where “The Man” comes into play. Here is a link to the song and the lyrics:
I would be complex
I would be cool
They’d say I played the field before
I found someone to commit to
That would be okay
For me to do
Every conquest I had made
Would make me more of a boss to you
I’d be a fearless leader
I’d be an alpha type
When everyone believes you
What’s that like?
I’m so sick of running
As fast as I can
Wondering if I’d get there quicker
If I was a man
And I’m so sick of them
Coming at me again
‘Cause if I was a man
Then I’d be the man
I’d be the man
I’d be the man
They’d say I hustled
Put in the work
They wouldn’t shake their heads
And question how much of this I deserve
What I was wearing, if I was rude
Could all be separated from my good ideas and power moves
And we would toast to me or, let the players play
I’d be just like Leo, in Saint-Tropez
What’s it like to brag about raking in dollars
And getting bitches and models
And it’s all good if you’re bad
And it’s okay if you’re mad
If I was out flashin’ my dollas
I’d be a bitch, not a baller
They paint me out to be bad
So it’s okay that I’m mad
It is not what Taylor Swift does that makes people hate her. It’s how we see what she does. Not many would ever say “I hate Taylor Swift because she’s a woman” and truthfully, no one hates her because she is a woman. Our society demonizes women as a whole for doing things men are celebrated for. This is why perception is so important. A proclaimed feminist may hate Taylor Swift for extremely sexist reasons because of how ideology in our unconscious mind works.
Taylor Swift is not the only woman we do this to. “The Devil Wears Prada” starring Meryl Streep and Anne Hathaway is a really fun lighthearted way to see this in action. The film follows Andy, a recent college graduate who dreams of being a journalist, as she works for the infamous Miranda Priestly. Miranda Priestly is the editor of the most prestigious fashion magazine in print and she runs the office with a stern hand. If this character was male, he’d be a go-getter and a leader or as Taylor Swift would describe, “a fearless leader” or “an alpha-type”. But, instead, she’s a bitch. Andy, who’s quite a contrast to Miranda, is also punished by her friends and boyfriend for her pursuit to climb the ladder to success. Would they be so disgusted by her behavior if she were a man?
No one is obligated to like anyone or their music. Taylor Swift’s bubblegum sparkly pop is not going to be universally loved. She, as a person, is not someone you need to like. Different people respond differently to personality types. But, I extend a challenge to you. When you find yourself criticizing, question why and how you’re perceiving the situation. Is it the action or is it their gender?