Taylor Swift, lighten up!

March 7, 2013

Taylor Swift attends the 2013 Grammy Awards

Taylor Swift, the spindly, blonde country songstress and reigning mistress of the break-up song, is taking Tina Fey and Amy Poehler to task in the latest issue of Vanity Fair for joking about her proclivity to date (and date and date) famous young men.

“There’s a special place in hell for women who don’t help other women,” Swift told the magazine, adding that their jokes about her love life during the Golden Globe Awards were “frankly a little bit sexist.”

For anyone who didn’t see the Golden Globes, Fey and Poehler opened the show with a series of good-natured shots at nearly everyone in the audience, including Taylor Swift.

“You know what Taylor Swift? You stay away from Michael J. Fox’s son,” Fey joked.  “Or go for it,” Poeher said, only for Fey to insist, “No!  She needs some ‘me’ time to learn about herself.”

Was that joke a little bit sexist?  No, it was a little bit hysterical.  But it is more than a little bit strange that Taylor Swift thinks that Fey and Poehler’s jokes are evidence of sexism against her.

Actual sexism, in the workplace for example, is being as good as a man at a job, but being passed over for a promotion because you are a woman.  Or being told directly, as I once was, that I would have been paid more for my work if I was “a high-powered man.  Instead, we got you.”

Taylor Swift certainly doesn’t need advice on writing a hit song, but she does seem in need of guidance about what sexism is, what it isn’t, and how to know the difference.  So I offer Taylor a few tips on navigating a society that remains sexist in many ways, but is less so today because of women like Tina Fey and Amy Poehler, not in spite of them:

1.    Know who the good guys are.  Fey and Poehler are not the enemies—they are feminists and role models.   Tina Fey was the first woman to be the head writer at Saturday Night Live.  Along with Amy Poehler, she wrote blistering skits about the sexism of the 2008 elections and helped, at least in a small way, to get a woman one step closer to being elected to the White House someday.

2.    Know your role in a situation.    A list of Taylor Swift songs reads like a broken-hearted teenage girl’s text message log.  “Should’ve said no,” “I knew you were trouble,” “We are never ever getting back together.”  In exchange for chronicling the ruins of her love life, she won over legions of young girls and made $35 million last year alone.  But she also opened herself up to jokes about making a career out of breaking up with boys, even if those jokes come from other women.

3.    Lighten up!  Taylor, you just made $35 million for writing break-up songs– life could be a lot worse.

Instead of consigning Tina Fey and Amy Pohler to hell for hurting her feelings, Taylor Swift should look to them as examples of talented women who are so successful that they are writing their own rules and making way for other women to do the same.

And if all of this fails, Taylor could take a night off of dating and songwriting to:

4.  Read Bossypants, Tina Fey’s book about being a woman in the entertainment industry, a role that Fey says guarantees a woman will be criticized by someone somewhere for just about everything she does.

Fey’s advice to other women in the business (like Taylor Swift) is simple:  “Don’t waste your energy trying to educate or change opinions;  Go over, under, through, and opinions will change organically when you’re the boss. Or they won’t.  Who cares?  Do your thing, and don’t care if they like it.”

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Diana Reese · March 7, 2013