Netflix’s newest documentary Miss Americana details, among other things, Taylor Swift’s 2017 sexual assault court case and how it ultimately led her to speak out for equal rights.
We watch as Taylor comes to grips with having to “deprogram the misogyny in [her] own brain” and stand up for what’s right. It’s ultimately what leads her to take a stand against conservative Senator Marsha Blackburn, make a statement for LGBTQ rights in her “You Need to Calm Down” music video, and speak out for women’s rights.
What’s more, Miss Americana makes it clear that Taylor regrets not speaking up sooner as she tells her team,
“I’m sad that I didn’t [speak out] two years ago, but I can’t change that.”
But what’s missing from the documentary is an acknowledgment of the missteps she’s made in the past and how her former life as a white feminist has caused damage.
Swift’s lack of understanding when it comes to the intersection of race and gender first came to light in 2015 when Nicki Minaj tweeted out her frustration over her “Anaconda” video being snubbed by the VMAs due to what she saw as a prioritization of music videos with thinner, whiter bodies.
Instead of considering the race-related undertones of Minaj’s point, Swift quickly responded by taking the comments personally and accused Minaj of pitting women against each other. Thankfully, Swift took this as a teaching moment, educated herself, and apologized to Minaj for the misunderstanding.
Then there was her 2015 music video for “Wildest Dreams,” which romanticized colonialism in an unnamed African country. Essentially, it was every white colonialist’s wet dream.
The video’s director Joseph Kahn attempted to defend the video and claimed that the backlash was not due to the racism in the video, but rather due to the timing of the video’s release, citing the Black Lives Matter movement and the recent killing of Cecil the Lion as what sparked the outrage among fans.
Taylor herself remained silent, which felt like yet another missed opportunity to apologize for her misunderstandings of the nuances of intersectional feminism.
It would be impossible, however, to discuss all of these missteps without also discussing the events and people that shaped Swift’s “good girl” image.
In 2003, when Taylor was only 14 and still a young impressionable songwriter, the Dixie Chicks mumbled two sentences about the war in Iraq and about being ashamed that President Bush was from Texas.
What occurred afterward was the group’s immediate cancelation in a way rarely seen before. Protests broke out, radio stations refused to play their music, and the group was blackballed from the country music industry. The group essentially had to go into hiding. But even after they returned in 2010, they never regained their status as one of the best-selling girl groups in the nation.
Taylor makes it clear in the documentary that she was told often “not to be like the Dixie Chicks” and to keep her mouth shut. And so she did.
Of course, it’s impossible for any of us to imagine the fear that was ingrained in her that if she ever spoke out, it would be the end of her career.
One of her team members even tries to scare her out of speaking out against Senator Blackburn, telling her that her concert-goers will likely be cut in half should she decide to go through with it. She ultimately tells them that she is going through with it and they’ll just have to forgive her.
It would have been a huge step if Taylor could have reconciled with her problematic past in Miss Americana but it’s clear that Taylor is at least trying to make things right going forward. She recently acknowledged her own white privilege and says in the documentary that she’s trying hard to educate herself. As a lifelong Taylor Swift fan, it’s the least I could ask for.
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Shannon Vize is a freelance writer and content strategist living in Brooklyn, NY. Her writing has been published by Elite Daily, Taylor Magazine, CIO, and Forbes. When she’s not hate-binging the latest episode of The Bachelor franchise, she’s busy trying to dismantle the patriarchy by dissecting the latest anti-feminist theme in pop culture to anyone who will listen.