Remembering the Misogyny We Know “All Too Well”

Featured editor Morgan Hughes describes the misogyny ingrained in much of the Taylor Swift hatred that pervades mainstream media. Photo courtesy of Jeremy Sodergren.

To be honest, I’ve always been neutral about Taylor Swift. Or at least that’s what my opinion on her averages out to be between adoring her when I was 8 years old and despising her when I was 12 for the sole reason that she was dating Harry Styles.

Over the years, the pendulum shift of my feelings towards Swift has swung from admiring the beauty of “folklore’s” “Betty” to cringing at some questionable lyrics on “Lover” (yes I’m talking about “spelling is fun!” and “why are you mad?/when you could be GLAAD”) 

But boy, has her re-release of “Red” changed that. 

Admittedly I’ve only listened at length to “Nothing New” and “All Too Well” but that was enough to change my attitude. The latter of which, I am not the first to say, is nothing short of a masterpiece. The song’s accompanying short film begs to be regarded in the same admiration as “The Godfather.”

Okay maybe I’m being a little too dramatic. But maybe I’m feeling over-apologetic for how deeply I disliked her when I was younger.

Listening to her music now makes me question why I so easily grew up hating Swift. Was it simply for showcasing such essential pieces of the female experience as trashing men, being vulnerable and in her case writing songs just as every other artist does about past loves? How did I so quickly turn from loving “Fearless” as a little girl to rolling my eyes at “another break up song” from the artist when I was a preteen? I was already so angry in middle school I didn’t need to channel that towards a song as sweet as “Stay, Stay, Stay.”

My feelings toward Swift neutralized as I got older, I ashamedly enjoyed songs from 1989 while holding to my stance that I just “didn’t get the hype” around her. But I know it goes much deeper than me not liking an artist.

Last month, when Red (Taylor’s Version) was released, my Instagram was flooded with fans posting pictures of Swift on their stories and sharing in their excitement of what the new album would bring. But in between post after post of this, I saw one person post a meme of Thor playing the guitar and the caption said something like “Taylor Swift .02 seconds after breaking up with her millionth boyfriend.” I know it’s a harmless joke at the artist’s expense, but even as someone who never became much of a fan, I couldn’t help but think “we’re still on that?”

Even over the Thanksgiving break last week, I heard a family member remark “because all we need is another 10 minutes of her singing about her exes. She’s so annoying.” Why is that?

Why is it so easy to make fun of her for simply showcasing how she feels? Why hasn’t there been a more original joke surrounding the artist after 17 years of being famous? 

An article published in The Fordham Ram, a university journal published by students of Fordham explores this subject. The article points out the double standard of Swift constantly being the punchline of these jokes while artists such as Harry Styles whose latest album heavily features reflections and heartbreak over his ex, never receive the same ridicule. 

What’s the reason for this double standard?

“Young girls idolize being different, or ‘not like other girls’, because they recognize the disadvantageous treatment of women in society,” the author writes. “Many young girls dislike Swift because of an innate fear of being seen as too feminine, and femininity is often punished by society. Young girls witnessed this in the media’s attacks of Swift.”

It highlights how young girls take the ridicule of other women in the media and cast it onto our own insecurities. It adds to their own warped perceptions of self.

It’s true that my tumultuous feelings towards the artist have mimicked my tumultuous feelings towards myself. Hating Swift and other female artists for invalid reasons highlighted my quintessential adolescent experience of thinking of myself and not thinking of anything worthwhile. 

There’s no other reason for my 12-year-old self’s disdain for Swift than simple internalized misogyny. It’s a shame, because I think she could’ve been a good artist for 12-year-old me to have been a fan of. 

The misogyny inherent in my previous distaste for Swift is the same misogyny that can be found in every aspect of the feminine experience.

Over the summer I read an article published to Vox that made sense of how the media treats young girls into what felt like a flawless one sentence summary.

“To be a teenage girl is to simultaneously be pop culture’s ultimate punching bag, cash cow, and gatekeeper,” the author writes.

The article highlighted the classic example of how teen girls were ridiculed and laughed at for enjoying the Beatles, and now the four artists are considered to have comprised one of the most influential and legendary bands in history. The article also illustrates how young girls are called “airheads” for speech patterns such as uptalk and vocal fry. But I’d even like to point out that there has been research into the fact that women often adapt their speech patterns knowing that they are viewed as less competent than male counterparts.

What’s the underlying factor? For a long time, the word “young girl” has been synonymous with “stupid.” 

The two words have been so tightly linked that teenage girls strive to separate themselves from things “other” teenage girls like so they won’t be seen as stupid too. The words are so equivocated that girls can’t help but cast it onto women in the media for simply existing. Young girls can’t help but reflect the idea of inferiority onto themselves as well. 

Even while writing this piece I couldn’t help but wonder if I should scrap it. Thoughts of “is this too dramatic” and yes, “is this stupid?” have been running across my brain.

The fact is that this phenomenon is nothing new. It’s a cycle that women and girls know all too well.