‘There’s a special place in hell for women who don’t help other women’: Taylor Swift and Celebrity Feminist Friendship

Curator's Note

Taylor Swift’s girlfriendships are central to her celebrity brand as well as her feminism. Her star text exemplifies what brand consultant Collyn Ahart identifies as a shift from ‘I want to look like her’ to ‘I want to be friends with them’. In other words, friendship is positioned at the core of feminine subjectivity.   Taylor’s heterosexual girlfriendships are performed across social media. When Lorde won a grammy that both friends were nominated for, Taylor tweeted ‘We’re on each other’s team’. Taylor’s Instagram feed is a flow of beautiful BFF selfies. Her relationship with fans or ‘Swifties’ is also framed as intimate; not only because of her girlfriend rhetoric, but because the Swifties engage with her through the same networks as her celebrity friends.   The Bad Blood video harnesses what I call in Girlfriends and Postfeminist Sisterhood (2013) the ’affective assemblage of female friendship.’ The video represents the pleasures of belonging to an intimate ‘we’, as well as the pain of betrayal and revenge. The video flips the trivialised catfight trope into a postfeminist parody of the contemporary action film with the celeb gal-pal brand at its core.   Bad Blood was nominated for a VMA Award. On Twitter Nicki Minaj critiqued the way in which black women are marginalised in the industry in favour of those promoting slim bodies. In response Taylor tweeted ‘I’ve done nothing but love & support you. It’s unlike you to pit women against each other. Maybe one of the men took your slot..’. By using the affect of girlfriendship she silences Nicki’s critique, and by suggesting that a man took Nicki’s spot she erases the ways in which women can be oppressed by categories other than gender, thus revealing the limits of her feminism.   Katy Perry (who is speculated to be the ‘enemy’ woman in the video) joined in the Twitter conversation: ‘Finding it ironic to parade the pit women against other women argument about as one unmeasurably capitalizes on the take down of a woman…’. Is Katy talking about their friendship, the video, or Taylor’s response to Nicki?

Comments

Lauren Cramer's picture

Finally! We’re arrived at the

Finally! We’re arrived at the central figure of the current #squad phenomenon! Thanks for taking on T. Swift Alison! I am curious about what you describe as “the limits of her feminism” because I think it helps clarify the difference between a #squad and old-fashioned friends. Unlike some of the other examples this theme week has explored, I think you’re pointing to a downside that arises when producing an IMAGE of collectivity. Like any image that should appear aesthetically pleasing, and Swift’s #squad is certainly striking, establishing a #squad requires an internal logic or cohesion that is necessarily exclusive (see the awkward response to Lena Dunham’s on-stage appearance during Swift’s 1989 tour).

Christine Capetola's picture

Thanks for this, Alison! I

Thanks for this, Alison! I especially like how you talk about affect to explain your idea of heterosexual girlfriendships. What do viewers do with the invitation to join in what Lauren calls an image of collectivity? In her post, Alyx talked about how one way girl groups try to build and keep a fanbase is by offering their audiences something to mimic. Your post suggests that the affective may be yet another layer of that, perhaps even a possible complication of this commodification… that can still get co-opted back into it.

This is sort of an aside, but I recently rewatched the video for Lady Gaga and Beyoncé’s “Telephone.” The scene of the girl fight in the Taylor Swift video got me thinking about the prison fight scene in “Telephone.” One critique of both videos is that light skinned women dominate these female collectivities. The way you describe the interaction between Taylor Swift and Nicki Minaj suggests that this intersection of gender and race is something that a lot of well-meaning female celebrities could be missing. That Lena Dunham, who has been critiqued by some for her whitewashing of Brooklyn in Girls, is included in the video’s collective also speaks to this point of missed communications.

Katherine J. Lehman's picture

I really enjoyed this post.

I really enjoyed this post. The video to me represents the limitations of Swift’s brand of feminism and corporate girl power; it is ironic that the posse is enlisted to take down another woman, when the song’s lyrics could easily be about a wayward ex. And yes, the presence of Dunham is significant here, both for the myopia that Dunham represents publicly and the fact that Swift has credited Dunham’s friendship with turning her on to feminism. That said, I found visual pleasure in Dunham smoking a cigar and even Cindy Crawford’s cameo, as they brought some diversity in body-type and age to the uniformly youthful and svelte image of girl power presented here. The showdown is supposed to evoke “Mad Max” but reminds me of the “Charlie’s Angels” reboot as well — lots of intertextual meaning! I was amused to come across a quote from Miley Cyrus criticizing the video for promoting female competition and rivalry — of course Cyrus herself chimed in to critique Nicki Minaj’s tone about the VMAs. (Minaj’s rebuttal in this article I think amplifies the discussion of cultural appropriation in this week’s earier posts: http://time.com/4064315/nicki-minaj-miley-cyrus/)

Alison Winch's picture

Yes, Lauren, I totally agree

Yes, Lauren, I totally agree with exclusivity of Taylor’s #squad: slim, white, heteronormative, able-bodied. And this is really problematic if it is linked to her feminism. If her feminism is grounded in her girlfriends and her girlfriends are like her, then there is a dangerous myopia to her politics. I also agree with the comments about Lena Dunham. I didn’t have the space to include that here but it is very telling that Lena Dunham is credited with the formation Taylor’s feminism! I actually wonder whether Taylor is well-meaning. There are plenty of intertextual allusions which both reverse the heroic male trope, as well as foregrounding female friendship and power (Charlie’s Angels, Kill Bill 1 and 2), but there’s also something of the Mean Girls in this video: you’d better not mess with me and my gal pals, (which includes the postfeminist markers that they cultivate and perpetuate) or else! This also links to Lena’s comments over body image after appearing onstage with Taylor and her friends…

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