If I was going to write a defense of Taylor Swift, my picture is exactly what you'd use to illustrate why of course this girl is defending Taylor Swift. Of course this white girl with bangs and a cat named "Paula" wouldn't feel the repercussions of Taylor's silence around the election, her refusal to issue any kind of public statement disavowing the white supremacists who see her as an icon, the way her team threatened to sue a blogger who wrote just that. I'll admit that, as an entertainment writer, I've tried to figure out why my knee-jerk reaction to criticism of Taylor these past few months is to essentially plug my ears and walk away singing. It's heavy privilege, for sure, but it's something else, too.
Recently, much of my day is spent writing about sexual harassment and assault. There's been a reckoning in the industry, starting with Harvey Weinstein and now, as of yesterday, Louis C.K., and possibly another person by the time I've finished writing this article (yep!) (yep again!). This is not what I signed up for. I did not think I'd be coming into work detailing repeated incidents of sexual violence that keep piling up in a way that is suffocatingly omnipresent. I didn't think I'd spend day after day writing details of sexual assault that, as a result, make me relive mine.
This isn't even an earth-shattering thing to admit anymore. Before #metoo became a worldwide movement, it was already known amongst women that pretty much all of us have had an incident with a man that was nonconsensual, it was just a matter of when you decided to bring it up. When do we have The Talk about how we've all been forced to touch a man when we didn't want to? As my friend Emma Specter (find her on Twitter) once said, "Three or more men hanging out is a crime, three or more women hanging out is a sexual assault survivors' meeting."
I don't want to go into detail about everything. I was 16. Back then, I didn't necessarily think of it as anything bad. I had abstinence-only education. I wasn't taught about sex, let alone about consent. It "wasn't like he raped me," so why should I feel weird?
It wasn't until I was older that I learned it wasn't that simple, and that it doesn't have to be rape to be misconduct. But until then, I was grappling with feelings I didn't understand, and through chance or timing or whatever, the album Speak Now fell into my lap and gave me the words that would act as stepping stones towards finding my own.
I had never connected with lyrics so strongly, screaming "I'm scared to see the ending/Why are we pretending this is nothing?" from "The Story Of Us" while driving in circles. I started learning the songs on piano, coming home every day and just trying to make it through one more measure so I didn't have to think about the fact that at school everyone knew what had happened and treated it like gossip.
Taylor's lyrics, especially when she's angry, get boiled down to whatever "feud" she is apparently in at the time, and that's never sat right with me. It feels like a disservice to her listeners to take the words that kept my head above water during a bad time in my life and apply them to Katy Perry. Her lyrics are considered petty and vitriolic, constantly positioning herself as a victim. But Taylor's a survivor, too. She successfully sued a man who assaulted her at a meet-and-greet for a symbolic $1, sending a message that a violation is a violation, period.
While her lyrics don't touch on those moments explicitly, her talent lies in the fact that her words are free to be what you make of them. At 16-years-old, I needed to sing her words about confusion and betrayal and hurt because I didn't know how else to communicate what happened. If Taylor hadn't played the victim, I don't think I ever would have figured out that I was one.
It's almost ten years later. I've been lucky that that moment when I was 16 was the only brush with sexual misconduct that I've had, which is partially why I had been able to minimize it. The actual incident affects me much less than the knowledge that this is happening everywhere all the time. I didn't realize writing all the stories of Weinstein and Brett Ratner and Louis C.K. and so on had affected me until I heard Taylor Swift singing, "I was flyin' in a getaway car/I was cryin' in a getaway car/I was dyin' in a getaway car/Said goodbye in a getaway car" from "Getaway Car" and suddenly I was back in that Nissan Xterra, driving the same route from my house to the Starbucks to the Wawa and back wondering what the fuck I was feeling. Her voice was back in my ears saying what I needed to hear during a time in pop culture that echoes why I started leaning on her in the first place.
This morning, as I listened to each new powerful, angry, and honest song one after the other, I held the subway railing with one hand and pushed my nails into the palm of my other to distract myself from men who beg women for just five minutes, who stand in front of doors, who are older and bigger, so when they whip out their dicks there's nothing you can do but stand there and hope it ends soon.
I'm sure there are more accusations I'm going to have to write about, but the way I know history isn't actually repeating itself is that these ones come with consequences. I will always remember reputation as a new era dawning, even if, like in most cases, it's not the one Taylor Swift thinks.
If you have experienced sexual violence and are in need of crisis support, please call the RAINN Sexual Assault Hotline at 1-800-656-HOPE (4673).
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