Since the release of her first album in 2006, Taylor Swift has become a name that invokes a multitude of different opinions. Either she is labelled as a disposable artist, profiting off of her failed relationships or as an incredibly talented singer songwriter who has experienced never ending success. Throughout her career she has faced major highs and many setbacks, and it would be no lie to state that many of these setbacks have been heightened by her being a woman in the industry.
The systemic sexism and misogyny Swift often faces has overshadowed her abundance of accolades and achievements. The media tends to paint her as “crazy” “obsessed” and “clingy” rather than choose to acknowledge her constant wins, such as achieving the American music awards “Artist of the Decade” in 2019 or the 11 Grammys she has been awarded with. In interviews, Swift has stated that it was not until she was much older that she realised that the claims of sexism in the music industry were true. It was only as she grew as an artist, constantly in the public eye, that she began to understand the roots of the systemic sexism in her career, and this is not down to the fact that she did not experience sexism from an early age. When she released her debut album in 2006, she was just 16 years old, but as she became older and more successful, she noticed the narrative around her changing. “It’s fine to infantilise a girl’s success and say, how cute that she’s having some hit songs,” Swift said. “But the second it becomes formidable? As soon as I started playing stadiums – when I started to look like a woman – that wasn’t as cool anymore.” Her international Reputation Stadium Tour in 2018 sold 2.8 million tickets and earned $345.7 million. As she grew so did the misogynistic views and criticisms from those around her as it became a trend to shame her work, actions, and behaviour in a desperate attempt to tame her success. Research backs up Swift’s perceptions of successful women and it is not just limited to celebrities and the music industry. A 2015 study discovered that men feel more threatened if their boss is a woman rather than a male and in turn adopt more aggressive behaviour in an attempt to gain authority. According to McKinsey’s 2018 women in the workplace survey, nearly one third of women reported they needed to provide more evidence of their competence compared to others while just 16% of males felt the same way. In the same study, 20% of women also said they have been mistaken for someone at a lower professional level compared to 10% of men.
In her documentary “Miss Americana” she also touches on the narrative that many believe she does not write her own music. She states that “I know that without me writing my own songs, I wouldn’t be here.” So why is there still speculation as to whether her material is her own? In 2019 Taylor Swift’s old record label “Big Machine Records” sold her 6 studio albums to talent manager Scooter Braun in a 300-million-dollar deal. This is a buyer investment fund not affiliated with Taylor meaning any profit made off her voice now goes to a third-party pocket rather than her own. Swift viewed the transaction as a thinly veiled attempt to control and undermine an independent woman because they believed they could get away with it. There is something extremely sinister about two grown men exploiting a successful woman through the means of a contract she signed when she was just 15 years old. This incident along with a collection of others demonstrate that even in 2019 the music industry is not holding enough people accountable for abusing their power. It continues to be one of the most toxic sectors of the entertainment industry and is constantly hesitant to call out its history of abusive behaviour and unequal treatment of women by male figures. In an industry worth $4 billion dollars a year which men hold a 67.8% job share in, the Taylor Swift and Scooter Braun case proves that men are not above exploiting women for more power gain.
In previous interviews Swift has acknowledged a sexist slant in how she has been characterised. She stated, “There’s a different vocabulary for men and women in the music industry.” She further went on to explain this opinion with the example “A man does something its strategic; a woman does the same thing, it is calculated. A man is allowed to “react” a woman can only “overreact.” Taylor Swift is not the first and certainly won’t be the last to experience these sexist double standards. Bjork, another popular female singer songwriter in the industry has spoken about encountering a similar lack of respect for her opinions and views “everything that a guy says once you have to say five times, because I was a young woman I wouldn’t get taken seriously but if a guy presented my ideas the executives would say they were great.” Women venturing into the music industry and exploring new genres is a relatively new phenomenon, even though women have proved time and time again of their talent within the industry they still have to fight harder to get the same opportunities and exposure as their male colleagues.
Misogyny in the arts and entertainment sector is not just limited to the music industry, author Catherine Nichols found that submitting her manuscript under a male pseudonym brought her more attention then she had received from putting it under her own name. When she changed the email that she used to send her manuscripts to one with a male pseudonym she received fifteen more offers for the same manuscript. Although shocking, this is just one example of the constant disadvantage women are posed with due to gender. In the film industry, actor Emma Watson stated at an event sponsored by UN women “I have experienced sexism in that I have been directed by male directors 17 times and only twice by women.” According to a 2015 study, 25% of men with a high status in the film industry have admitted to not hiring women to assist with the production of blockbuster movies because they “lack ambition.” Subsequently this assumption has squashed with the success of the 2017 marvel action movie “Wonder Woman” which was primarily directed and produced by women. “Wonder Woman” was a blockbuster hit grossing $822 million at the box office, highlighting women don’t lack ambition, but simply lack the opportunity.
Despite all the setbacks, Taylor Swift has proven time and time again that she will rise above the sexism and misogyny she faces. Over the lockdown period she released two albums “Folklore” and “Evermore.” Folklore won the 2021 Grammy for album of the year and both albums are arguably a very different genre from what she has previously explored with primarily acoustic guitar and piano being used to create a raw and authentic sound. Aside from this, she is working on re-recording her previous 6 studio albums which have been taken from her. Her most recent release, “Red (Taylor’s version)”, includes everything that was in the original album with bonus tracks including one ten minute song and has become the most streamed female written album on Spotify in a day.
Unfortunately, the music industry is still one which is defined by misogyny and sexist behaviour but what does the future bring for the profession? With more influential female artists speaking out about the constant double standards there is hope for change in the future. Conversations are becoming more open on the blatant sexism and it’s these conversations which will be the root of future change. In her album “Folklore” Taylor wrote two songs inspired by the turmoil she faced from her previous record label “My Tears Ricochet” and “Mad Woman.” Thankfully, she is able to reclaim her narrative and rise in the face of gender based discrimination. However, the hardship Taylor Swift has faced raises the question, for how much longer will a man be able to steal a woman’s narrative for their own profit?