Founded in 1974, the Women’s Center was established to:
Dismantle, from a feminist perspective, all forms of oppression, including but not limited to those based on ability, age, class, ethnicity, gender, race, and sexual orientation.
Advocate for an equitable environment free from violence and harassment based on gender, race, and sexual orientation.
Create an anti-racist, non-sexist, queer-affirmative space where all people can feel valued and safe.
Facilitate and strengthen connections among people across lines of difference through programming and educational campaigns.
Integrate an appreciation of Women's Gender and Multicultural Studies across the disciplines.

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Taylor Swift and the Virgin/Whore Dichotomy

I remember the first time I heard Taylor Swift. I was watching MTV and her video for Our Song came on, and I remember thinking that it was really interesting that she looked and sounded so vastly different from the other pop stars frequently featured on the channel. She just oozed this wholesomeness that was really appealing to my very reserved fourteen-year-old self. Where the other videos I'd seen were filled with hyper-sexualized women dancing in barely-there outfits, Swift's video pictured her looking like a teenager; the video opens with her painting her toenails and talking on the phone, and another scene shows her cheerily playing a ridiculously sparkly guitar. Between the imagery and the catchy lyrics, I was totally hooked. Each song was a story that made her seem like someone who could be my best friend - we could whisper about our crushes and giggle over inside jokes. She claims that she's "not the girl who always has a boyfriend," but "the girl who rarely has a boyfriend." She was just a "normal" girl, who happened to get super famous for writing songs about her crushes and wearing cowboy boots. She's practically universally praised, with love from kids, parents, and critics alike.

Despite all this, I started noticing a lot of negativity about Swift on the internet, which surprised me at first. Though I no longer listened to her, I didn't have anything against her, necessarily. What could be so bad about her? I wondered. In the eyes of most, almost nothing. But when one considers Swift's music from a feminist perspective, it's clear that Taylor Swift, (the product, not the person, as clarifies. I'm sure Taylor Swift as a human being is lovely) is incredibly problematic. In fact, as put it way back in 2010, Taylor Swift is "a feminist's worst nightmare." Harsh, I know. But Swift's music is riddled with damaging ideals that are being soaked up by young people. The most immediately noticeable thing is her obsessive focus on boys - that's literally the only thing she sings about 95% of the time - which teaches the young girls that idolize her that no matter how successful you are, literally the most important thing in your life should be boys. Her crushes consume everything else in her life.

But beyond her boy obsession, there's something deeper at work in Swift's songs, something more damaging to young girls than crying about unrequited love. Swift frequently compares herself to other young women as a way of proving that she's better than her "competition" in her never-ending quest for true love. In fact, she viciously bashes other girls. The most well-known example is, of course, her ever-popular You Belong With Me, with lyrics like "She wears short skirts/I wear t-shirts," implying that her crush should find her modesty so insanely appealing that he leaves his girlfriend so he can be with Swift. But these lyrics are far from the most venomous. In her song Better Than Revenge, Swift sings the lines "She's not a saint/And she's not what you think/She's an actress/She's better known for the things she does on the mattress." In fact, that entire song is about how awful this other girl is for "sabotaging" Taylor's chance with a boy. Swift rips these girls apart (well, she rips them apart as much as she can without losing her sweet and lovable image) for standing in the way of her reaching her ultimate goal - a boy.

By pointing out that some guy's girlfriend wears skimpy clothes or has a sex life, Swift's music reinforces something called the "virgin/whore dichotomy." A dichotomy is a system of organization that classifies things in only two ways. "Virgin/whore dichotomy" is basically a fancy way of saying that in our culture, women's sexuality viewed in two very rigid and opposing ways: the first, "virgin," means the woman is innocent and pure, like Swift; the second, "whore," means the opposite. To be a virgin (the ideal) is to be untouched, to be "whole" and perfect. To be the whore is to be devalued or even worthless. Never mind that, according to the Guttmacher Institute, 70% of young men and women start having sex by their late teens - women are supposed to remain virginal (preferably until marriage), and choosing to do otherwise results in the woman being stigmatized. Society attempts to control women's sexual choices by putting them into these categories with no way out, and Swift's music perpetuates the idea that women who have sex, or girls who wear high heels, or anyone who doesn't fit the "virgin" ideal is lesser than those who do.

Swift's ubiquity means that these messages are being spread far and wide, and her popularity among younger people, especially kids and preteens, means that these ideals are being enforced early on. It's a shame that this structure is in place, and that it's so widely accepted, because it is so hurtful to everyone involved.


  1. I agree completely. Being a young girl its hard to see why an obsession with a boy is bad, but the feelings of helplessness and desperation are not healthy. Also who knows if she really is a virgin or not because many stars claim to be "pure" for the press and then do whatever they want in private. Very interesting elaboration.

  2. I totally agree with u AnonymousSeptember 11, 2012 1:11 PM

    I think the best thing to reach out to everyone is that you need to have that positive self esteem. You alone are enough!

  3. Sorry, I reached this article very late. But my interest in her has been growing seeing the number of sexist things she's been doing lately.
    1. Calls herself a feminist, but wears skimpy clothes to concerts that objectify womanhood and have only one purpose: win a male audience.
    2. Her recent temporary boyfriend Calvin Harris tweeted her Apple Music win as " girl just..." MY GIRL? I thought feminists were supposed to not be anyone's girl.
    3. Where on earth is her music genre going?