Wednesday, February 4, 2015

Ode to Taylor Swift & Her F-Bomb Valentines

I know what you're thinking: How could sweet Taylor Swift possibly utter the f-bomb anywhere near the delicate ears of her fans, let alone broadcast it widely (and rather bravely) in modern media? But this young woman who looks fabulous in just about any ball gown, and particularly wrapped up all in red like a sparkly valentine (see above photo), has indeed recently spoken one of the most ill-regarded words in the English language, and proudly so, to anyone who will listen.

No, I'm not talking about a 4-letter expletive starting with the letter "F".

I'm talking about a far more derided term: FEMINISM.

And quite frankly, after she did so, I folded my arms with smug satisfaction & offered a knowing smile (then applied a shiny lip gloss to match hers, of course).

You see, I've been professing for years that Taylor Swift is the greatest feminist so far in the twenty-first century, long before that very word escaped her lips. But that's okay, I could smell it on her...

Why? Because Taylor Swift has built her career daring to talk about women's feelings, regardless of who ridicules her (and they have been legion). Even better yet, she refuses to back down. She won't allow women's emotions & instincts for decision making to be minimized, trivialized, or "ized" in any of the slick ways people traditionally employ to make women feel small, marginalized, or downright dim.

And she's made millions of dollars doing it without once posing nude for Playboy. In fact, she wears lots of lovely couture rather nicely, thank you very much.

Even more bravely, Taylor Swift knows that LOVE is the biggest four-letter word to most contemporary critics & media pundits, yet she throws that word around with abandon. Far more than setting an electric guitar on fire or biting a dove's head off onstage, nowadays it's outrageously risky to admit that you have a tender crush or shred of vulnerability, and worse yet, to vocalize that you're aware that you might get swept away by your onrush of (gasp) new emotions. You see, in order to be taken seriously in current society, especially for women, you're supposed to be made of brick & preferably wear stiff shoulder pads on both your heart & your business attire, no matter how much money you make. Particularly since women began entering the workforce in droves in the 1980s, they were taught to suppress anything that made them seem like gushy, flighty or illogical creatures who rely on (horrors!) their feelings to guide their way. Such individuals are not considered "management material" nor "scientific" or "impartial" enough to fit into either academic or corporate culture (I have a Ph.D. folks--I've seen these arid environments first hand). Those few females who did manage to make it past the glass ceiling to the top from the 1980s until now often appear as dour as the famous figures in the American Gothic painting by Grant Wood. Scrubbed of the vestiges of softness or sensitivity, their emotions have been forced into an airtight box, and they allowed our culture to lock most of their traces of femininity into that box as well.

Well f--- that!

You can wear ball gowns, lip gloss, talk about your feelings, and make brilliant discoveries & observations about science & humankind, all while sporting a spectacular pair of heels! In fact, by using this part of your mind that embraces the entirety of human brain energy--including hunches & feelings--you can open yourself to the possibility of stretching human discovery beyond our current safe methods of measurement. As Albert Einstein once said, "The intuitive mind is a sacred gift and the rational mind is its faithful servant. We have created a society that honors the servant and has forgotten the gift."  

This truth apparently dawned on Taylor Swift at a young age that a woman's intuition & ideas & feelings matter, and matter very deeply. Despite her years, and regardless of all the enculturation in our society that for generations tried to squelch such wisdom, Taylor Swift discerned that feelings are precisely a woman's road map to her future. Case in point: When a boyfriend makes you feel down or strung along forever until you're either a basket case or so emotionally exhausted that you can't feel joy anymore, that's because he's MESSING WITH YOUR HEAD. And hello--when a boss makes you feel like that about your career, that person's a jerk as well. So are women who make you feel small or unworthy. In fact, anyone or anything that makes you feel inadequate, powerless or hopeless to dictate your own future is (drumroll please) a classic example of being an influence that's toxic and bad for you.

From "All You Had To Do Was Stay" by Taylor Swift

And you'd better well pay attention to those feelings if you want to lead an empowered & vibrant life. Because you can't ever create your own future unless you get in touch with what pulls your heart forward--or holds it back.

Seriously, how on earth are you going to figure out what's derailing your life unless you hunker down & do an emotional inventory? People who are afraid of their emotions are secretly ruled by them. And what Taylor Swift does is courageously take apart feelings one by one & examine them under her magnifying glass, no matter how beautiful or ugly they might turn out to be, and then she holds each one up to the light until she can make sense of it. 

This process is what many of Taylor Swift's songs so brilliantly represent: A young woman having the guts to look intensely at her life & do some profound self-reflection about how she feels in order to get a grip on the truth of her reality. For this Taylor Swift has been ceaselessly reviled as "lightweight" or "frothy". Yet she keeps bravely strumming her guitar & singing her valentines, not to old boyfriends as has been claimed, but to herself and to a heart that presses forward & keeps beating while looking unflinchingly at its own truths.

And that's exactly what makes Taylor Swift's love songs so feminist. Because she realizes that her emotional inventories don't distract from her empowerment in life--they add to it! So she chooses to Speak Now rather than shut up & just look pretty to make the emotionally constipated pundits happy. 

What's even more renegade (and you know how much I love those outlaws & artisans of the heart!), Taylor Swift openly professes that she hopes one day all young girls who enjoy her music will do the same thing to empower themselves & their own aspirations.

So yes, you could say that I'm a touch obsessed with Taylor Swift & her music and what it's doing for the next generation of girls & "girl power". I first took her music seriously when I was writing my young adult novel Robin in the Hood & I wanted to relive the emotional immediacy of teens & new adults. In my novel, the main character Robin is on the cusp of womanhood & is trying to sort out her feelings about what it means to be truly powerful & grown up. Okay, so she does (ahem) rob a few banks along the way--but that's all a part of her experimentation with good & bad choices! In order to do my research on Robin, I bought all of Taylor Swift's albums, thinking it would take me back to that vulnerable time late in high school or early in college when how you feel about boys or your next steps in life weighs heavily on your heart.

Robin in the Hood, the first novel in the Robbin' Hearts Series

Yet what I discovered is that Taylor Swift's songs are timeless. They speak to me now, in middle age, just as acutely as they whisper to the hearts of her youngest fans. Love, loss, longing & betrayal don't just affect the young--they affect us all. And what I realized is that this young woman is singing about life & validating the experiences of what everyone feels as he or she stumbles around trying to comprehend everything. Because of this, what I find the most beautiful about Taylor Swift's music is the fact that regardless of the ups & downs & heartbreaks & victories that she sings about, she has made a concerted effort to try and keep her heart tender & vulnerable, knowing that such softness & openness to the possibilities of her future are what make her the strongest in the end.

Because she's female. And Taylor Swift knows that understanding her feelings is where her power truly lies. 

And that's her feminist valentine to herself, to the world, and to all the young girls who dare to examine exactly how they feel, then use those feelings as their guiding light to become the very best they can be.

So rock on, Taylor Swift. Dare to feel & keep encouraging others to do the same. Because that big ol' heart of yours looks smashing on you <3

And it just might change the world...

Photo credit note: All images on my blog are either my own or were gleaned from pictures in the public domains of popular social networks like tumblr, facebook or pinterest. If you own the copyright to any of these images & do NOT want them used publicly, please contact me & I will take them down immediately! : )

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