– by Antonia
This must be said: I have “Blank Space” by singer Taylor Swift on heavy rotation. I’m a fan and have enjoyed watching her career scale new heights. I am not however a fan of her using the notion of women supporting women to “clap back” (returning an insult, as Urban Dictionary puts it).
Just last night, Swift inserted herself into rapper Nicki Minaj’s Twitter vent regarding the MTV Video Music Award (VMA) nominations, specifically about being overlooked for Video of the Year.
Taylor’s done a great job this year in changing her narrative from serial dater to “#squadgoals”–a girl’s girl, with a team of super friends (who mostly all happen to be supermodels) with whom she bakes cookies, goes on road trips and invites to her concerts. She’s aligned herself with the feminist movement saying, “I think a lot of girls have had a feminist awakening because they understand what the word means. For so long it’s been made to seem like something where you’d picket against the opposite sex, whereas it’s not about that at all.” And though many people may be a bit… perturbed… with some celebrities jumping on the feminist bandwagon, I applaud Swift and others like her for helping to raise the national consciousness of today’s movement.
That said, Swift has a reputation for clapping back. She usually does it in songs and her targets are usually ex-boyfriends. But recently she’s clapped back at women in what I believe is a very backhanded way. Using your alignment with feminism to respond to statements that offend you is the equivalent of saying, “I’m a perfectionist” when asked your greatest weakness at a job interview. It’s the kind of response that’s win-win. In this case, most people stand behind the idea of women not fighting each other or not being pit against each other. So, theoretically, it’s a safe way to provide an unsolicited response to Nicki Minaj. This isn’t the first time Swift has used this strategy. At the 2013 Golden Globe Awards, when Tina Fey and Amy Poehler joked that Swift should take a break from dating and take time to learn about herself (a topic that Swift is apparently sensitive about, hence “Blank Space”), Swift responded by indirectly quoting Madeleine Albright, “There’s a special place in hell for women who don’t help other women.” Again, the risk of fall out from this type of response is relatively minimal given feminism is the new trucker hat in Hollywood. Right now it’s cool and trendy so everyone’s wearing it.
There’s definitely a case to be made for women supporting each other in and across various industries and outside of the workplace. But the situations in which Swift has employed the use of this particular call to action aren’t appropriate. The shoe just doesn’t fit here. In the case of the Golden Globes, Poehler and Fey were roasting everyone, male and female, equally and in a context where it was expected; actor George Clooney took a pretty bad hit from the two comedians. And now with her recent parlance with Minaj, again the response is not quite appropriate because it ignores a larger context. Swift has actually opened a can of (race) worms that she can perhaps commiserate about with pal Lena Dunham.
One thing that many women within the feminist movement overlook is how feminism intersects with race. Many women don’t have to know about or even care about how these two constructs intersect because they’re not affected by race. Race is not a factor for their everyday living experience. But for others it is. I can speak to how feminism intersects with being Black because I am a Black women (or a blackette, as someone recently called me in the North of France) and because I’ve been looking closely at the Black female experience through my documentary series, Pretty. I can’t speak to how feminism intersects with other races. So I can only say this: as a Black woman, I feel my race first before I feel my sex. My race is always made apparent to me before my sex ever is. And I think many Black women share this experience as well. I’m saying this here because I suspect it’s one of the factors that prompted Minaj’s tweets.
We don’t know what conscious and unconscious considerations were taken into account in coming up with the VMA nominations. Most likely the biggest factor was who’s going to drive higher ratings and keep viewers watching until the end of the show. And when viewership is a factor, and it always is, there are a few celebrity checkboxes one must tick: Taylor Swift is definitely one of them as is Beyoncé Knowles, a “curvy” black woman that was also nominated for Video of the Year. I don’t actually agree with Minaj’s tweets. But I can guess how she might feel about the nominations, especially when upon the release of her Anaconda single cover, she faced heavy criticism about it being inappropriate, resulting in many journalists pointing out the double standard of acceptablity that exists between Black and White women. Exhibit A…
Vs. this “unacceptable” image…
This type of criticism is something Swift will likely never experience because she fits an accepted and idolized mold–blond. blue eyes. tall. skinny. So her female experience in a male-dominated industry is likely very different from Nicki Minaj’s. And the things that Nicki might experience are likely things that Taylor never even has to think about. And that’s not something she needs to feel bad about. We all have our privileges and disadvantages. (The fact that I have fingers with which I can type this post is an ability not everyone has.) We don’t need to feel bad (or superior) because of the different lots we’ve been given in life. But we do need to be prepared and receptive of what happens when different experiences collide.
Individual experiences don’t exist in solitude. We encounter people that are alike and different from us and each encounter gives us the chance to expand our individual experiences outside of their realms. A blue-eyed blond pop star collided with a buxom Black rapper on Tuesday and in doing so, in tweeting at Nicki Minaj, Taylor unwittingly stumbled upon an aspect of feminism she might not have considered yet: a feeling of being marginalized because of your race as a woman. She now has the chance to expand her knowledge of today’s female experience, by understanding one Black woman’s experience, by understanding where Nicki was coming from. Doing so might not mean anything at all for Taylor Swift. It may not result in some major evolution in what she knows and as a result who she is. Or it might. What we know of the world, what we take in from it, affects what we put out. It affects how we treat other people and influences the things we create. This little squabble might be the subject of another hit song for Swift or it may make her take up the sword for another aspect of feminism that she can genuinely advocate for versus diminish into a strategic clap back.