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Friday, January 20, 2012

Caitlin Flanagan & Taylor Swift

Now for a break from our regularly scheduled programming I'd like to take some time to defend my girl Taylor Swift's good name.


For fun, go take a listen to this interview here. Check out what our friend Amanda has to say about it. Here is Irin Carmon, the woman who was on the radio with Caitlin Flanagan, and what she has to say about it.

Now, it is clear to me that there are many, many things wrong with Flanagan's arguments. She clearly doesn't pay much attention to facts. But two things that she did hold up to support her arguments were Taylor Swift and Disney Princess movies. I might argue that those princess movies don't even send very constructive messages to young girls. Belle in "Beauty and the Beast" has to leave her community and family to be locked in a cell by a beast that growls at her, and then in the end when she decides to stay there because he turns better looking, and we are all supposed to cheer. I feel a lot of my friends pick this one to defend the most because it has a beautiful library and takes place in France, but still it isn't that great to be Belle really. Ariel in "The Little Mermaid" can't even talk for the whole time her and her prince are dating. In fact as Disney movies go, even as an adolescent I thought "Mulan"  had a way better message for young girls because she goes out and accomplishes things in the world, but I guess she isn't a princess exactly so Flanagan probably wasn't referring to that one.

As far as Taylor Swift goes, when she brought her music up in the interview I am sure she was talking about "Love Story". One problem with Flanagan using this song as one of the few specific examples to support her arguments is that the character in the song sneaks out of her tower to go run off with the boy. Clearly, even in her most idealized example of a "fairy tale" this style of parenting she recommends doesn't even work. The song portrays a relationship that her father does not approve of, and one of Flanagan's main points is that parents should be more involved in teenager's dating lives. There is also "White Horse", but that is a negative portrayal of too high expectations ("I'm not a princess, this ain't a fairy tale, I'm not the one you'll sweep off her feet").

What is more important though is that most of Taylor Swift's music does not even mention princesses at all. In fact, the reason she appeals to millions of young girls is that she has a conversational style that talks about specific details of real relationships. She seems like a real girl who talked about cheating, breaking up, and wanting to steal ex-boyfriend's pick up trucks a couple years before she came out with "Love Story". In songs like "Back to December" she even admits to her own wrongdoing in relationships. Also, Taylor is a tough girl from a business standpoint and largely grew her own brand through MySpace (probably because she had an internet connection in her room), pounding the pavement in Nashville, and word of mouth. According to Flanagan's view, Taylor herself should be just now emerging from her tower she was locked up in, not traveling the world building a successful career for herself.

I might offer a couple other Taylor Swift songs that not only represent her better, but also portray more clearly the reality of lives of young women. I like "Ours". Here's some lyrics from the song:

"And life makes love look hard
The stakes are high, the water's rough
But this love is ours.

And it's not theirs to speculate
If it's wrong and
Your hands are tough
But they are where mine belong and
I'll fight their doubt and give you faith
With this song for you

'Cause I love the gap between your teeth
And I love the riddles that you speak
And any snide remarks from my father about your tattoos will be ignored
'Cause my heart is yours"

Taylor just recently moved out of her teenage years, and yet she has a view of relationships in her songs that is genuine and complicated. She talks about real connections with boys as human beings, and seems to enjoy who they are. She isn't at all like Flanagan expects her to be - just sitting around for a prince to carry her off in the sunset. Her romantic relationships seem to be based on friendship first. The boys in her songs are usually not bad people, and with the exception of John Mayer, they didn't seem to have done anything too awful to her (when they did she has her songs to help her deal with it). She often mentions it doesn't matter what her parents say about her love interests. Of course "the stakes are high and the water's rough" - but it is like that with everything in life - your health, female friendships, work, school, getting what you want in life. Everyone, including young girls, do the best they can to deal with what they encounter in life the same way everyone else does of every other age - usually with the help of good friends, exercise, literature, music, and sometimes dessert (and with older people maybe wine). But short of physical abuse I don't think it is the parents' business, like when she says in the song "They can't take what's ours". I happen to think even teenage relationships are a private connection between the two people involved, even if adults think they are too young to feel those things. No one thinks high school relationships are great, but often one's first job isn't great either. It doesn't mean the connection wasn't genuine at the time. That doesn't mean that the relationships weren't important in helping young adults grow as human beings.

Another Taylor Swift song I might offer up as a counterpoint to "Love Story" is "Fifteen". Here are the lyrics. Sure, things don't always go well:

"When all you wanted was to be wanted
Wish you could go back and tell yourself what you know now
Back then I swore I was gonna marry him someday
But I realized some bigger dreams of mine

And Abigail gave everything she had to a boy
Who changed his mind and we both cried"

Long after Taylor Swift was famous she would talk about her best friend Abigail and take her to public appearances with her. Taylor has gone through a lot of different men at this point, but she seems to have kept this same friend. While Caitlin Flanagan wants girls sequestered in their rooms writing in diaries, maybe they should be going through these potentially difficult experiences, but also being able to talk to other girls about them. Very few people marry their high school boyfriend, but I think many woman have their high school girl friends as bridesmaids in their weddings years later. One of my favorite parts of my teenage years was meeting my future Matron of Honor in my wedding. Of course I didn't stay with any of those guys, but even Taylor Swift would tell you that is so not the point. We all turned out fine anyway. Sometimes we even laugh about it.


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