How Taylor Swift Became the Poster Child of "White Feminism"

Taylor Swift has become the ultimate litmus test of critical, political discourse in my life. As a lover of thoughtful discussion and pop culture, they often exist within the same space for me, most notably in the form of Taylor Swift's career. I have to admit upfront that 1989 is an album that has shaped my life in a way I cannot articulate within the constraint of this one article. I listened to it, beginning to end, every morning as a got ready for school my senior year of high school. Suffice it to say, I do believe T. Swizzle has a lot of talent and is a musical icon of our generation. However, I can appreciate the beauty of Welcome To New York and How You Get The Girl while casting a critical eye on her controversial and at times deeply problematic career. From notorious #GirlSquad Instagram posts and her Famous, long standing beef with Kanye West & Kim Kardashian, she crafted an image that was both relatable and alienating. Some would say the artful combination of relatability and alienation forms what we typically call "aspiration," but I would argue that it set her up to be the poster child for white feminism. 

Before I begin to back up that claim, I must define and clarify what white feminism is and what it is not. Wikipedia defines it as "a form of feminism that focuses on the struggles of white women while failing to address distinct forms of oppression often faced by women of color and women lacking other privileges" and Urban Dictionary states it as "a brand of feminism centered around the ideals and struggles of primarily white women. While not outright exclusive, its failure to consider other women and its preoccupation with Western standards and the problems faced by the "average woman" is often alienating to women of color, non-straight women, trans women, and women belonging to religious or cultural minorities." Both of these adequately describe what white feminism is and how it falls within feminism at large. This means that white feminism is not exclusive to white women, does not apply to all white women, and is not solely meant to address the race-based disparities between women. 

With that being said, Swift's whiteness and wealth played the largest role in catapulting her to becoming a symbol of white feminism. Her traditionally "beautiful" body and "humble beginnings" back story undoubtedly helped, but in this giant web of Swift's privilege her race and economic status form the foundational design that brings everything together. As the wide-eyed, curly-haired youngster taking over the music industry she was a force to be reckoned with, yet she positioned herself as the girl-next-door whose Sweet Home Alabama charm made it impossible not to root for her at every turn. Album after album presented killer vocals while remaining rather youthful and innocent lyrically. Outside of the recording studio, her persona blossomed as a "the modest yet fashionable" pop singer of our generation (a great foil to Miley Cyrus, another cultural icon of the 2010's) and based itself in her seemingly genuine friendships with every other beautiful, successful entertainer in the industry. She made sure she was photographed with all of the right people, in all of the right outfits, at all of the right times. I do not begrudge her for being thoughtful and cognizant of her personal brand. Not in the slightest. Where I take issue -- where she becomes the epitome of white feminism -- is her definitions of "right." For Swift, the "right" people, places, outfits, and events all had striking similarities. The causes she chose to align herself with and the components of her faux-feminist #GirlSquad were built on a definition of "right" that looks a hell of a lot like white feminism.

She expressed empowerment in ways that only fully encompasses a specific community of white women and girls. To everyone else, her aspirational qualities became oppressive. Her calling out Kanye for "taking credit for her fame" spoke to thousands of women who have had men take ownership of their success throughout their lives. But the demographics of the women who identify with that specific sentiment are narrow. For thousands of others, her call out felt more like an easy opportunity to demonize a man who society had already labeled as greedy, aggressive, and criminal by nature of his profession and the color of his skin. She utilized the tropes we assign to black, male rappers to push her "feminist" message. Similarly, we saw such a small community of women benefiting from Swift's feminism in contrast to the large population of women oppressed by it when she assembled the ultimate girl gang. She commissioned the friendships of Kendall Jenner, Gigi Hadid, Cara Delevigne, Selena Gomez, and Karlie Kloss to represent "the perfect friend group." The ubiquity of tall, slender, ultra-successful, white-passing women within her most beloved, immediate group of friends spoke for itself. She showed us exactly how she defined "perfect" and let us in on a secret: that most of us women would never be able to make the cut.

We cannot deny the positive impact Taylor Swift has had on women throughout her incredible career. But when the positive impact keeps benefiting the same highly privileged women and girls over and over and over again while simultaneously dismissing/oppressing we need to ask ourselves how long we can ignore that the brand of feminism she's promoting is not actually feminist at all?