Taylor Swift Is Defiant In Video For ‘Look What You Made Me Do’

I’m not a huge fan of the Tay-Tay brand but I’m partial to some pop, so when ‘Look What You Made Me Do‘ debuted on YouTube, I admit to clicking the sideways triangle with a little intrigue. The song title reminds me of a phrase an abuser would use but I’m aware that’s something for her PR exec to regret and for me to blithely accept. It’s all so meta that it only requires a surface level viewing. For example, she literally stands in front of a T/cross while previous music video incarnations clamour beneath her feet because she wants us to be aware of how she’s been crucified. If I were a woman of the cloth I would call it blasphemy. But I’m not, so we’re cool. And Madonna did it first anyway.

Musicians are clearly starting to take cues from masters of reinvention such as David Bowie and Madonna, as more of them use chameleon tactics to create a long-lasting career. Taylor’s fierce intelligence is what makes her mini film so compelling – the opportunity for double meaning is both plentiful and plausible. And what does her millennial fan-base love to do more than over-analyse? One devoted ‘Swiftie’ gave a detailed analysis of the symbolism on show, and if I didn’t miss A level English Literature before reading their comment, I sure do now. Those essays were like a free ticket to overthink. I applaud her for standing up for herself because it’s not easy to do in the face of gender stereotypes and covert misogyny.

Setting the tone for the mini film, Taylor literally rises up from the dead (honey I do it all the time) from a gravestone emblazoned with ‘Taylor Swift’s reputation‘. If I had to transcribe said Swiftie’s analysis into a Sparknotes webpage, my first sub-heading under ‘THEMES’ would be ‘Re-birth’. I imagine the theme will run throughout her new album. If only there were some clues as to what the album name is…

 

IMAGERY: Snakes. Just before the video release, I read a compelling argument for Taylor Swift to be heralded as a Slytherin as her hallmark traits are ambition, cunning, self-image, loyalty and revenge. And here she is, representin’ in full bloom. The ‘Kimye’ feud shrouded Taylor in suspicion: Kanye called her a ‘bitch’ in his song Famous. After Taylor expressed her discomfort, Kim released a secret recording of T.S giving Kanye permission to name-drop her in this way. Vilified for changing her mind in what many saw as a tactical move, snake emojis appeared everywhere. This is her wearing that criticism like a badge of honour:

 

heart ts
A reference to ex Tom Hiddleston

The ‘I love TS’ top is an allusion to how everyone thought she orchestrated her relationship with Tom Hiddleston for publicity; as though her love life is merely masterminded in order to advance her career and the men she dates are innocent victims. Unlike Calvin Harris, there’s nothing vengeful against this particular ex-boyfriend as they didn’t have any bad blood between them. #katyperrytho

Maybe my favourite throwback is to her ‘squad’. Dressed as though she’s making another Victoria’s Secret appearance, a legion of scantily clad robots line up before her. Their identical clothing and ‘thin white female’ bodies highlight the criticism she received for ‘setting a bad example to young girls’ as it appeared to many that she was trying to create a clan of ‘mean girls’. Once again she plays into the insults thrown at her: the Regina George that Katy Perry labelled her as being; the conceited girl who only hangs out with models.

 

Much of Swift’s power lies in her ability to poke fun at herself: she seems familiar with the idea that if you own your flaws, they can’t be used against you. In essence, she’s taking control of her reputation. Hierarchies permeate society from class to race to gender, and as the ‘other’ gender, we disallow women (especially in the media) to be multi-faceted individuals. When they defy the labels given to them, they are seen as fake. Hence the dialogue at the end, where she echoes the put-downs leveled at her before screaming at herself to ‘shut up!’. She’s used her smarts to hint at the way women are silenced and berated for almost anything outside of quiet complicity with however they’re treated. I’m happy that in 2017, people still make music videos that challenge our perceptions. It’s all performance anyway, right?

“I don’t trust nobody and nobody trusts me

I’ll be the actress starring in your bad dreams”

tstststs

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Everyday Sexism in high schools: School dress codes – a personal account.

I’ve juggled many activities to occupy my time since graduating from University. Earlier this year, I decided to utilise my fervent desire to help others by taking a Teaching Assistant position in a high school.

Akin to most support staff, my initial preference was potato-printing with 5 five year olds and talking favourite One Direction members with Year 6’s (previously Zayn, now Harry). Before long however, my recruitment agency intervened to elect me as crowd control and GCSE support to the teens of today; a position in which you are constantly reminded of how quickly youth escapes you, as you are surrounded by people who think anybody 20+ is old.

Fortunately, most teenagers are manageable and the newly-built school is so modern and business-like, (cabinets of laptops for every classroom?!) it bares little resemblance to my own adolescent experience. A hardcore ‘Smiths fan at age 13, school was not my happy place. I was the kind of kid who persistently asked why institutions restrict individual expression and how a maths formula will be useful in the real world?!?! In other words I was a barrel of laughs, yet ‘always a pleasure to teach’. In a pattern familiar to prior generations, I have since learned to feign apathy towards the irrational expectations put upon you in life and thus get on with it.

Women and Self-love

An obvious perk of working with children is your newfound ability to help with their emotional development. Teenage girls are most likely to experience a sudden identity crisis and low self worth – fueled by the pressures of gender discrimination and learned self-objectification. As an adult who only overcame such hurdles after many years of self-taught self-love, the prospect of debugging the Myth of Woman was a big motivation for returning to the dreaded school gates.

My agency gave me the necessary details: arrive early, smart dress code. Conveniently, my wardrobe is full of suit jackets and the only two beauty products I use regularly are mascara and Vaseline. Despite being a tiny 5 “1 (and a half) I ditched my trusty high heels as well. Practicality had finally won; I looked the part of ‘normal person doing a job’.

The Dress (Code)

Monday mornings are universally sluggish. I tend to greet them with caffeine withdrawal and dragging feet but on one particular Monday I felt optimistic for the day ahead. My timetable promised me some friendly Year 10’s and an appeasing balance of literary and numeracy-based subjects. Plus, I donned a new work dress courtesy of my sister’s generosity during the weekend.

History was my appointed lesson after break and Year 11 were revising the topic of Hitler’s Germany, unsurprisingly. Revision lessons don’t require much intervention from support staff so I sat down somewhere to survey progress. After a few minutes, an unfamiliar face asked if there was a TA in the class.

“Great!” I thought, “maybe it’s about a student who needs a scribe or something, at least I have something to do – ” 

“I need to speak to you about the length of your skirt (it was a dress). It’s too short. Now we do actually have a dress code here. *I look down* Well… it rises when you walk, I was watching you walk up the stairs and it was rising up. I’m assuming you live too far away to go home and get changed?”

“Yeah I do. I did think it might be a bit figure-hugging –

It’s not that: it’s too short.

Oh, sorry, so has anyone said anything… –

Several members of staff have made complaints and I’m the business manager. And, some of the boys were looking up your skirt too I think, on the stairs.”

A strange response, not only in how adamant she was to tell me her job title but also that ‘several’ teachers had complained by 11.15am. Particularly when I’d interacted perfectly well with the two teachers who had seen me that morning. I am not the oblivious type so it wouldn’t surprise me if there were some fabrications in her account. She also treated my attempts to communicate with her as though I were an insolent child, rather than an adult trying to be compliant. As she walked away, I compulsively pulled down my already lengthy dress so that it covered my knees while the paranoia I suffered in adolescence clouded my mind. Despite being shamed, I knew I had to walk back into the lesson with confidence: I was supposed to be somebody people respected.

Once I sat down, a feeling of acute self-consciousness overcame me. I hugged my arms for comfort – my mind already reeling off possible culprits of who had gossiped about me behind my back, and why.

The dress I wore.
The dress I wore.

My new found perspective on authority now seemed misguided. There was another lesson to go before lunch and ironically enough, I received two compliments on my dress during that time. 

It’s a frequent occurrence: society is entrenched in misogynistic beliefs, some of which are unknowingly internalised by women and spat back out to make other people feel as small.

Phallocentric Perspectives

Dress codes are inherently sexist because they elevate clothes made especially for men as professional and deem any sign of a female body inappropriate; sexual. The physicality of a woman is different to a man’s, but a female form isn’t necessarily sexual – it just ‘is’. In this specific case, I wore black and white to match school colours, a dress that finishes just above the knee, and flat shoes. There was nothing individual or intriguing about my appearance at all, let alone any sexuality on show. Unfortunately we are conditioned to hypersexualise a woman’s appearance.

Appropriate sign in a US high school
Appropriate sign in a US high school

Incidents like this are being flagged up on various social media sites as people become more aware of the subtle ways in which women are demeaned in their daily lives. I’d like to echo a popular statement on this topic: we need to prevent the objectification of women by teaching boys not to sexualise a girl’s appearance. This opposes the current system of inventing promiscuity from a person’s appearance and blaming them for your own preconceived projection. 

Schools have a responsibility to encourage progressive thinking in their pupils – and staff – including the rejection of gender discrimination. The rejuvenation of what it means to be a feminist will help this evolution take place but until then the internet provides a platform for women to document their experiences publicly.