November 4, 2014

WEISMAN | From A Nightmare To A Daydream

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By SAMANTHA WEISMAN

Although she may have broken up with Spotify earlier this week, worldwide sensation (and my spirit animal) Taylor Swift is past her days of publicizing dramatic break-ups. In the past several years, and especially with the release of her new album 1989, Taylor has grown from a young girl who didn’t understand feminism or what it means to put down other women, to a woman who not only respects women, but empowers them.

Since 1989 landed in stores and online on Oct. 27, it has sold over 1.2 million copies and racked up even more millions of plays on everyone’s iTunes accounts. The reviews are mixed as to whether it is better or worse than her previous albums — this album is more pop than country and certainly less dramatic than her other “traditional” break-up ballads — but most critics are agreed on one thing: 1989 is Taylor’s most unique album thus far. The 13-track self-proclaimed pop album showcases Taylor’s maturity and development. What stands out to me is how much this development reflects that people are actually capable of change (Didn’t I already write a column about this? Sort of…).

Before this growth, however, Taylor has been criticized for some of her words in the past, be they song lyrics or interviews. A general theme in many of her older songs was putting down other women, emphasized in songs like, “You Belong With Me,” “Better Than Revenge” and “Picture to Burn.” When asked if she was a feminist in 2012, in an interview with the Daily Beast, she answered, “I don’t really think about things as guys versus girls.” (In case you didn’t know, feminism is not about guys versus girls, either — it’s about equality.)

In “You Belong With Me,” featured on Taylor’s second album Fearless in 2008, Taylor sings about a boy that is, unfortunately, dating another girl. Taylor implies that this girl is mean and awful, and “wears short skirts,” implying that dressing a certain way impacts her value. This song is just one example of Taylor’s history of slut-shaming, the concept that women should be made to feel guilty for their own sexual choices or behaviors. In “Better Than Revenge,” from Speak Now in 2010, Taylor sings about a girl who stole her boyfriend and is “better known for the things that she does on the mattress.”

These instances of slut-shaming contribute to her former persona as a wholesome, innocent girl — as well as put down and guilt other girls. Further, the “other girls” in her songs and music videos were portrayed as being more sexually promiscuous as Taylor, the perfect one, implying that their sexuality defines their worth.

I have no words to defend Taylor Swift. Her words are undoubtedly slut-shaming, offensive and insensitive to other women. However, something that people tend to forget — including myself — is that past actions do not define a person. It is possible for people to learn, grow and even change their views or attitudes.

Taylor has certainly matured from her pure, virtuous days. In an interview with The Guardian, she said, “As a teenager, I didn’t understand that saying you’re a feminist is just saying that you hope women and men will have equal rights and opportunities. What it seemed to me, the way it was phrased in culture, society, was that you hate men. And now, I think a lot of girls have had a feminist awakening because they understand what the word means.”

Her friendship with HBO’s Girls star and creator Lena Dunham — which formed via Twitter direct message — has also helped her develop her attitude about women. “Becoming friends with Lena — without her preaching to me, but just seeing why she believes what she believes, why she says what she says, why she stands for what she stands for — has made me realize that I’ve been taking a feminist stance without actually saying so,” she said.

As she has grown up, Taylor has grown and developed her views, also evidenced by many of her lyrics in 1989. In “Style,” a song about a couple that never goes out of “style” — and also probably about former flame Harry Styles — Taylor sings, “I got that good girl faith and a tight little skirt.” No longer shaming women for wearing tight skirts like in “You Belong With Me,” now she is proud to wear a tight little skirt, and suggests that you can have “good girl faith” and wear whatever kinds of clothes you want.

In “Picture to Burn,” one of her first hit singles from her first album in 2006, Taylor sings, “Go and tell your friends that I’m obsessive and crazy, that’s fine, I’ll tell mine you’re gay.” These lyrics, later changed in the music video version of the song, upset a great deal of people since they suggest that homosexuality is an inherently bad quality that one can wield as an insult or slur. In “Welcome to New York,” from 1989, she sings, “You can want who you want, boys and boys, and girls and girls,” demonstrating her acceptance of queerness as positive and valid.

We cannot always hold people accountable for things they have said in the past. While certainly not every person who has prejudiced or narrow views will outgrow them or change their attitudes, many people do. There are things I have said in the past that I no longer agree with or feel terrible about having said. I cannot take them back, just as Taylor Swift cannot “take back” her misogynistic lyrics or anti-feminist interviews. All we can do is move forward with our newfound attitudes and try to express them to others.

Further, it is possible for us to forgive people for things they have said. I never would have called 2008 Taylor Swift my “spirit animal,” but I truly admire her changed persona and image, and I appreciate how much she has developed. It is brave to say that you disagree with your past self, and I commend Taylor for embracing this change.

We are not defined by the things we may have said before. As long as we move forward with our new attitudes, or forgive others for what they’ve done and even be daring enough to embrace our own changes, we can all make ourselves better — and maybe even become as cool as T-Swift. As she says in “Blank Space” from 1989, “Darling, I’m a nightmare dressed like a daydream.” Though we all — including Taylor — may have been nightmares in the past, embracing our change and accepting our new mindsets can transform us into daydreams.

Samantha Weisman is a senior in the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences. She may be reached at sweisman@cornellsun.com. A Weisman Once Said appears alternate Wednesdays this semester.