When I woke up last Thursday and logged on to social media I had no idea I would be greeted by a barrage of photographs of a freshly broken up Taylor Swift on some rocks by the sea with one Tom Hiddleston, along with a myriad of comments from friends and friends of friends, ranging from the awestruck to the incredulous to the loathing. I also did not expect that I’d be writing about it less than a week later.
The reason I write now is that the more I scrolled through my feed (something I do not recommend, as it can drain your energy, cheerfulness, and mobile data cap, but will also probably continue to do long after this blows over), the more toxic the comments got. People were calling her a slut or a bitch or both, along with a number of other creative insults our culture has made up for women who like to date.
I have never been a fan of Taylor and personally think that her feminism is problematic at best and counterproductive at worst. But at this point, all the stories obsessing over her long list of ex-lovers, her apparent inability to stick to one for a little more than a year, and her habit of writing songs about them shortly thereafter, are passe.
She’s made an entire empire on bringing her personal life into the limelight and even poked fun at the media for trying to shame her for it. At this point it’s easy to predict how people react to and vilify every single update on her love life, and conveniently choose to look away when male celebrities do similar (or worse) things, even when there isn’t anything truly evil about finding new love after a breakup. Ashton Kutcher had only finalized his divorce with Demi Moore a few months before getting engaged to Mila Kunis. Leonardo DiCaprio, whose list of ex-lovers easily surpasses Taylor’s, gets a constant stream of praise in the media for his ability to attract the opposite sex. Musicians like Drake, Ed Sheeran, Justin Timberlake, and a great many others regularly write about their exes as well, and we love these songs primarily because they’re so relatable. Additionally, let’s not overlook the fact that Tom is every bit as part of the photos as Taylor is and also possesses his own long list of ex-lovers. The only difference is that he’s not getting shamed for it, except maybe by those who criticize his choice of partner and would want him for themselves.
This has, of course, become normal. The girl has got it down to a science, and we’re all just participants in a cycle that refreshes itself with every boyfriend. When Taylor broke into the scene with her first single a decade ago, we had no idea how much of a cultural icon she’d become, how many of us would listen — sometimes guiltily — to her breakup songs and feel. The cultural backlash at a woman controlling her own narrative, commanding attention, and using her own experiences to amass so much fame and profit for herself was an inevitable by product, and it is to be expected that media and the internet will pretty much overflow with all of these comments with every development in her personal life. And after a decade of this, I’m so used to the hate that it’s almost boring.
But a newer phenomenon reared its ugly head with what the media has dubbed Hiddleswift and it’s something I absolutely can not tolerate: Self-proclaimed feminists on my feed suddenly slut-shaming Taylor over last Thursday’s photographs.
I am not defending her actions solely because she is a woman. That is Taylor’s Feminism, the center of White Feminism that conveniently ignores racial and class issues in the belief that women simply must stick together no matter what, which gave rise to her problematic girl squad and brief spat with Nicki Minaj. But I am defending her because there is something extremely wrong with a feminism that is not applicable to all women.
It honestly warms my heart whenever I see people speaking out about the horrors of rape culture and slut-shaming, because even though these things are an awful reality most of us have to weather, I find comfort in the fact that there are still people who will stand with us and see these problems for what they are. These are very real problems that largely go unnoticed for a multitude of reasons — for convenience, maybe, or a stubborn refusal to recognize that the sexism being called out has become so ingrained in our culture that all of us, at some points in our lives, are guilty of it as well.
Women and men speaking out against sexist people, situations, and institutions on social media these past few years have given me so much hope that things might actually start changing pretty soon. They are a welcome reminder that the world isn’t as terrible as it can seem, because people can and will recognize the problems both men and women face as a consequence and are willing to work towards dismantling sexist cultures.
And this is why, I guess, it felt worse seeing these same people slut-shaming Taylor on social media than it did seeing the general public do the same.
Here’s the thing: We can’t just pick and choose who to defend in the name of feminism. We can’t call out our dear President-elect on his misogyny or criticize the media for its virgin-whore tropes and objectification of women while, in the same breath, dispensing that same exact misogyny on Taylor and those whom we deem unworthy of our respect. Taylor herself only mentions feminism whenever it’s convenient for her, but that doesn’t mean feminism shouldn’t apply to her as well.
Let’s not also dismiss the very real possibility that this was all planned and we, mere spectators of the lives of people bigger and richer and more famous than us, are the ones truly being played. Not Calvin Harris, not Tom. Us.
So go ahead and rally under your battle cry of free speech to insult and slut-shame Taylor Swift if you want to. Doing so doesn’t make you a better person or a cooler feminist, nor does it make you any more successful than she is.