Let me tell you a story. I woke up. I checked Facebook. A friend posted Taylor Swift’s new music video, Bad Blood. I watched it. I went on Twitter. Media-scholar-extraordinaire-turned-Buzzfeed-reporter Anne Helen Petersen posted about Bad Blood. Behold the exchange:
That’s a lot of academic class/pop culture sass packed into 140 characters. So let me take it back a bit. Taylor Swift is one of those “I’m not a feminist oh wait I just learned what feminism is and I’m a feminist” kind of feminists. This is great. We need more feminists defining themselves as feminists (I’m looking at you, Shailene Woodley). In fact, Swift attributes her understanding of feminism and evolution of feminist self-identification to pal Lena Dunham. So what is Bad Blood? It’s a music video full of badass-looking, dangerous-cool fighter women, played by many of Swift’s big Hollywood friends: Cindy Crawford, Mariska Hargitay, Selena Gomez, Jessica Alba. And yes, Lena Dunham.*
To recap: Swift is a woman who has publically minted herself feminist. She makes a video filled with famous powerful women known for playing powerful or feminist characters. All the female characters in the video are cool as fuck and dangerous as hell. BY GOD THIS VIDEO IS FEMINIST. Oh wait, no, its not. It’s a “postfeminist girl power montage of skinny girls who think ass-kicking in high heels and big earrings is not a poor idea.”
So what does this 140 character Tweet mean exactly? Let’s break it down… 140 character Tweet style!
1) There was historical gender inequality but, because of past activism, we no longer need feminism. Needed it, did it, in post world. Yay?
2) Women’s educational and professional barriers are not systemic and so can be overcome with individual hard work. Work harder, ladies!
Female empowerment exemplified via independence, self-sufficiency, and physical strength/violence/ass-kicking. Sisterhood here somewhere too
A film sequence of pretty pictures that speeds up time and is generally without substance.
Ass-kicking in high heels and big earrings:
1) Postfeminist woman’s power is tied to the social ideal: she is sexy, desirable, consumer of $$ products, and has a “cool girl” attitude.
2) Impractical crime fighting accoutrement:
Saucy Scholar conclusion: Bad Blood could be worse. And it could be better. See, Bad Blood exemplifies a very surface and superficial understanding of feminism. An ideology that women are empowered when they can ride motorcycles and throw knives, and wear latex outfits and high heels while doing it. This is not feminism. This is postfeminism. Because, sure, Swift is empowered. She’s rich as fuck and famous as fuck and she’s White and skinny and pretty. And yes, she’s called a slut because of her dating practices and people write sexist things about her because her songs are about her personal relationships. But she can overcome this with her money and her celebrity and her hegemonic looks. And all her skinny, pretty, wealthy celebrity friends who populate the video can too.
But this type of postfeminist sensibility doesn’t exemplify and doesn’t even begin to address a range of feminist issues. For example, women who don’t have the socio-economic status to consume products that would allow them to look awesomely cool. Or bodies will never achieve the hard, sexy, light-skinned ideal, not matter what they do. Or the systemic issue of portraying a woman’s sexuality as an object for entertainment and consumption rather than an expression of her own embodied desires.
I don’t think Bad Blood is harming anyone. Actually, I think it’s kind of fun; I’ve watched it like six times (ok, two of those times were to make GIFs). And Swift has taken what is basically a terrible song and made it into a hit. Bravo. But we shouldn’t think of Bad Blood as anything more than those things. It’s not feminist. It’s just some postfeminist eye candy.
* Actually, my favorite part of the video was Lena Dunham: she didn’t appear in uber-feminine dress or makeup, and was only shot from the shoulders up, smoking a cigar.