I spent much of my adolescence in a locked-in, exhausting, clawing, screaming one-sided war with Taylor Swift in the same way I had spent much of my childhood in the same kind of battle with the color pink. Taylor Swift sings about boys too much and Taylor Swift lied about Kanye West and Taylor Swift makes music for little girls and for girls that can’t throw and for girls that worry about breaking their nails, and I’m just not that kind of girl you know? I don’t worry about breaking my nails and I wear blue jeans and did you know I don’t own even a single dress and I retch and gag every single time one of her songs come on the radio and scream CHANGE THE STATION my EARS are BLEEDING mostly because I don’t like myself. And perhaps more than anything else, it was a raging, crawling sort of sick, a crippling envy, an aggressive jealousy that fueled the war I began with myself and by extension, Taylor Swift, because I felt like a huge, gaping fraud every single time I listened to her.
Understand that when you have never been allowed to be a woman, your womanhood is no longer an inherent part of yourself, but rather, it becomes a commodity, something meant to be bought and traded, stolen and taken from you against your will. It is put up to trial and dangled in your face as an untouchable, convoluted sort of construct a million times over, so that in time it becomes easier to reject the very notion of being a woman rather than dig and dig until your palms weather down to the bone, beg for penance and sell your dignity in search for a reason why. Womanhood no longer belongs to you, no longer presents itself as immovable, unshakable, tangible, something wholly and unequivocally yours in the same way you own shoes, or your nose, or your work or your words. Know that when you take away ownership of womanhood, you take everything attached to it, you take innocence and care, you take grace and love, you take the spine, so that soon you are denied existence as any kind of woman, a loud-mouthed woman, a stubborn woman, a greedy woman, a woman that likes the color purple so much she painted the kitchen lilac and the living room lavender and the dining room violet. Things become harder and flawed, infinitely more difficult to navigate after the fact — because womanhood has never been as simple as a derivation of the physical body. To lack in this way, or more so, to be made aware of this lack and to be treated as if you are a problem for asking for more, to be treated as if you are the very antithesis of anything feminine and a thorn in a million and one sides, a chewed-up pen cap underfoot, is to become dead while you’re alive. And instead, anger, grief, volatile pain are directed at women like Taylor Swift because she is everything you have never been and everything you have never been allowed to be.
In healing, reckoning and reconciling with yourself are perhaps the most difficult tasks. You begin to lead a gritty, rock-hard, mucky existence fraught with disbelief so that livid rage turns spite into grief because to heal is to recognize that you were never an angry woman but you were a grieving woman, in grief over all the things that were taken from you, and the kind of woman you could’ve been and the kind of woman you could be if the way you loved and the way you were loved was anything other than what it was. And to write about it is the most assertive thing one can do and where do you go from here after letting the world know? Where to start and where to begin and how to tie everything back together, and do you stitch it up or do you pack it deep in a cardboard box and bury it under the time capsule in your backyard or do you give it to the wind or tie it to the sort of special balloon that could break the sky?
And more than anything else, in healing, the answer lies with Taylor Swift.
I didn’t like Taylor Swift for many reasons. First, because I didn’t like country music and then because I didn’t like pop music and then because I didn’t like her Reputation Era because who writes an entire album in the deep dark sewers of social cancellation after being subsequently canceled and Kanye and Kim were right and she was wrong. I didn’t like Taylor Swift because I thought she didn’t make music for women with one foot here and the other over there, women who existed in the ill-conceived derivation of purgatory that comes with feeling not enough of something and too much of something else, women that wrestled and fought and begged for space and understanding and humility and to be taken as they were, and mostly, for women like me. I didn’t like Taylor Swift because I didn’t like me. It’s easier to find flaws in a woman like Taylor Swift than to ever question why you found them, why you picked at them, had your fingers ready to unravel snags in every album she had ever put forth or her fanbase or her lyrics. It’s easy because she’s Taylor Swift and she won’t hear a word you say or ever put you in your place except she’s Taylor Swift and she’s been questioned and ripped apart not just by you, but the whole world so much that either people rabidly love her or hate her.
I listened to Taylor Swift for the first time in seven years a month before my 19th birthday. Her lyrical genius was mesmerizing, fantastical, so extraordinarily well put together that I’d counter Taylor Swift is a writer before she ever is a singer. Her albums are never an “open and shut” case, but rather an evergreen testament to the sort of love and outrage that we never seem to forget because nothing is over until it’s really over. I understand now what it means to truly listen to Taylor Swift and to not feel like a liar or a phony or a fake in doing so, in knowing that she too, has had to piece herself back together and that to heal is to listen to Taylor Swift and feel like enough, and mostly, to love yourself to the moon and to Saturn.
MiC Columnist Sarah Akaaboune can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.