Taylor Swift made me a feminist.
Crazy, right? Don't blow this off as some frivolous anecdote in my life, something to roll your eyes at with an embarrassed smile on your face. This is not the tale of some obsessed fan girl who mindlessly latched on to the whims of a pop star. No, this is a different story. It is the story of how I learned that my voice had value.
I have always loved to write. When I was 6 I wrote a picture book called "My Dog" and was convinced it would be a bestseller, because who didn't love my dog? When I was 10 I spent my entire summer writing a mystery novel called "Halt Hideaway," taking inspiration from my bookshelf full of Nancy Drew. When I was 13 I began songwriting; my school notes were covered in lyrics. This love for writing was encouraged by my teachers and my family, who all supported me 100%.
But there was one problem: despite the encouragement, I didn't think my voice had any value.
The words that spilled from my pen were important to me, but why would anyone else care what some random 13 year old had to say? When I pictured songwriters, they were old men writing in the back of honkytonks with a glass of whiskey in hand. The authors I learned about in school were all male with the exception of the token female writer, Lois Lowry. But she was on a whole other level, and most people wanted her book 'The Giver' banned from school anyways.
So there I was, writing my heart out, but for what purpose? What I was writing felt incredibly important--like it was what I was made to do--and yet, it also felt worthless. It would disappear into oblivion without notice, because no one cared what I had to say.
But then I discovered Taylor Swift. I purchased her debut album on a whim while on a family road trip to the states. When we got home I put on the album while I unpacked, but nothing got unpacked.
Instead I laid in bed cried.
It was like someone had courageously written out every word on my heart, and guess what? People cared.
I watched her career take off. She was a gorgeous blonde who sang about the universal experience of getting your heart broken, but her true power came from her incredible writing gift. Every professional, successful, industry-recognized songwriter I have met has hailed Taylor Swift as a songwriting force to be reckoned with. Her songs are perfectly crafted.
Taylor Swift became THE standard. Taylor was 16 when her first album came out, and people cared what she had to say. If she could do it, so could I. She taught me that my voice was valuable outside of my living room; that I deserved to be taken seriously and that writing about the boy who broke my heart didn't make me any less of a serious writer than others.
When I was 19 I was in a song pitch in Nashville. I introduced myself, said, "My name is Alex, I'm 19 years old and this is a song about a boy who broke my heart and walked away like it was nothing." An old guy in the back snorted and said, "this should be interesting," brushing me off as some stupid little girl with nothing worthwhile to say. But guess whose song was picked up by the publisher? My stupid little song about a boy who broke my heart.
Learning the power of my voice, my words and my experiences was my first major feminist breakthrough. When I dared to say, "You know what? What I have to share is valuable" I became intensely aware of all the ways myself and other women were silenced--in the church, the classroom, the government, the home, etc.
Taylor Swift is not a perfect feminist. She has torn down other women in order to rise up and stayed silent during times when her voice was needed. However, she also has done things like donate money to Kesha to help her fight her abuser, emphasized the value of close-knit female friendships, embraced her sexuality as something to celebrate and not hide and empowered young women to be FEARLESS.
You're right, that was cheesy, but on the eve of her new album, Reputation, being released, I couldn't resist.
So thank you Taylor, for being one of the many women who taught me how to be badass feminist.