What Taylor Swift's New Video Got Wrong

Let me preface this by saying: I am a major Taylor Swift fan. I’ve danced around my living room to "Shake it Off," listened to "You Belong With Me" over and over as an angsty high schooler, and yes, I'm going to see her at MetLife Stadium this July.

So, like many others, I was excited about the reveal of her latest video, "Bad Blood," at the Billboard Music Awards on Sunday night. Swift pulled together some major female ammo (including known BFF Selena Gomez, plus Lena Dunham, and Mariska Hargitay) into one epic video, directed by Joseph Kahn, the force behind the camera on Swift's hilariously satirical "Blank Space" clip. 

In terms of showing women kicking ass, the video did not disappoint. “Let the lethal forces of femininity rock you to sleep,” Lena Dunham wrote on Twitter, prior to the Billboard debut. And yes, all these female characters did prove they were lethal, as they wielded swords, artillery, and right hooks. 

What bothered me is that the heroines didn't use their "lethal forces" against inhumane governments, unjust corporations, or some other amorphous evil force. Instead, they're fighting other women — frenemies, to be exact. Selena Gomez's character, Arsyn, seemingly battles a common enemy alongside Taylor Swift, a.k.a. Catastrophe, in the first scene, only to push her out of a window, and steal her briefcase. From there, the mini-film becomes a montage of hot chicks duking it out against a backdrop of explosions — essentially, a Michael Bay trailer cut with Mean Girls.



"Bad Blood" is supposedly about Swift’s rumored tiff with Katy Perry. It may be, it may not be. Either way, it trades on a misogynistic trope that's deeply entrenched in our culture: that deep down, women hate each other. When Arsyn, a supposed ally, stabs Catastrophe in the back, the video plays into the stereotype that females can't be trusted, that women can't be friends, that when you put two powerful women in a room, they will take each other down. 
The infuriating argument that many use to defend the "mean girl" stereotype is that it's rooted in some kind of fact: We women are more subtle with our jabs, more undermining, more secretly vindictive, and we are not to be trusted, despite our smiles. This thinking tends to trap women in a binary: Good girls who only react to fights, and bad girls who start them. According to Leora Tanenbaum, author of Catfight and I Am Not A Slut, the root of every "catfight" (a misogynistic term we're using ironically here) lies in the pervasive idea that women aren't supposed to be competitive. So, they end up perpetuating damaging myths about women: "She's competitive with me,"  Tanenbaum offers as an example. "She started this catfight because she’s jealous of what I’ve accomplished.'" Sounds a little bit like, "Arsyn started it first."

But who knows in this scenario? Maybe Catastrophe started it? Maybe Arsyn is a stand-in, for an evil government enterprise? I'm not saying that feminism means women can't fight each other. I'm saying that yes, people fight, but oftentimes it's not just because one person is a backstabbing asshole. Women are complex human beings. And unfortunately, "Bad Blood" doesn't illustrate this. Nor does it offer us any backstory to explain why the two sides are at war. If this were a trailer for a movie, hell yeah I'd want to watch the whole film. I can only hope it would show this Arsyn/Catastrophe conflict as more than a simplistic best-friend-turned-enemy arc.
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Taylor Swift herself has also spoken out against the "girl fight" trope, saying in an interview, with the Canadian television show, Tout le monde en parle , that women should be allies, not rivals. "In order for us to have gender equality we have to stop making it a girl fight, and we have to stop being so interested in seeing girls trying to tear each other down," she said in Montreal last year. So even though Swift is known for personal lyrics that come straight out of her diary, and even if the feud with Perry is a real problem in her life, I was hoping for more from Swift after her "feminist awakening." “Blank Space” was particularly enjoyable because it took all the stereotypes of a crazy girlfriend, and threw it back in the world’s face. “Bad Blood,” for all of its strong heroines, just falls back into a tired old story. This is what Swift put so much marketing, money, and thought into making?

After the year of all-female collaborations, which showed divas kicking ass together (“Bang Bang,” “Fancy,” “Really Don’t Care,” “Problem,” “Black Widow,” etc.), this feels like a step back. In the Beyoncé and Nicki Minaj "Flawless" remix, “Bey and Nicki flash their diamond fangs not at each other, but at anyone who fails to recognize that together they are even more flawless than the sum of their already flawless parts,” Vulture’s Lindsay Zoladz wrote last year. This vision of uncompetitive female friendship is hard to come by — and Swift does a good job of touting her female friends in her everyday life, sans mean-girl vibes. I wish that “Bad Blood” did that, too.

This story has been updated to include a statement from Taylor Swift.

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