I never thought I’d ever write these words, but I feel bad for Taylor Swift.
Yes, this is the same Taylor Swift who has relied on racist stereotypes of victimhood to gain public sympathy, who was exposed by Kim Kardashian in one of the most savage moments ever to take place on the internet as plotting with Kanye West to cause a media circus and then pretended she knew nothing about it, and who has a group of friends that for all intents and purposes is just a clique, but with fashion models instead of cheerleaders. This is the same Taylor Swift who drives me crazy with her constant wide-eyed innocent poor little rich girl act who sells a million copies of a record where she talks smack about a girl who’s promiscuous, who has a really messy relationship with appropriating black culture and erasing black bodies. It’s the T-Swift who launched a multi-year feud with Katy Perry (of all people on Earth to have a feud with, she picked her) over some backing dancers and milked it to the tune of several Grammys and MTV VMAs. Essentially, this is the Taylor Swift who is super problematic, often culturally insensitive, and socially manipulative to the point of obsessive.
It’s also the Taylor Swift who’s suing a DJ for groping her during a photo opportunity, who spoke of being paralyzed with fear and anxiety, and who will probably end up testifying under oath to that experience. It’s the Taylor Swift who has had to endure a public figure not only destroying evidence related to the charge but suing her, the woman he groped, for “ruining his career.” It’s the Taylor Swift who is a devastatingly real reminder that no level of fame, celebrity, money, or power can protect you from the kind of unwanted sexual advances that she experienced at the photo-op.
And it’s the Taylor Swift who has to sit in court and recount her experience before a jury and judge while hundreds of fans wait outside for the chance to see her, take her picture, or get her autograph. Even in what is probably a very emotional time she can’t escape people asking for things from her.
For how much I argue that Taylor Swift is someone who not only benefits from but actively exploits hierarchies of power and violent systems to gain cultural capital, she doesn’t deserve this. Nobody does. No one, no matter how screwed up or perfect they might be, should be subjected to an unwanted sexual advance. Nobody. Not even, as it happens, people who make unwanted sexual advances (the topic of why wishing rapists get raped in prison is a terrible idea is something better dealt with in another article.)
And yes, I’m aware of the racial and economic politics of this. I’m very aware that public sympathy and support is on Swift’s side because of the same race-based victim dynamics she has exploited at various points in her career. I’m very mindful of that, because of her power and influence she can reasonably expect a fair trial, whereas her poorer, minority counterparts do not have this expectation. And I know, and am deeply unsettled by, the idea that while Swift gets to enter a courtroom and seek a judgement in her favor, there are thousands of women and people around the world who suffer their indignity in silence ― or worse, with approbation from a public who supports their perpetrator.
But all of those things don’t cancel out the effects of the experience on Taylor Swift. If I believe, as I do, that no one person’s experience of sexual violence is more or less valid or acceptable than anyone else’s, then I must put my money where my mouth is and say that I believe her. It does not mean that I need to go out of my way to defend her, to flood her social media with messages of support, to overstate the importance of her experience, or, worse, to discount violence inflicted upon others simply because this has happened to her. It just means that I can acknowledge Taylor is a problematic person and that she didn’t deserve this. And I hope, as I do for every victim and survivor, that she can heal from and move forward past this violence to a happy, fulfilling life.