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Women in media

Taylor Swift: The Work and the Resilience

I’m so sick of running as fast I can / Wondering if I’d get there quicker / If I was a man / And I’m so sick of them coming at me again / ‘Cause if I was a man / Then I’d be the man – “The Man”

My obsession with Taylor Swift began in seventh grade when “Love Story” hit number one on the iTunes music chart. At the time, Taylor Swift was a rising star in the country world. Even back then, she was known for her talent for using her lyrics to piece together stories that resonated deeply with the listener. As her stardom continued to rise, I devoured every album she put out, my love for her overriding my heartbreak after hearing she was dating my first celebrity crush, Joe Jonas. 

Yet as the years passed, I noticed a distinct change in the way the media (and my friends) began to talk about her. The media honed in on her love life, and the love songs once heralded as vivid storytelling became symbolic of her man-hunting and “desperate” ways. Swift even wrote a (brilliant) song about this – “Blank Space” – a tongue-in-cheek depiction of her character if she truly was who the media portrayed her to be. Despite Swift’s satirical lyrical responses and good-natured “shaking” off of this barrage of criticism, the narrative she was ascribed to never should have happened. 

Swift is by no means the first celebrity to have her love life intensely scrutinized in a way that overshadows her work and reduces her to a “girlfriend,” but she should be the last. Generalizing her songs and casting her aside as a songwriter that just “writes about love songs” is hypocritical and anti-feminist. Her male counterparts objectify women and sing about their romantic woes on a similar basis yet are not subject to the same criticism Swift receives. But even more egregious is that such criticism boils down to the deeply rooted belief that women should not be able to speak about their feelings. Dwelling on one’s feelings and (gasp) verbalizing those feelings can cast women as “crazy.” It’s ok to feel “happy, free, confused, and lonely at the same time.” Emotions are meant to be felt and shouldn’t be stigmatized. Dismissing someone as “too emotional” perpetuates the toxic belief that being in tune with one’s feelings is weak and shifts the focus away from what caused them to feel that way in the first place.

And there’s nothing like a mad woman / What a shame she went mad / No one likes a mad woman / You made her like that / And you’ll poke that bear ‘til her claws come out / And you find something to wrap your noose around – “mad woman”

Swift has had a busy couple of years, re-recording the albums she released while under Big Machine Records. What Taylor Swift is doing with her re-recording is nothing short of badass, but it is an unfortunate consequence of her not being afforded the rights to purchase back the masters (i.e. master recordings) for the songs that she wrote. It is disheartening that some people have dismissed her struggle, stating that she should have known better than to sign the contract that gave away the rights to her masters (a contract she signed when she was fifteen years old). These individuals fall into the trap of accepting the status quo—just because the music industry has operated in this predatory way for years does not mean that it should continue to subject young, impressionable artists this way. Their equivalent of a “suck it up and move on” devalues Swift’s lifelong work to a bad business decision. It’s not just a cost of doing business when the said business is one’s life—and Swift has every right to fight and have ownership of her creative works.

Taylor Swift also made headlines in 2015 when former radio personality David Mueller filed a defamation lawsuit against her. Two years prior, Swift’s team reported to his radio station that Mueller had put his hand under her skirt and groped her during a pre-concert photo opportunity. Swift countersued, alleging assault and battery, asking for a symbolic $1 in damages. During the trial, Swift remained steadfast despite demeaning and patronizing questions by opposing counsel. When rejecting a suggestion that she had misidentified Mueller, she asserted: “I’m not going to allow you or your client to say I am to blame.” When presented with a photograph capturing Swift with Mueller and asked why the front of her skirt was not raised, she remarked: “Because my ass is located on the back of my body.” When asked about the defamation charges that caused Mueller’s “humiliation,” she retorted: “I’m being blamed for the unfortunate events of his life that are a product of his decisions, not mine.” Swift ultimately prevailed, but in her recent documentary Miss Americana, she reflected: “You don’t feel any sense of victory when you win, because the process is so dehumanizing. This is with seven witnesses and a photo. What happens when you get raped and it’s your word against his?” 

Swift’s experience of sexual assault matters. Her candid remarks about the emotional damage she suffered as a consequence of it matters. Each and every individual who undergoes a similar experience matters. Swift’s trial and her subsequent comments showcased one of the most famous women in the pop world in one of her most vulnerable moments. Most importantly, it placed the issue of sexual violence on a nationwide stage, helped combat the stigma of talking about sexual assault, and shed light on its accompanying life-long impacts. 

Rain came pouring down when I was drowning / That’s when I could finally breathe /

And by morning, gone was any trace of you, I think I am finally clean – “Clean”

 

He’s got my past frozen behind glass / But I’ve got me – “it’s time to go”

 

Pushed from the precipice / climbed right back up the cliff / long story short, I survived – “long story short”

It would be remiss to fail to mention that Taylor Swift is a rich, white woman that fits societal standards of beauty. She clearly possesses privilege, and she is by no means perfect (nobody is!). But what she does demonstrate through the media portrayal of her is that there is still a desperate need for a cultural shift when discussing women and their work. 

She had a marvelous time ruining everything – “The Last Great American Dynasty”


Written by Rachel Lee, ZCenter Volunteer and Northwestern Law Student

ZCenter aims to end sexual violence, mobilize and educate the public, and support survivors of sexual assault. Our blog addresses issues related to ending oppression and violence, since all oppression and violence are intersectional with sexual violence. All ZCenter blog posts are written by state certified staff, interns, and volunteers. For questions on authorship or content, please email kjones@zcenter.org.

Boil, Boil, Toil, and Trouble: Nothing is Practical about Practical Magic

The Owens House

I have had a Pinterest board dedicated to Practical Magic since I saw it many, many years ago. The fashion, the hair, the HOUSE, I wanted that life. It was my dream to live my life on an island off the Massasschust coast, in that house, brewing and gardening. 

This is the story of a long line of witches. After being exiled to this island with her unborn child, Maria — an ancestor of the Owens sisters who are the main characters of the movie — casts a spell to stop herself from being able to fall in love because her lover never came for her. Shortly after, Maria falls dead from heartbreak and the curse is passed on through the generations. The men that the Owens women love are destined for death. 

The story picks up with the introduction of Sally and Gillian Owens. The two sisters  have recently moved to their ancestral house with their aunts because their father has suffered the fate of the curse and their mother has died of heartbreak. In this house, they are encouraged to do their magic, eat chocolate for breakfast, and to feel things profoundly. 

One night, a very upset woman comes to the door. She says that the love of her life loves another and she wants the aunts to cast a spell to make him love her. After watching this, Sally and Gillian react differently. Sally says that she hopes never to fall in love whereas Gillian can’t wait to fall in love. 

Flash forward and Gillian goes off into the world, leaving behind a string of broken hearts. Thanks to a boost from her aunt, Sally who vowed to never fall in love, but with a boost from her aunts, she falls in love with a local man and they have two daughters. Unfortunately, Sally is not immune to the curse; her husband ‘Michael dies and Sally moves back into the aunts’ house. 

Meanwhile Gillian is partying in Arizona, where she meets Jimmy Angelov. One night Gillian calls Sally in a panic; Jimmy has been abusing her and she needs Sally to come. Sally slips him too much Belladonna, and he dies. Rather than LEAVING HIM DEAD, they decide to cast a spell that tries to revive him (SPOILER: it does not work), and then the real antics begin. 

So what does it all mean? And how in the world is Practical Magic related to feminism and ending sexual violence? I think the best way to start is with the chant that is almost like a nursery rhyme in this town. It is so common that a group of elementary school students are singing it….“Witch, witch, you’re a b***h. To which Sally says, “You’d think in 200 years they would have time to come up with a better chant.” It shows that women outside the norm are typically viewed as witches, seductresses, and dangerous. Women who are strong, women who may not want children, women who love freely are viewed — and have been viewed through much of history — as witches and have suffered such fates as being burned alive. 

This movie clearly passes the Bechdel test, which determines how feminist a movie is. This test has three basic rules: it has to have at least two women in it, they have to talk to each other, and they have to discuss something besides a man. It seems like a pretty simple task, but you would be surprised by how few movies actually pass this test. 

As well, it shows us that there is more to being a femme-identifying person because you have the Aunts: one kind, one mischievous; you have Sally, calm and powerful; and then you have Gillian, liberated and loyal. This also works to create a movie of empowering female relationships. It is not that these women do not fight with each other (oh, they do). Rather than this movie making you go “ah women, so petty,” it shows you how strong the female-identifying bond can be. 

This bond is so crucial to the movie that when Gillian becomes the victim and survivor of Domestic Abuse, it is the sisterhood and the coven bond that protects her. And as October is Domestic Violence (DV) Awareness month, it is important to showcase how DV truly affects women. Practical Magic highlights this experience and shows Domestic Violence survivors who experience more than just physical abuse. 

So, where does this leave us? It leaves us with a movie that praises sisterhood and female bonds. It leaves us with hope that the magic inside of us does not make us evil or outcast, but rather we must find our own coven that respects and honors our magic. 

 


Written by Cassidy Herberth, Prevention and Education Specialist

All ZCenter blog posts are written by state certified staff, interns, and volunteers. For questions on authorship or content, please email kjones@zcenter.org.

 

https://www.stylist.co.uk/long-reads/practical-magic-sandra-bullock-nicole-kidman-feminism-90s-films-movies-witchcraft/187283

https://hellogiggles.com/reviews-coverage/movies/6-reasons-why-practical-magic-still-resonates-with-women/

https://www.brightwalldarkroom.com/2018/10/30/feminist-seductions-practical-magic/

https://www.rottentomatoes.com/m/practical_magic

The Modern Person’s Guide to Rom-Coms: Can You Be a Intersectional Feminist Who Likes Romantic Comedies?

You may have heard the theory: If you think of a red car, you will start seeing red cars everywhere. Well, that is actually a psychological theory. It is called the Baader Meinhof Theory, and it has to do with frequency bias. This means that the minute you learn or think of something, your brain will start zeroing in on that specific thing. So, if you think of red cars, all the red cars that your brain that were blocked out originally, will now become the first thing that your brain picks up on. 

Now, what does this have to do with feminism and romantic comedies? My response to you is everything. How can you exist in the world when you finally become aware of all the problems and faults? This is a big question, so in today’s article, we are just keeping it to enjoying romantic comedies as an intersectional feminist. Can you, as a person who believes in gender equality, watch the societally proclaimed “chick flicks” that most times do not accurately represent the world? I doubt I will come to an answer in this blog, but there is some point in trying.

Let’s start with the statistics and facts so we know what we are up against. Romantic comedies tend to be extremely heterosexual. They often depict a man and a woman who adhere to the traditional roles of the gender binary. What this means is that gender non-conforming and queer people do not get to see themselves on the screen, or in love, or being a whole complete character. For example, GLAAD (the largest media advocacy organization for LGBTQ+ individuals) released a report that stated of the 118 movies that were released by what is deemed one of the major movie studios (think Universal Pictures, Paramount Pictures, Warner Bros. Pictures, Walt Disney Pictures and Columbia Pictures), only 18.6% of those movies had characters that identified as Queer. Now this includes all movies from all genres. Therefore, we can only assume how slim this percentage is in the romantic comedies section. As well, Queer folks in movies and media are still what society deems as conventionally attractive. They have clear skin, slim bodies, look high fashion, and most importantly many of these characters are White, which in effect, erases Queer People of Color. 

Our next, but equally as important problem, is that romantic comedies often have White men and women as the stars of the show. People of Color love too and they deserve to grow up seeing themselves on the screen that shows that love story. Movies like Love and Basketball, Tortilla Soup, Always Be My Maybe, Bend It Like Beckham, The Last Holiday, Queen and Slim, Malcolm and Marie, and so many more are movies that changed the genre of romantic comedies and yet we still only have a romantic comedy featuring People of Color every few years. It is very rare that People of Color are accurately portrayed in these movies because the people behind the cameras tend to be White people. 

Overall, story lines tell us that the only people who are worthy of having a romantic love like what we see in these movies are people who are White, Upper Class, Attractive, Skinny, and Straight, which pretty much erases a majority of the population. 

So, why do we keep doing it to ourselves? Why do we tear up when Julia Roberts stands in front of Hugh Grant and says “I am just a girl standing in front of a boy asking him to love her.” Why do we cheer when the cold, calculating businesswoman falls in love with the dog walker (nothing wrong with being a dog walker, they just always seem to be the main male character’s occupation). Finally, why do we root for a love that doesn’t actually represent us? Because the idea of love and being in love is something that is so universal that we seem willing to take it any way we can. So how can we, as modern, intersectional feminists, continue to watch romantic comedies while also being aware of all that they are? 

I love romantic comedies. It shocks a lot of people when I say this because I may not seem like the “chick flick type” but I do. In a world that is very unpredictable, the predictable world of romantic comedies soothes me. Or at least it used to. The more and more that I continue to learn about the world, the less I am able to enjoy things, albeit many things: music, movies, art, or anything. But as a product of the world, how do we take the good with the bad? The first step would be to continue to educate ourselves, so that we better understand the stereotypes in movies and how they harm us and the people we surround ourselves with. It is important to make sure we are continually addressing our own internal bias towards certain groups and recognize that the stereotypes in the film do not encompass all that a group of people are. As well, in a world that is constantly evolving we, ourselves must evolve as well. That means that we start to boycott movies that we just cannot stand for. For example, those movies that were directed by Woody Allen, produced by Harvey Weinstein, or acted in by Kevin Spacey. 

Like many things, it is our duty and job to help shift the culture so that it is more inclusive and more representative of the world that we are living in. So yes, as a modern, intersectional feminist you can enjoy romantic comedies, but you also have to be critical of them. Make sure that you are actively working to counteract the misogyny of many of these movies.

As Noah expresses in the Notebook, “So it’s not gonna be easy. It’s gonna be really hard. We’re gonna have to work at this every day, but I want to do that because I want you. I want all of you, forever, you and me, every day.” This is how I feel about romantic comedies as a feminist. 

 


Written by Cassidy Herberth (She/they), Education and Prevention Specialist.

All ZCenter blog posts are written by state certified staff, interns, and volunteers. For questions on authorship or content, please email kjones@zcenter.org.

 

“GLAAD’S 2020 STUDIO RESPONSIBILITY INDEX: HIGHEST RECORDED PERCENTAGE OF LGBTQ-INCLUSIVE FILMS BUT RACIAL DIVERSITY DROPS AND ZERO TRANSGENDER CHARACTERS APPEAR”. GLAAD, 2020, https://www.glaad.org/releases/glaad%E2%80%99s-2020-studio-responsibility-index-highest-recorded-percentage-lgbtq-inclusive-films.

 

Guzzo, Bianca. “The Modern Girl And Romantic Comedies”. 29Secrets, 2019, https://29secrets.com/pop-culture/the-modern-girl-and-romantic-comedies/.

 

Klooster, Grace. “How Modern Day Romantic Comedies Are Portraying Women”. Ncclinked, 2017, https://ncclinked.com/2017/09/15/modern-day-romantic-comedies/.

 

Rose, Sundi. “A Feminist’S Guide To Modern Rom-Coms”. Culturess, 2019, https://culturess.com/2019/05/28/feminist-guide-to-modern-rom-coms/.

Is This a Cat Fight?: Why is Hollywood always pitting powerful women against each other?

Nicki vs. Miley. Katy vs. Taylor. Joan vs. Bette. Elizabeth vs. Debbie. These are only some of the more famous female feuds of Hollywood. It seems that one of the narratives that is constantly plaguing the women of Hollywood, and the rest of the female population, is the one where women are constantly pitted against one another. Their whole narrative is surrounded by the fact that there cannot be more than one powerful woman in Hollywood. Now, why do we keep pitting women against each other? Rather than celebrating the successes, tabloids and news sites keep talking about how these women “despise each other.” The answer is too long for this post, but the short quick answer would be misogyny, the patriarchy, and beauty standards.

Oftentimes, when asked about these “famous feuds,” Hollywood women tell us that they are simply stories written by tabloids who are trying to sell a product. When asked about her feud with Brittany Spears, Christian Aguilera said, “It must have seemed as if we were competing with each other, but, in reality, Britney is someone that I used to hold hands with.” It seems that oftentimes these feuds do not actually exist, but are rather there to remind women of their place in the Hollywood world. 

So, why do it? Why does this narrative continue to break through the feminism of today? Well one of the reasons may be the narrative that women are simple vessels of desire. Meaning, their importance goes only as far as their looks. Therefore, it may seem impertinent to be the most beautiful person in the room. The result of this is that other women are viewed as competition. Someone you must beat out for that product endorsement, commercial, movie, show, and award. 

At the same time, another reason could be that at one point, like with many marginalized groups, there was only allowed to be a certain number. You wanted to be the one woman in the office, in the movies, in the “boys club,” and you had to make sure that no other female identifying person could beat you out of the running for that. As argued by the Harvard Business Review, “women see that there is one spot at the table, and are willing to do anything to keep that role. This burden is doubled, tripled, quadrupled for women of color, who experience being marginalized because of their skin color and their gender identity, therefore often being looked over.”

So, what do we do now? Well the first step is to stop pitting famous women against each other. Brittany and Christina are two different people, so why do we keep comparing them? The second step is to recognize, as Forbes writer Shelley Zalis puts it, women have more power when they are in a pack. That when we are mentoring women, supporting women, and showing that women are strong, we increase the amount of women in the workforce and place them in jobs of power. 

It is important that young people growing up today have the chance to see that women have more narratives, stories, and interests surrounding them than whoever they are “fighting” with; that there is more to young women than just the looks and beauty that they offer. 

I guess, in the end, it isn’t a cat fight, just a dog-eat-dog world. 


Written by Cassidy Herberth, Education and Prevention Specialist.

All ZCenter blog posts are written by state certified staff, interns, and volunteers. For questions on authorship or content, please email kjones@zcenter.org. 

 

Kiner, M., 2021. It’s Time to Break the Cycle of Female Rivalry. [online] Harvard Business Review. Available at: <https://hbr.org/2020/04/its-time-to-break-the-cycle-of-female-rivalry>.

 

Mehta, D., 2021. Does Patriarchy Divide Women: The Importance Of Solidarity. [online] Feminism In India. Available at: <https://feminisminindia.com/2019/02/04/patriarchy-divide-women-solidarity/> [Accessed 26 August 2021].

 

Thrills, A., 2008. ‘Britney? I wish her all the best… honest!’ Christina Aguilera calls time on one of pop’s bitterest feuds. [online] Mail Online. Available at: <https://www.dailymail.co.uk/tvshowbiz/article-1083708/Britney-I-wish-best–honest-Christina-Aguilera-calls-time-pops-bitterest-feuds.htm> [Accessed 26 August 2021].

Zalis, S., 2019. Power Of The Pack: Women Who Support Women Are More Successful. [online] Forbes. Available at: <https://www.forbes.com/sites/shelleyzalis/2019/03/06/power-of-the-pack-women-who-support-women-are-more-successful/> [Accessed 26 August 2021].

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