Taylor Swift Passes The Bechdel Test In “Miss Americana”

Published on January 24, 2020

Taylor Swift didn’t mention Scooter Braun once in her new documentary, “Miss Americana,” which saw its world premiere at the Sundance Film Festival on Thursday night. The documentary details the starlets struggle with fame throughout her teenage and young adult years as she comes to the realization that her lifelong need for validation from her peers put her in a delicate place mentally. Notably, when it shattered her onstage at the 2009 Video Music Awards.

In an opening scene, Swift sits on a window bench in her home in front of her childhood diaries as she recounts entries in which she confessed that her entire drive came from the need to be seen as good in the eyes of her audience—a shockingly mature revelation for a young girl who just wants to be a pop star when she grows up.

Shots of swift throughout her career—from her inaugural visit to Sony Music Group as a child, to the stage of a sold-out stadium tour—demonstrate how Swift’s insecurities fueled the work ethic that got her where she is today. It is, unfortunately, a trait not uncommon to all successful women, as Swift begins to point out in the latter half of the film. Later, in the post-screening question and answer session, director Lana Wilson would mention that those same insecurities—the voice in every woman’s head that asks “did they like me?” is what drives her in her own career.

It would be easy for me to discount Miss Americana as a carefully crafted public relations scheme aimed at lightening Ms. Swift’s image in the wake of the Scooter Braun drama. But that would be unfair after seeing the depth in which the pop star opened up in the 1 hour and 25 minute film. Throughout which, Swift recounts her thoughts on sexism, the country music industry, her past eating disorder, her mom’s cancer, her passion toward politics, her constant drive for achievement, and the insecurities that both help and hurt her along the way.

Notably missing, however, were the men that—according to the media—have inspired her career. A sentimental home video of Swift singing the chorus of “Call It What You Want To” on her living room floor (presumably recorded by its subject) while playing her acoustic guitar flashes onscreen as she recounts falling in love with her current boyfriend in a much less public way than ever before. Taylor Swift is in love, but the public cannot stop talking about the men that love Taylor Swift.

Miss Americana Is About The Everyday Sexism All Women Must Face

Snippets of news stories about the star demonstrate how her music career has long been dictated by the men in her life—namely, who she may be singing about—at any given moment. Though subtle and often overlooked, that sexism would ultimately follow Swift throughout her entire career—right into a Denver courtroom in a lawsuit against a man that sexually assaulted her on a red carpet.

A shot of a red carpet interviewer asking Swift which she’ll take home more of that night—men, or Grammy awards—demonstrates the everyday comments that Swift is subject to on a regular basis, which is not uncommon to anything that women in any industry have to deal with every single day.

But where Taylor Swift is different—which Miss Americana seeks to remind its viewer throughout its entire run—is that she is not Lady Gaga. Her career would not permit her to get onstage and sexualize a foam finger in the way that Miley Cyrus did in 2013 (nor would that be true to who Swift is as a person).

Her fans—which are largely younger and appreciative of Swifts shy, down to earth personality—would not likely know what to do if Swift suddenly “took control” of her image in the ways that other stars have done in recent years. Nor should she have to.

Taylor Swift is America’s sweetheart—a natural progression for a successful young woman that is pretty, skinny, white, and sweet, who loves her mom and only has a few close friends. To diverge from that path would seem disingenuous, which is likely why Swift’s Reputation was immediately rejected by critics when it began touring worldwide.

The music industry, which is sexist by nature, loves to see women taking control of their image and sexuality by using promiscuity and subversive, sensational imagery for shock value. While it may have felt genuine for Miley Cyrus or Lady Gaga, Swift points out that she’s entitled to an equal level of respect even if she doesn’t demand it in the same ways that her counterparts have.

Taylor Swift Has Always Been Politically Passionate, But Never Had The Freedom To Speak Up

Closing scenes of the film see Swift touch on her recent foray into being politically vocal. It was a decision that, as viewers will see in the film, was not easy for Swift to gain freedom to as both a pop star and a young woman.

Swift, who claims that record label executives and publicists have always warned her not to “be like the Dixie Chicks” (who were blasted by the media after speaking against Bush during the Iraq war) had to fight with the men in her life in order to speak up for what she believes in. Later, in the q&a session, Swift would reveal that her father feared for her life after she went public with her political views, mentioning that she and her team get “so many threats” that never make the news.

In one final scene, Swift is seen sitting on her couch, speaking up about the frustration she goes through in simply existing as a woman and how she’s spent her adult life unpacking the deeply rooted misogyny she was brought up with. Then she apologizes for speaking too loudly. Finally, she asks why she’s apologizing in the house that she bought, with the money she earned, with a career she created herself. Finally, Taylor Swift stands for something.

Julia Sachs is a former Managing Editor at Grit Daily. She covers technology, social media and disinformation. She is based in Utah and before the pandemic she liked to travel.

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