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American rapper Nicki Minaj recently used Twitter to highlight issues regarding racism and the music industry. She suggested that the reason her controversial music video for ‘Anaconda’ was not nominated for ‘Video of the Year‘, at this year’s Video Music Awards, is because she is black. Taylor Swift then (swiftly) replied with a misguided tweet, in which she misinterpreted Minaj’s tweets as an anti-feminist attack on herself.
@NICKIMINAJ I've done nothing but love & support you. It's unlike you to pit women against each other. Maybe one of the men took your slot..
— Taylor Swift (@taylorswift13) July 21, 2015
This exchange served to not only expose the limited, superficial understanding of feminism that is usually endorsed nowadays, but also demonstrates how celebrities calling themselves feminists has become little more than a gimmick, a trend, and even a marketing ploy; instead of a genuine struggle against political and social institutions. This is why making icons out of celebrities is problematic, and can endanger the credibility of movements such as feminism.
Despite Taylor Swift’s attempt to champion gender equality, her replies to Nicki Minaj on Twitter fundamentally undermined the struggle that female ethnic minorities face across all institutions. Not only did she fail to see the point being made about race, but her comment about pitting women against each other also derailed the discussion. She inadvertently highlighted the somewhat shallow priorities of the feminist movement in popular media, these being centred around ‘girl power‘. This notion may seem synonymous with feminism, and it certainly sends a positive message, but it is hardly what the movement is about.
As a white woman, Swift’s perspective of inequality is influenced by her white feminist privilege. Her generic comment dismissed intersectionality – the fact that women of colour are simply not treated the same as white women – which was exactly what Minaj was trying to highlight. Even more bizarrely, her comment suggests that feminists can’t disagree with one another, for risk of being ‘anti-feminist‘. This is of course completely untrue as the oppression of women’s opinions is inherently anti-feminist. Coming from an artist who is currently being hailed as the biggest pop star in the world – and whose influence even allowed her to persuade Apple Music to change its policies – her apparent ignorance of sexism in a wider context than just ‘supporting your fellow woman’ is disappointing. By assuming that she needed to defend herself, she over-zealously inserted a counter-productive comment where it simply did not belong.
Perhaps Swift’s input was just a poor over-simplification of ideology, or perhaps it was a thinly-veiled attempt to use feminism as a tool to further elevate her own image. By making such accusations (with a convenient passing reminder of men’s privilege attached to the end of the tweet) she comfortably secured her position as a saviour, leading the feminist moral crusade, whilst painting Minaj as an irrational female or ‘Angry Black Woman’. Therefore the valid points about intersectionality raised by Minaj were overshadowed by Swift transforming them in to a supposed unprovoked attack. Swift then capitalised on the ‘classy versus unhinged‘ angle taken by publications such as Glamour magazine who reported on the incident – with accompanying images carefully chosen to depict a calm and collected Swift against an obscene and wacky Minaj. This is ironic considering what her tweets actually say.
Swift’s following tweet then demonstrated a condescending display of charity, feigning sisterhood but implying that Minaj is secondary to, and even dependent on her:
@NICKIMINAJ If I win, please come up with me!! You're invited to any stage I'm ever on.
— Taylor Swift (@taylorswift13) July 21, 2015
Here, Swift sums up the problem with celebrities endorsing social movements; it becomes about themselves. She uses feminism and the notion of ‘girl power‘ to, not only market herself as the older sister everyone wishes they had (despite Minaj being seven years older), but to also make it appear that the music industry needs her for the sake of equality. Certainly, the support of high-profile figures can be very valuable to the success of a movement but, when a movement becomes a hollow gimmick to pull out for publicity, it loses its credibility as a worthwhile cause. The feminist movement is bigger than a single feminist celebrity’s success, therefore by elevating herself above the rest, Swift is helping nobody but herself.
Taylor Swift’s enactment of white feminism on Twitter also proved detrimental to prompting discussion about a wider scope of issues. Although she has since apologised to Minaj, Swift’s initial eagerness to use feminist ideology to promote herself served to undermined the validity of Nicki Minaj’s points about racism and sexism in the music industry. And Swift’s enormous influence in the media today unfortunately encourages others to do the same. More frequently people are appropriating the feminist movement to fit their own aims, and frankly the brand of feminism that they advocate is one that barely scratches the surface.