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Killing Feminism or Lifting up Girlhood? For Taylor Swift on Her 23rd BirthdayEmma Eisenberg

December 2012

It was part of my job to drive teenaged girls around mountains in minivans – to tutoring sessions, to museums, concerts, fundraisers and college tours.  The girls in the minivans with me were smart and cool girls who had to apply to our programs and be selected.  They had to be curious about the world, they had to be compassionate towards others, they had to hold within themselves a strong sense of justice.  They had to want to get stronger.  They had to be between twelve and eighteen years old and live in rural southeastern West Virginia.

I worked for an organisation with local roots that tried to offer middle and high school girls a different picture of themselves than the three that were readily available in Pocahontas County: Farm Girl Beauty Queen, Married Foodland Employee (with or without kids), and Pill head Party Girl (with or without kids).  The girls I worked with were some of the most motivated, engaged, and driven teenagers I have ever met.  They wore ripped jeans and teal blazers and all-black, they listened to Bob Dylan and Evanescence and Tim McGraw, they drew and wrote and shoed horses and dug ditches.  But let us be clear that girlhood in southeastern West Virginia has profound challenges specific to its mountainous geography.  In a place where only 8% of the population is between the ages of 18-24, and only 12.3% of West Virginians over 25 hold a college degree, the lowest percentage in any U.S. state and nearly half the national average of 20.3%, the girls I worked with had few models to look to when navigating the next steps in their lives.  Out of the states plus the District of Columbia, West Virginia is ranked dead last for women’s labor force participation and women’s employment and earnings, tied 4th for youngest median age of women at first marriage, and 2nd for rate of divorces per capita. 84% of West Virginia women live in counties where there is no abortion provider.

An essential qualification for having my job was to be willing to help DJ and participate in the impromptu dance parties that arose within the minivans as we logged the long miles between rural destinations.  Being teenaged girls, they wanted to listen to the radio.  Being teenaged girls, they wanted to listen to music made by women. They listened to hear beats and lyrics.  They listened to hear something true about their lives.  They listened – as we all do – to be lifted up.  Some of them liked Katy Perry best, and some liked Beyoncé, and some liked Lady Gaga.  And yes, some of them liked Taylor Swift.  Not just liked her, but felt empowered by her.

This past December, writer, literary critic, and Philadelphia-based University of the Arts Professor Camille Paglia, writing for The Hollywood Reporter, released a piece titled “Taylor Swift, Katy Perry, and Hollywood Are Ruining Women.”

Paglia goes on to describe Swift’s style as a “‘golly, gee whiz’ persona of cultivated blandness and self-deprecation.”  This charge that Taylor Swift is ruining women, or that Taylor Swift is a “feminist’s worst nightmare,” as Marie Lyn Bernard, Editor-in-Chief of Audostraddle asserted in February of 2010, or that she is “patriarchy-friendly” as Jezebel’s Dodai Steward asserted of her album, Red, this past October, has been echoed and re-blogged over and over again.  The general feminist consensus online seems to be that Taylor Swift is not good for feminism, and not empowering to teen girls.

To which I say: what about the girls I drove with, over the Allegheny mountains, who found her music empowering?  What about a 22-year-old woman named Mikaela, who wrote this in response to Rick Moody’s January 15, 2013 “Swinging Modern Sounds” column for online literary culture site The Rumpus declaring he just didn’t understand the Swift appeal:  “[Taylor Swift] tells us true things about what young women really feel... all the criticisms hurled at artists like Taylor, are the same as the abuse that put me in fear of my life when yelled at me by my abuser. That [women] are inconsistent, fake, frivolous, fucked-up, pathetic, etc.”

So again, to those who say Taylor Swift is bad for feminism, I want to ask: to whose feminism? Taylor Swift can only be said to be killing feminism if we use, as our foundation, a particular vision of feminism that locates itself in the exclusive and proscriptive tendencies of primarily white, urban, and upper middle class feminists.  For indeed, the Women’s Liberation Movement of the early 1960s to the late 1980s, later to be known as second wave feminism, while absolutely necessary and foundational to modern feminism in its groundbreaking work on questions of pay equality, reproductive rights, sexual freedom, violence towards women, legal discrimination on the basis of gender, and nearly every other feminist issue still in play today, was also widely criticised by feminists of colour, rural feminists, and working class feminists for not recognising the range and diversity of women’s needs and advancing a specific, “essentialist” agenda based on the concerns of privileged white women.  It was these critiques that prompted a massive backlash against the second wave vision of feminism in the 1980s and ushered in third wave feminism, a term now commonly accepted by feminist scholars and theorists to reference the time period beginning in the late 1980s, and encompassing a more diverse and inclusive feminism that incorporates the unique concerns of women of colour and queer women.  In recent years, many argue that the years 2008-2010 ushered in a fourth wave, which is, according to writer and professor Jennifer Baumgardner “tech-savvy and gender sophisticated,” and also characterised by humour and greater attention to sexual and cultural diversity while pushing back against the term “post-feminist” and seeking connection with oft-forgotten feminist history.

Taylor Swift seems to push the buttons of feminists today precisely because she is a spokesperson for what we fear most yet absolutely cannot afford to exclude: the generation of teen women and women entering their twenties who see the goals of feminism as already accomplished.  Swift is both so powerfully relevant to her contemporaries and also so completely frightening to feminist writers and thinkers because she embodies the mashup of loyalties that accompany being a 23-year-old woman in this precise “fourth wave” moment in America: the temptation that if we say we are equal it will magically become so, the yearning to cut ties with our past of inequality, and the gradual accumulation of stinging moments in the form of seemingly isolated and personal encounters that remind you that, in a precisely gendered way, you are powerless, and that compel you to reach out for inspiration and validation.

So what I want to say is this: the feminist backlash against Taylor Swift is so important because it exposes that feminism in America is standing at a fundamental crossroads: will we continue to yolk the term feminism to the realms of the exclusive, the privileged, and the academic? Or will we open our ears and listen – to the online testimonials like Mikaela’s, to the teenaged West Virginians I worked with, to Swift’s record-breaking sales – so that we can hear the fact that Taylor Swift speaks powerfully to the lives of young women and makes them feel good?  If we who care about the future of feminism continue to condemn Taylor Swift because she does not conform to our notions of what feminism means, if we deny Swift’s important ability to make the many feel validated and empowered, then we doom the term feminism to matter to a self-satisfied few.

* * *

Let’s just take a second and consider the facts. First off, I know it’s not in dispute, but I think it bears reminding that Swift’s newest album Red, released in August of 2012, scored the highest weekly sales for any artist, male or female, since Eminem’s 2002 The Eminem Show, and made Swift the only female artist (and the fourth artist ever) to hit the 1 million first-week figure twice since SoundScan began tracking actual sales in 1991.  So clearly millions of girls and women, not to mention boys and men, are buying what she is selling.

So what exactly is Taylor Swift selling?  In her online journal, Swift writes, by way of introduction, “I like imagining what life was like hundreds of years ago. I have blurry eyesight. My favourite thing in life is writing about life…I don't really think you can ever stop making new friends or learning about as many new things as possible. I also don't think you should ever take life so seriously that you forget to play.”  To this, I will give a hell yeah. Much of the work I did with teenaged girls was to try to foster a sense of play, of risk-taking and silliness, and a sense of a judgment-free zone, to get them to be comfortable being smart or weird or artistic or flawed, with being exactly who they are.

The word that comes to mind to describe Swift’s music, when taken as a whole is exuberance.  She jumps and bounces and wears sparkles.  She’s ridiculous and over-dramatic and silly.  She’s wrong sometimes.  She’s angry.  She’s herself.

This theme of being oneself has always been at the centre of Swift’s career.  She rose to fame during her teenaged years, and as such, she wrote songs about being a teenager.  Swift has been widely criticised for seeming childlike, but the truth is: she was a child! In a world of Lindsay Lohans and Katy Perrys and Ke$has, I find it refreshing to hear from a female voice that being yourself is enough, that being 15-years-old is song-worthy.  Not because it’s wholesome, but because it’s true.  In the creative writing world, the old cliché is to “write what you know.”  In the realm of pop music, the extraordinary and the sensational has been so venerated that we forget what songs are supposed to do: tell stories that speak to our experience.  That’s where Swift’s Country music background is most evident and what sets her apart.  She’s using her own voice to tell a story about her own life.


It’s pointed out again and again that Swift is boy crazy, that she writes only about boys.  While I would dispute this, I do grant that she does write a whole darn lot about love and relationships, but unlike Twilight heroine Bella, Taylor Swift does not roll over and take it from boys.  She tells it like it is, she tells them what she wants, and if they can’t deliver, out they go.

In “Begin Again,” off Red, Swift writes, “He didn’t like it when I wore high heels, but I do, I do.  He always said he didn’t get this song, but I do, I do.  He said I’ve never met one girl who has as many James Taylor records as you, but I do…I’ve been spending the last eight months thinking that all love ever does is break and burn and end.  And on a Wednesday in a café, I watched it begin again.”  Here we get Swift rejecting a boyfriend who tells her what she can wear and what she can listen to and who didn’t think she was funny, and see her re-affirm her own beliefs on these subjects, “but I do,” as well as reach for a relationship with a new potential partner with whom she has, from the music video, animated, silly, and highly engaging intellectual conversations over fatty looking desserts and who allows her to regain hope for tenderness and respect in a relationship instead of one that breaks or burns.  I’m down with that.  Furthermore, in “The Moment I Knew” the supposed boyfriend misses Swift’s birthday party, then calls later to offer a weak, “I’m sorry I didn’t make it,” to which she responds with a damning “I’m sorry too,” and breaks it off.

In a recent interview with Ramin Setoodeh for the Daily Beast about her new album Red, Swift was asked if she ever worries about guys not asking her out because of her track record of writing songs about exes.  Swift responded, “I don’t know. I’ve never had a guy say to me, ‘I was thinking of asking you out, but I was afraid I would end up in that song.’ I have had a guy say, as we were breaking up, ‘You better not write a song about this.’ At which point, I proceeded to write an entire album about it.”

For the amount that Swift is touted as traditional and “patriarchy-friendly” when asked if she saw herself “settling down and getting married” by Setoodeh, she responded, “I have no idea. One thing I’ve learned about life and love, you have no idea what it’s going to throw at you. So I just really have no idea where I’m going to end up.” Though this is not a promise to live an alternative lifestyle, to eschew marriage or motherhood in any way, it reflects an openness to adventure and change that seems thoroughly unchained to the pervasive narrative that tells young women that marriage and motherhood are fundamental milestones to be achieved in your twenties, and in that order.

OK.  So now a look at the Swift critics.

In her excellently hilarious piece, “Why Taylor Swift Offends Little Monsters, Feminists, and Weirdos,” Marie Lyn Bernard of Autostraddle tells us why she would not want any daughter of hers to embrace Taylor Swift:  “Listen up; if I ever get my life together enough to reproduce other life forms, they will not be joining Taylor Nation — they will be brave, creative, inventive, envelope-pushing little monsters who will find a pretty, skinny white blonde girl in a white peasant shirt strolling through nature-themed screensaver-esque fantasylands singing about how "when you're fifteen and somebody tells you they love you, you’re gonna believe them" not only sappy, but also insulting to their inevitable brilliance.”

Though I would argue that Swift is inventive and creative (she writes or co-writes all her own songs, plays guitar, and has made a successful career as a songwriter for other pop acts), Bernard’s point is larger.  The song that Bernard references here, Swift’s “Fifteen” as discussed above, is a depiction of high school life and love.  But in addition to the line Bernard offers, we get a description of Swift “laughing at the other girls who think they’re so cool, we’ll be out of here as soon as we can” as well as perspective from an older Swift: “in your life you’ll do things greater than dating the boy on the football team, but I didn’t know it at fifteen…back then I swore I was gonna marry him someday, but I realised some bigger dreams of mine, and Abigail gave everything she had to a boy who changed his mind.”

Bernard writes, “Abigail had sex with a boy, and later they broke up. That's right. No marriage. She gave him all she had.  That's right. All Abigail had was her hymen.”  I see her point, but my interpretation of that line was quite different – I took it instead as an understated description of a common occurrence I saw all the time working with teenagers in West Virginia – a girl feels special because a boy pays attention to her, he makes certain promises to her, they have sex, he changes his mind about said promises, girl ends up alone, with or without baby.  I’m not moralising about whether teens should have sex or not, and I don’t think Swift is either.  I think she’s saying that’s what happened and it was hard, and it made that friend who was a girl feel powerless and like boys have all the power. And guess what? Sometimes they do, especially in a place like Hendersonville, Tennessee where Swift attended her freshman year, and that’s real, and can be written about in a song.  Additionally, I am definitely down with a song that tells teenaged girls to realise bigger dreams than marrying the boy on the football team, because though it might seem absurd to some of you reading this, if you really hang out with teenaged girls, especially the girls of rural and suburban America and spend time in their world, a world that can at times offer so damn few possibilities, this is a message that is not necessarily obvious.

In October of last year, Dodai Stewart of Jezebel wrote, “Swift has stuck to a formula and carefully curated image: The patriarchy-friendly, virginal, good, pure, feminine, pretty blonde girl that has been an American ideal for decades. She's basically a cross between Shirley Temple, Doris Day and the Sunbeam bread mascot.”

There will be no argument from me that Swift is doing what Beyoncé or Rihanna or Lady Gaga is doing when it comes to reclaiming female sexuality and bucking socially accepted lady behaviour.  She’s not.  But that doesn’t make Swift’s approach inherently disempowering or anti-feminist, and I believe Swift draws upon themes of independence and rebellion in her own, different way.

In regards to Stewart’s claim that Swift represents the good, the pure, and the virginal, I would direct a critic’s attention to Swift’s newer work and musical collaborations which reflect an edgier, more adult Taylor Swift.  In 2011, Swift toured with Def Leppard, and, clad in a gold sequinned mini dress and black cowboy boots, strummed angrily on a black guitar as the Def Leppard band backed her on “Should’ve Said No.” No one would be able to call Swift “childlike” or “pure” as she then backed Def Leppard on “Pour Some Sugar On Me,” headbanging her heart out and stomping around the stage.

Then there’s “Both of Us,” a collaboration with hip hop star B.o.B.  Swift sings the chorus and I’m hooked:  “I wish I was strong enough to lift not one but both of us.  Someday, I will be strong enough to lift not one but both of us.”  It is this move from “I wish” to “I will” that gets me as much as the catchy melody.  That’s what I feel shining through from Swift: I will, I will, I will.  When they performed the song live at NYC’s “Jingle Ball” in December of 2012, Swift danced along and grinded up on B.o.B. in a way that was both silly and sultry, but was unequivocally confident and unembarrassed by her own sexuality.

Furthermore, “I Knew You Were Trouble” off of her newest, Red, is a dubstep-influenced ballad that begins with Swift, the tips of her hair dyed pink, lying in the dirt, surrounded by toilet paper and the remnants of what looks to be a rave in the desert.  As the video progresses, we see Swift making out with her tattooed bad boy love interest while standing on top of a booth in a dirty dive bar, dancing on a bed, breaking up a bar fight, and forcefully pulling her love interest in for a sensual kiss.  Not exactly the stuff of Doris Day movies.

Finally, as Swift has aged and matured, so has her sound.  In her new album Red, Swift grapples with age-appropriate issues drawn from her life as a young adult.  The track “22” goes, “we're happy free confused and lonely at the same time, it's miserable and magical oh yeah, tonight's the night when we forget about the deadlines.”  Sounds like 22 to me, and in its honesty and openness about emotional confusion, as well as its direct reference to college and academic work, the song creates a realistic portrait of being a college-aged young woman that is otherwise absent from pop music.

So what, really is it about Swift that drives many feminists berserk?  It seems to have a lot to do with the fact that she’s pretty, white, and blonde. Jezebel’s Stewart describes Swift as a “pretty blonde girl that has been an American ideal for decades” echoing Camille Paglia’s charge that “we’ve somehow been thrown back to the demure girly-girl days of the white-bread 1950s…when girls had to be simple, peppy, cheerful and modest. Doris Day, Debbie Reynolds and Sandra Dee formed the national template – that trinity of blond oppressors!”  Furthermore, Paglia levies this additional charge at Swift: “Indeed, without her mannequin posturing at industry events, it’s doubtful that Swift could have attained her high profile.” Hmm, you can’t be a strong empowered woman if you are blond, thin, wear makeup, etc.  Paglia’s statements epitomise the policing attitude employed by many second wave feminists to define and enforce a singular, standardised vision of what a feminist looks like without regard to their greater commitments, actions, and work.

Despite widespread headlines that Taylor Swift reportedly said, “I’m not a feminist,” it’s useful to turn to the actual interview, as that is not, in fact, what Swift said.  In response to Setoodeh asking her if she thinks her music empowers women, Swift said, “I write from a place of my personal feelings about things. It's funny when you write a song and you don't expect it to turn into what it turns into when it goes out in the world. I wrote a song called ‘Mean’ about a critic who hated me. I put it out, and all of a sudden, it became an anthem against bullies in schools, which is a refreshing and new take on it. When people say things about me empowering women, that's an amazing compliment.”

Then Setoodeh asked Swift if she considers herself a feminist:  “I don't really think about things as guys versus girls. 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.”

OK. So what Swift says is that she thinks it’s an “amazing compliment” when people say that her songs empower women, and then she completely dodges the feminist question with this warped comment about “guys versus girls.”

But she did not explicitly disavow feminism as Katy Perry did, saying, while accepting the Billboard award for Woman of the Year, “I am not a feminist, but I do believe in the strength of women”, or like Lady Gaga did in 2009 when she told a Norwegian journalist, “I’m not a feminist. I hail men! I love men!”, or like Kelly Clarkson did, also in 2009, when PopEater asked if she was, and she replied, “No, not at all.”  Ke$ha is outspoken about sexual double standards and wanting to objectify men as women have been historically objectified in music, but I could find no indicators that she identifies publicly as a feminist.

Swift’s dodge of the feminist question is disheartening.  Even more disheartening, is that this response actually places her a cut above the norm, which is the explicit condemnation of  “I am not a feminist.” Of the major young female pop stars, only Pink will identify as a feminist.

Beyoncé, touted as a feminist icon, had this to say in August of 2010:  “I think I am a feminist in a way. It’s not something I consciously decided I was going to be; perhaps it’s because I grew up in a singing group with other women, and that was so helpful to me. It kept me out of so much trouble and out of bad relationships. My friendships with my girls are just so much a part of me that there are things I am never going to do that would upset that bond. I never want to betray that friendship because I love being a woman and I love being a friend to other women.”

And yet, it’s Swift that takes the brunt of feminist critiques even though it’s clear that Lady Gaga, Katy Perry, and Beyoncé are reinforcing definitions of feminism that are just as warped and fallacious as Swift’s. “It's like she doesn't understand what a feminist is. Is this what happens when you're home-schooled after the age of 15?” asks Stewart of Jezebel, speaking still about Swift.  Seems more like that is what happens when you’re a girl currently coming of age in the United States.

Certainly this election season brought this fact to the forefront.  My blood boiled as Katherine Fenton (the young woman who asked the question about gender salary inequality in the town meeting-style Presidential debate this past fall), when asked whether she was a feminist by Salon, responded, “Absolutely not…I’m a 24-year-old woman that lives in the United States and feels like I should be treated the same as anyone else. That makes me a normal human being.”  It was so crushing because it was like seeing your team make it all the way to the big game and then choke in the final seconds: yes, yes, COME ON, YES! No.

So that’s a problem.  It’s not news that the vast majority of young women today understand feminism as a radical agenda, as looking for “preferential treatment” or a handout, as whining about the fine print in a deal that’s mostly done.  That’s a big problem and it’s one that many women and men are grappling with every day and it’s slow going, and we can do our part.

And our part is this: we can choose not to reinforce the wrong, outdated, and toxic idea that feminism is exclusive, that it dictates what we can or can’t do or wear or sing.  We can look at our famous women, those who are held up as role models, deeply and critically and evaluate, with complex eyes and open hearts, what is at the core of their message and their art.  We can listen when young women say they like Taylor Swift and try to understand how that liking operates and where it might lead the future of feminism.

Sady Doyle over at In These Times, wrote, “on some level, Swift’s songs are a feminist project. Instead of existing in isolation and assuming that any bad emotional reaction to a man must be her own fault—which is the space the culture wants young women to exist within—Swift is sitting down to write out her own reactions and share them with other women. If listening to the woeful tale of Gyllenhaal’s scarf envy is what it takes to get a young girl to start questioning her levels of self-blame, that’s good enough for me. What I question is whether such a ballad will necessarily lead the girl into a context where she can connect the hurt she’s experienced to the culture that has systematically given men’s feelings and experiences priority over women’s.”

Fair. If you’re looking for someone to do that work in pop music, Beyoncé, Ke$ha, and MIA are your best bets.  But the work that Swift is doing, on a micro level, on the level of relationships and school and the many tiny choices we make is also valuable work.

Dodai Stewart of Jezebel again wrote, “I grew up in New York and spent my freshman year going dancing at clubs, flirting my ass off in the hallways, spreading gossip…For Taylor, fifteen means falling for a boy and dreaming of marrying him. My fifteen was more like: Flirt with this one, make out with that one, try a cigarette, get drunk, lie to your parents, read some Anais Nin, wish you lived in France, attempt to adopt Shakespearean euphemisms for sex into casual conversation.”

Compare Stewart’s girlhood with that of the girls I worked with in Pocahontas County, West Virginia where the closest Anais Nin-selling bookstore is just under two hours away by two-lane road, and their classmates were much more likely to get pregnant by graduation than ever live in France.  For a lot of girls, especially girls who have had girlhoods more similar to Swift’s in Reading, Pennsylvania than to Stewart’s cosmopolitan childhood in which she clearly had educated parents or at least easy access to bookstores and libraries, Swift’s depiction of navigating a small town world where boys and football rule and the possibilities for girlhood can be bleak and narrow matters, and it tells teenaged girls that it’s OK to trust themselves, it’s OK to not care what others think, it’s OK to express anger, it’s OK to choose loving romantic partners over assholes, it’s OK to wait to have sex or get married, it’s OK to go to college, and that it’s OK to say over and over to yourself like a maniac I will, I will, I will.  If you think that these messages are obvious or self-evident or that most American girls are getting these messages already, then you are sorely out of touch with the realities of growing up a teenaged girl in many parts of America.

And which parts of America are those and what characterises these Taylor Swift-loving places? According to the market research firm Beluga, Taylor Swift’s fans live disproportionately in the northeastern United States, Appalachia, the South, and the Southwest.  The top ten American geographical areas that are most strongly pro-Taylor Swift all have populations of under 24,000 people.  Traits that are over-represented in Taylor Swift fans are: purchasing CDs at large chain retailer stories like Wal-Mart and Target, using hairspray, learning about new music by hearing it on the radio, and owning a Panasonic computer, all of which point to Swift fans being more likely to be non-urban and lower income.

The research site QuantCast.com, which allows artists to track the volume and demographics of online traffic to an artist’s website originating from a particular geography in a 30 day period confirms these predictions.  TaylorSwift.com’s visitors are 75% white, 61% from families that make less than $50,000 per year, 48% college graduates, and 65% people who do not live in the top ten most populous American cities.

Paglia, in her Hollywood Reporter piece professes to be concerned about the “middle class white girls” at “any suburban prom,” but it’s clear that neither she nor Stewart nor Bernard have spent much time recently hanging out with teenaged girls who don’t live in major urban centres.  If they did they’d understand the shocking but true truth of the matter is that Taylor Swift, as watered down and sweet as she may seem to you, actually represents a solitary dissenting opinion in the conversation that largely tells teenaged girls that they don’t have agency or power. Taylor Swift provides a world of energy, a world of colour and travel and choice and possibility.

It is precisely the narrow definitions of feminism which lock Taylor Swift out of the club that also perpetuate myths of feminism as exclusive, anti-feminine, harsh and anti-fun instead of what it is: the belief in equality for women in every regard.  That doesn’t mean that people don’t still have to wear the term with integrity, they do, and when they don’t, we can demand that they do better.

Implicit in this rejection of Taylor Swift by feminists despite clear evidence that teenaged girls wholeheartedly endorse her, is a sense that the opinions of teenaged girls don’t matter to “actual” feminism.  That we, as feminists who “really know” what feminism is about, must take it upon our ourselves to prevent teenaged girls from worshipping at the altar of false idols.

Mikaela, the same Rumpus commentator, wrote this back to Rick Moody: “Perhaps you find [Swift’s] music repellent and unimportant because that’s how you consider us. Take the time to try to understand young women.”

Indeed, teenaged girls are almost always portrayed in musical consumption conversations as flighty, capricious, emotion-driven, and quick to follow suit, sheep-like to the latest trend, despite overwhelming data that teenaged girls are among the most powerful and judicious commercial consumers.

Consider also this email from a Bitch magazine editor, in response to my submission of an earlier draft of this piece: “We don't think that our readers would be particularly interested in Taylor Swift or her feud with Camille Paglia.”  What this response essentially says is: we know teenaged girls don’t read our magazine, and we’re making no effort to reach out and bring teenaged girls into feminism.

But the thing that really breaks my heart is that I love feminism and I love teenaged girls and I believe with all my heart in this absolutely true truth: feminists and teenaged girls need each other.  Without feminism, teenaged girls are alone with the inequalities that still exist in their lives.  Without teenaged girls, feminism is doomed to expire. Writes Mikaela, the Rumpus commenter, one more time: “We need people our age ([Swift] is a year older than me) writing about the things we are experiencing, we need artists who are like us, who are young and inconsistent (and what the fuck is consistency anyway?), who are both serious and fun.”

Because the thing about feminism is that it only works if it says you, and you, and you, your responses are valid.  It only works if it has an open door policy.  What I want, for me and the teenaged girls I worked with, and also for you, is an expansive feminism, a feminism that welcomes sparkly gold mini dresses and raging against exes and teaming up with hip hop stars, that welcomes anger and vulnerability and saying I was wrong.  What I want is a feminism that invites us in, that says to every person, yes, instead of no.

Happy Birthday, Taylor Swift.  May you get even stronger this year. May this year be the year that you get strong enough to lift not one but all of us.