Taylor Swift messed up.
I know this, you know this, Nicki Minaj knows this, Taylor Swift knows this.
It happens. Everyone sticks their foot in their mouth sometimes. Taylor Swift happened to do so very publicly, when she misinterpreted some tweets Nicki Minaj wrote about the VMA nominations and tweeted Nicki about it. And, of course, everyone took note of the Twitter exchange that followed and made it into a huge deal.
You can't really defend what Swift said, because she took a conversation Minaj was having about our media landscape and how race plays into that, and turned it into a conversation about Taylor Swift. But she quickly realized her error, and apologized to Minaj both publicly and privately, and like the classy ladies they are, Nicki forgave Taylor and they both moved on.
But that hasn't stopped every media outlet from the Washington Post to Gawker from publishing think pieces about how Taylor Swift is only a feminist for show, or how she shouldn't be a feminist role model. None of these articles, however, is fair either to Swift or to her fans.
Yes, Swift only recently had her feminist awakening, but she's making up for lost time. She quickly swapped out stories about ex-boyfriends for #squadgoals, and the change has been so rapid that there seems to be an expectation that, now that she's acknowledged her feminism, she is a fully realized, 100% awesome, intersectional feminist, who sees how feminism and equality are not just about biases against women, but also the systemic ways in which people of color, people with disabilities, people who don't have runway-ready physiques, people who are not socioeconomically advantaged, and people who are not heterosexual and/or cisgender (i.e., identifying as the gender they were born as) are oppressed.
We hope Taylor gets there one day! But the path from realizing that it's OK to call yourself a feminist to being a knowledgeable, outspoken, intersectional feminist is not an easy one, and everyone takes that journey at a different speed. Feminism is a deeply personal thing, and it embodies itself differently for everyone.
Feminism also does not have to be performative. It's doubtful that Swift will start tweeting about Sandra Bland, or how race figures into the prison industrial complex any time soon. It would be great if she did, but — this Twitter dust-up excepted — Swift tends to stay in her lane, which isn't necessarily a bad thing. When she speaks up about something, it's usually something she's knowledgable about — which, so far, means that she mostly talks about her music, her friends, and, previously, her love life. As she's learned more about feminism, she's become a more outspoken advocate for it, addressing it directly in interviews, and more subtly in the way she presents her public image. Swift is all about celebrating her women friends, and that's awesome.
Is Nicki Minaj a better feminist, or more of a feminist than Swift? Probably. She certainly has life experiences that Swift (and every other white woman) will never fully know, no matter how hard we try to empathize. But feminism does not need to be a competition. We all should be trying to be the best feminist we can be, not decrying other self-avowed feminists for not being as good at it as we are. Feminism is hard, and intersectional feminism is even harder, especially for white women. It's easy to be aware of and upset about the injustices you've personally suffered, but it is not easy to open your eyes to the advantages you have in life that you've taken for granted for years, advantages that have been used to oppress others.
Transitioning from #whitefeminism to a broader understanding of feminism is not fun, and it can be downright painful at times, even for people who are undergoing the journey privately. Swift doesn't have that luxury — as the biggest pop star in the world, everything she does, every picture she posts and word she tweets, is subject to intense scrutiny. She's bound to mess up along the way, and has. But she recovered well, and we should too.
Taylor Swift is nothing if not smart and incredibly self-aware. She's a rare breed; most teen performers lose their fans as they enter their twenties, only to regain them back in their thirties on a nostalgia kick (see: every boy band ever). But as Swift's music and public persona have evolved, she's done the impossible: She won over her peers, the same people who used to be “too cool for TSwift,” the same people who used to decry her boy-centric lyrics and everything she stood for. She realized that her fans were being turned off, and re-vamped her image, making herself more relatable and accessible. She has learned how to manage being famous, and there's no reason to doubt she will learn how to be a better feminist, too.
We shouldn't let her mistakes slide — no one learns from their mistakes if they don't realize they've made a mistake to begin with. But there's a difference between politely letting someone know they've messed up and starting a pile-on, which is the most ineffective way to get anything to change. We need to stop shitting on Swift's feminism and move on. There are more important things to worry about — like why the hell “Anaconda” didn't get a VMA “Video of the Year” nomination.