Taylor Swift recently dropped her eighth album Folklore and it’s already being hailed as one of her best yet. Critics and fans alike are saying the songs contain some of her most poetic lyrics with Taylor weaving personal experiences with imagination to create a beautiful collection of stories.
Perhaps one of the most remarkable songs on the album is “Mad Woman,” which Taylor says is about “a misfit widow getting revenge on the town that cast her out.”
Taylor may be marketing the song as a tale of fiction, but it’s clear that her own life has heavily influenced it. Fan theories are already circulating about what the hidden message behind the song could be with some claiming that it’s about her ongoing fight against Scooter Braun and Big Machine Records, while others muse that it’s about Kanye West and Kim Kardashian.
In reality, Taylor most likely took inspiration from both of those experiences to write about something much, much bigger: the gaslighting of women when they dare to show their emotions.
As most women have experienced themselves, we’re often called crazy, erratic, even delusional, just for showing our very (valid) feelings. It’s why women are called “too emotional” to be president, why women refuse to allow themselves to cry at work, and why women feel the need to hide their feelings from their boyfriends out of fear of eventually becoming “the crazy ex-girlfriend.”
Women’s emotions are constantly being policed by a society that dictates when and where it’s appropriate for us to express our feelings. In turn, we’re forced to internally regulate our emotions lest we become a stereotype (this goes doubly for black women who have to constantly avoid the label of “the angry black woman“). Without our consent, our emotions become political.
Even worse, women are often gaslighted when they do dare to express those feelings out of turn. As Taylor writes, we’re often provoked to the point of near insanity (“You’ll poke that bear ’til her claws come out and you find something to wrap your noose around”) and then made to feel insane that we reacted at all, which, of course, only makes us angrier (“Every time you call me crazy, I get more crazy / What about that? And when you say I seem angry, I get more angry”).
Microaggression after microaggression forces women to the edge of exploding and then, when we do, we’re criticized for it.
And sometimes it’s not even a microaggression. Sometimes it’s a flat-out attack. And yet, we’re expected to stand there calm, straight-faced, unbothered. Or, even more horrifyingly, we’re expected to take it in stride and smile through it (imagine Hillary Clinton at the 2016 presidential debate).
The worst part is that it’s not only men doing the policing, but women as well. The patriarchy loves nothing more than to get women to do their bidding for them, slyly convincing them to attack one another on their behalf while they sit back and enjoy the show (“And women like hunting witches too / Doing your dirtiest work for you”).
Taylor herself has had more than enough experience with this last part. In both her fights with Scooter Braun and Kanye West, their respective wives have gotten unnecessarily involved. You’ll recall that back in 2016 that Kim Kardashian was the one to post the clip of Taylor seemingly giving her consent to Kanye’s song “Famous.” And just last year, Scooter’s wife Yael Cohen wrote an abrasive open letter to Taylor on Instagram, calling her a “bully” among other things.
Let’s be honest: most of us have been Taylor at one point or another. Every woman has experienced what it’s been like to be made to feel crazy when actually reacting quite appropriately to a situation. We all know we have to keep our emotions in check while men get to throw temper tantrums. They can kick and scream and whine and yet they can still be President of the United States, a Supreme Court Justice, or really, anything they want to be. They’re never called too emotional to lead, they never have to watch their tone.
“There’s nothing like a mad woman / What a shame she went mad / No one likes a mad woman / You made her like that”
It’s a wonder we all don’t go mad.