Taylor Swift is not a feminist. But Clara Beyer is, and she loves Taylor Swift’s music and sometimes she wishes Swift would change her twangy tune and be a little more progressive.
On June 11, the Alexandria native, a rising senior at Brown University, tweeted: “Idea for a single purpose twitter: feminist Taylor Swift.”
Ten minutes later, Beyer’s friend and classmate Kevin Carty called her to make sure she followed through. So Beyer created a logo — a picture of Swift’s face photoshopped onto Rosie the Riveter’s head. (Conveniently, both female icons have the same red head scarf in their wardrobe.) She wrote a bio that played off the one on Taylor Swift’s official Twitter page: “Happy. Free. Confused. Oppressed by the patriarchy. At the same time.”
Then Beyer and Carty got to work.
“She wears short skirts / I wear T-shirts / Neither of us is asking for it” was the first tweet sent out from the @feministtswift account the afternoon of June 12, and it set the template for what would follow — some lyrics from a song by the pop superstar (in this case, “You Belong With Me”) with an added feminist twist.
There’s a reason it had to be Feminist Taylor Swift, not Feminist Beyoncé or Feminist Daft Punk. “It says to me that I’m not the only one out there who is feeling this discomfort with Taylor Swift lyrics,” Beyer, 21, said in a recent phone interview.
On Thursday morning, @feministtswift had around 20 followers. On Friday, as Beyer continued her sharp satire, the account became an online hit, spreading like gossip through a high school hallway and buoyed by enthusiastic co-signs by Buzzfeed, Huffington Post, Salon and more. As the hours passed, the number of followers reached 1,000, 5,000, 10,000. By late Sunday evening, more than 63,000 had clicked “follow” on Beyer’s new project.
The account struck a chord, Beyer suspected, largely because of Swift’s all-encompassing popularity. “People know Taylor Swift lyrics,” Beyer says. “Even if they don’t want to, they know them.”
The tongue-in-cheek mash-up of feminist theory and Swift’s love-struck lyrics was the perfect project for Beyer and Carty, who “both believe in bringing more people into feminism and gender-critical conversations,” said Carty, 20. “And the easiest ways to do that are to engage them with things they’re already into in their daily lives,” such as pop music.
Beyer likes listening to Swift’s music but said, as a general rule, “a lot of the songs are either ‘I used to have a boy and I was happy, and now I don’t and now I’m sad’ or ‘if I had this boy, I would be happy.’ ”
Beyer gave a rundown of what she considers some of the worst offenders in Swift’s song catalogue. There’s “Better Than Revenge,” wherein Swift bashes her ex-boyfriend’s new girlfriend for what Swift perceives to be her promiscuous behavior. In “You Belong With Me,” Swift mocks the girl her crush is dating for her outfits and popularity. The most problematic might be “Fifteen,” in which Swift laments that her best friend Abigail “gave everything she had to a boy.” “Everything,” for those of you playing along at home, isn’t Abigail’s intellect, courage, integrity or compassion.
Swift, now 23, has become something of a polarizing figure as she shifts from teen country phenom to world-famous pop star. There’s the pro-Swift camp, made up primarily of young girls and the parents who are relieved their daughters have selected such a “good role model” to idolize: a talented woman whose face is far more likely to be seen in one of her many advertisements for Target or CoverGirl than in a mug shot.
On the other side are those who find some unsettling themes in Swift’s songs and question whether she’s such a great role model after all — whether she’s someone who perpetuates the belief that there’s only one way to be a “good girl”: to be passive and “pure,” to wait patiently in the tower for a prince instead of being her own hero.
Swift has done her best to kept her distance from all things feminist. In October, when asked by the Daily Beast whether she considers herself a feminist, Swift replied, “I don’t really think about things as guys versus girls.”
Beyer, sounding a bit exasperated, said to this, “I think not seeing things as boys versus girls is feminist.”
“There was definitely a time when I wouldn’t have considered myself a feminist,” Beyer adds. “But I’ve totally changed my mind on that. I’ll identify as a feminist any day.”
Now Beyer, who is interning this summer at the online college women’s magazine Her Campus, writes a blog, That Girl Magazine, which aims to balance rejecting stereotypical gender norms with “recommending an awesome new lipstain.” Feminism and femininity: not mutually exclusive!
Carty, like Beyer, found feminism in college. He grew up in Kensington and attended the all-male Gonzaga College High School. “All the worst sides of men come out in all-male groups,” Carty said. “So that means I’d seen a lot of homophobia, a lot of sexism, a lot of aggression and bullying and a need for hypermasculine validation.”
During his freshman year at Brown, one of his female friends was drugged, beaten and raped at a party. He embraced feminism after the attack, finding that the movement “helped me to understand a lot of things that shaped my life.”
Carty is in a fraternity and says that while his passion makes some other guys “raise their eyebrows,” he’s “never had a problem identifying as a feminist. . . . It’s just made me happier.”
Beyer said she jokes with her friends that “I wish Taylor Swift would just have a big feminist enlightenment moment in her life. I could listen to her songs and feel so much more secure about what I was endorsing.”
Swift “could be a poster child for feminism, if she wanted to,” Beyer said. “She could take everything she’s doing and say: ‘I’m a woman who is in charge of her life. I don’t let men in my life push me around.’ ”
There has been no word from Swift’s camp about her new feminist doppelganger. She hasn’t always shown the thickest skin. When asked by Vanity Fair this year about a jab that Amy Poehler and Tina Fey made at her expense while hosting the Golden Globes, Swift quoted Madeleine Albright by way of Katie Couric: “There’s a special place in hell for women who don’t help other women.”
“I can take a joke,” Beyer said. “Can Taylor? I don’t know. We’ll see.”