Like predecessors from Eve to Hillary Clinton, the star fell foul of an ancient narrative that discredits women, says freelance writer Brian OFlynn
Its cool to hate Taylor Swift. Shes a social media pariah, the punchline of every meme, a living snake emoji. Her new single Look What You Made Me Do was jeered into the charts , making it to number one and breaking records on its way. Her new album is to be a treatise on reputation, and boy could Swift deliver a TED talk on that subject. Shes become universally despised to the point where its taboo even to admit to feeling sorry for her. One is allowed to concede that 1989 had a few bangers but thats the limit.
Swift became synonymous with the snake emoji thanks to one fateful subtweet by Kim K. Her spat with the Kardashian-Wests is what has earned her most of her bad reputation shes a liar who got what she deserved, right? Case closed. But its naive to think good old-fashioned karma is all thats at play in the Swift saga.
Swift is not the first snake woman. Since the Old Testament, society has sought to discredit and vilify women by associating them with the scaly and the slithering. Its the oldest trope in the book from Eve to Medusa, the snake has always been a faithful misogynist device, used to destroy female reputation.
Celebrity culture is at best a lifelike simulation, at worst an outright fabrication. The general public can only guess at what really went on between Swift and West, and the entire incident may well have been a mutually beneficial publicity stunt. Yet it was seized upon with an unconcealed glee by the online horde that now collates and quantifies every female celebritys actions for moral evaluation realistically, it was just the excuse they were looking for. Swifts downfall was long awaited. She has been dismissed as a maneater who exploits her partners for Youtube hits and, in that famous diatribe, declared a calculating professional victim. Were supposed to believe the powerful playboys she courts are blameless lambs.
Long before the West debacle, she was already branded a snake when she sent attorneys letters to fans selling Swift merchandise and to her former guitar teacher for attempting to exploit her past. In a society that supposedly abhors the gender wage gap, one could be forgiven for thinking Swifts unashamed defence of her intellectual property and rightful earnings to be admirable. Instead she was met with a vicious campaign of character assassination evidence of her years of endless, painstaking kindness toward fans was buried in a sea of hate memes. People were determined to see her as false and traitorous.
The eagerness to scrutinise and condemn surfaced again when Swift made fumbled attempts at good feminist engagement. When trying to call out Nicki Minaj in a now infamous Twitter quarrel, she demonstrated ignorance of the intersection of race and feminism. Quickly realising her mistake, Swift listened, learned and apologised, which one might think was an exemplary response but too late. The witch hunt was already under way.
In 2017, it is unacceptable for famous women to learn on the job they must emerge from the womb with a complete working knowledge of intersectional feminism and if they dont they apparently deserve a sustained campaign of online abuse. Its hardly surprising that a year later, Swift backtracked on endorsing misogynist lyrics by West she was likely terrified of making another misstep.
Swift made headlines again recently by suing her sexual abuser for a symbolic $1. She won with style, unapologetically asserting the wrongness of the abuse that was perpetrated on her but on the day of her victory, there was tumbleweed on the Taylor Swift hashtag. The online horde that has judged Swift for so long misses nothing, so the selective deafness on certain actions speaks volumes. Only the damning evidence is accepted as canon.
Regardless of what Swift does, she is accused of being a treacherous temptress. Shes always a snake. Her actions are incorporated into the narrative as an afterthought, perfunctory pieces of evidence to support an already foregone conclusion. Like all witch hunts, its trial by drowning. If you sink, you die, if you float we kill you for being a witch, stupid. Hating her is the end in itself, and her response means nothing. Shes tried proudly owning her reputation, shes tried parodying herself (see Blank Space and her LWYMMD video) but nothing works. Her reputation is set in stone regardless of her actions but this is nothing new, for her or any famous woman.
Only 18 months ago, a different woman was synonymous with the snake Hillary Clinton. Like Swift, she is not unproblematic but next to Donald Trump should have been an easy choice as president. The public once again latched onto spurious nothings (in this case phantom emails) to magnify cracks in a womans character that would have been passed over in a man. No material evidence was even required for Clintons downfall woman as serpent is so ingrained in society that we defaulted to it with only the most subtle encouragement. Her reputation was decided before facts. Once again, the snake reared its head and we all obediently hissed in unison.
The snake eating its own tail in Swifts lyric video is a genius symbol for the hatred without any logical end or beginning; misogyny is always a self-fulfilling aim. Its an infinitely repeating cycle it wasnt so many decades ago that Monica Lewinsky was the snake and Hillary Clinton was the contrasting archetype of purity. Before Swift, it was Lady Gaga or Lana Del Rey being slammed as fake and phony. Now theyve miraculously fallen back into favour, but for how long? Women are swapped in and out of roles in the machinery of patriarchal society and its race to destroy them.
Swifts new song is superficially crafted as a Kanye diss song, but the tilted stage Swift refers to is not Wests, it is ours. We, her audience of billions, are the ones who always leave her slipping off the edge. Swifts imagery is too spine-tinglingly salient to be accidental you said the gun was mine expertly captures the way the misogynist society conjures up incriminations to vilify, demonise and discredit women.
Swift knows she cant win, so she is content to play up to whatever role will bring her temporarily back into favour Ill be the actress, starring in your bad dreams. Swift knows her reputation is out of her own hands. Yes, Swifts new single is a diss track, but shes dissing us. And we probably deserve it.
Brian OFlynn is a freelance writer, student and pop culture enthusiast based in Dublin