That's the word that came up time and time again as Taylor Swift took the stand in a Denver courthouse on Thursday. She was talking about her own, but during a time when someone else allegedly thought he had the right to place his hand on it. "I’m critical of your client sticking his hand under my skirt and grabbing my ass," she told Gabriel McFarland, former KYGO DJ David Mueller's lawyer.
"He did not touch my rib, he did not touch my hand, he grabbed my bare ass."
"He had a handful of my ass. I know it was him."
If true, the action was a clear violation of Swift's bodily autonomy as well as consent. In countersuing Mueller and bringing the matter before a jury, Swift is making a strong statement for women everywhere. She is swimming upstream against the current in a society where men's actions often go without repercussion, and their voices and needs are heard above those of women and minorities. Women's bodies are often defined in relation to men, and what the treatment of our bodies is doing to them — as with Mueller and his allegation that Swift's groping claim had gotten him fired. Swift's blunt responses on the stand are a clarion call to women everywhere: this type of public ownership of female bodies will not stand, nor will perpetrators be tolerated.
With this trial, Swift is distancing herself from the outcry that she has constantly played the victim. In the past, she has been accused of putting herself in a passive role when scandal emerges, or refusing to make as public a statement as people thought necessary when it came to supporting other women — especially ones with life experiences that differ drastically from her own. Her feminist awakening may have taken longer than others, but she's now putting it front and centre.
The trial of Mueller v. Swift will last nine days, during which a jury of six women and two men will hear different witnesses testify about an alleged groping incident that took place backstage at a pre-concert meet and greet in 2013. Mueller filed the first suit regarding the encounter in September 2015. Swift filed a countersuit in October of that same year, stating that Mueller had “intentionally reached under her skirt, and groped with his hand an intimate part of her body in an inappropriate manner, against her will, and without her permission.” Swift demanded a jury trial, which would “serve as an example to other women who may resist publicly reliving similar outrageous and humiliating acts.” The suit also stated that Swift would be donating any money awarded to “charitable organisations dedicated to protecting women from similar acts of sexual assault and personal disregard.” Now, that trial is underway.
Swift is speaking for women everywhere, who, by the mere fact that they have bodies, are constantly subjected to the opinions of others about said bodies. She is, of course, in a position of power as a rich, white woman, but she is voluntarily reliving the emotional distress involved in the alleged incident to make a point about violations of autonomy and power. Christina Cauterucci also pointed out on Slate that, “Women who allege sexual assault are scolded all the time for ruining men’s lives, even if those men are proven guilty.” Swift’s blunt, candid responses on the witness stand, which are a part of public record, will inform the conversation around the perpetrators of sexual violence.
Swift is seeking just $1 in the trial, a number that's extremely symbolic (she has not offered any additional statement as to how this ties into her promise to donate any money she wins to charity; Refinery29 has reached out for comment). For the singer, the trial is not about money (the litigation alone most likely costs thousands of dollars, and she has said she doesn’t wish to bankrupt Mueller). She is remaining faithful to her original 2015 suit’s language, tackling the stigma involved when survivors of sexual assault (that’s how her mother referred to the alleged groping) come forward. “She’s trying to tell people out there that you can say no when someone puts their hand on you,” her lawyer, Douglas Baldridge, said on the 8th of August. “Grabbing a woman’s rear end is an assault, and it’s always wrong. Any woman — rich, poor, famous or not — is entitled to not have that happen.”
According to the U.S. National Sexual Violence Resource Centre, “91% of the victims of rape and sexual assault are female; 9% are male.” Taylor Swift is standing up for women assault survivors everywhere, and in doing so, she’s voluntarily making this an official part of her narrative. She knows what’s at stake here, but she’s starting a necessary conversation. It’s a conversation about who owns women’s bodies, and how survivors of assault should not be afraid to come forward and be heard — including Taylor Swift, who is a lightning rod for negative comments and judgment.
“I’m not going to allow you or your client to make me feel like this was my fault, because it isn’t,” Swift told McFarland, per The New York Times. People reported on the 9th of August that Swift made direct eye contact with Mueller during his testimony, and often shook her head in disbelief at what he was saying. She refused to allow the victim-blaming that so often defines trials such as this one. Over and over, she stated that Mueller’s actions — and their alleged repercussions for his career — had been of his own accord. She continued, “Here we are years later, and I’m being blamed for the unfortunate events of his life that are the product of his decisions — not mine.”
Outside the courtroom, her fans offered additional support, acknowledging that the actions Swift is taking are truly necessary, not just for women, but for all people, everywhere. That's a surefire display of feminism.