I always liked Taylor Swift based on what little I knew about her music, but I was determined to love her by the time 1989 came around. 1989 was going to be the moment when I finally got to know and love Taylor Swift. I had heard women I admired, such as Tavi Gevinson, speak affectionately about Taylor in the early days, and I think I just wanted to be a part of the club, so I buckled down and got to know the album inside and out. It was good! It was a good album. I liked it a lot. I even brought "I Know Places" into a sixth grade English lesson and guided my students through a close reading of the lyrics. But looking back, there are no particular songs to which I feel a connection. Aside from the fact that it was catchy pop music that made me feel good, I think I listened to and loved the album out of spite. Back in 2014, Taylor was widely ridiculed. Like all things that adolescent girls enjoyed, her music and her fan base were mocked mostly by men but sometimes by "cool girls" and women.
Now that I've mentioned sixth graders, I'm thinking about my time in the classroom, and I remember one year when I was given a particularly large amount of curricular leeway. (Incidentally, I held this position in 2014, when 1989 came out.) I decided to take advantage of the freedom I was given and dive into gender with the kids. We spent some time reading and discussing nonfiction articles on the subject, but before we even got into any of that, I introduced the topic by holding up two novels. One of them was this particular edition of Does My Head Look Big In This by Randa Abdel-Fattah, which has brightly colored polka dots and a girl's face on the cover. I don't remember the other book I held up, but it had darker colors, maybe a dragon, and some fire on it. It looked dangerous, adventurous. I asked the students who they thought would read each book. They said that girls would read Does My Head Look Big In This, and anyone could read the fire/dragon one. Then I asked them a different question: Who could be seen with each book? Their answer was similar but more rigid. The stakes were higher here, and there could be consequences. There was a level of danger for a boy to be seen with Does My Head Look Big In This. Maybe he would be made fun of, bullied, or harassed. All because of a book cover with polka dots on it.
The same paradigm exists within pop music. If a boy or man was observed listening to Taylor Swift in 2014, he could have been made fun of, bullied, or harassed. Girls and women who loved Taylor Swift were maligned as well. There seemed to have been a widespread fear of Taylor Swift and what she represented. Not only was she a highly successful woman, but she was also traditionally feminine: she wore sparkles and glitter, felt a lot of feelings, and expressed them openly. Now that I have put it this way, Taylor Swift sounds absolutely terrifying. A massive threat to the status quo. I guess this was where my powerful spite came from. I wanted to support this woman who seemed to simultaneously encapsulate and subvert traditional femininity. I wanted to be on her team and to take down the haters.