Taylor Swift Deserves R.E.S.P.E.C.T.

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A Taylor Swift song made me cry today, and it wasn’t one of her signature breakup songs either. The song was “The Man,” with bold lyrics about sexist double standards and what her life would be like if she were a man.

This particular tear-inducing version was from NPR’s “Tiny Desk Concerts,” where Taylor performed an intimate, acoustic version in front of 300 lucky fans. It was a raw and powerful set and it struck a chord. One moment I am tapping my fingers and singing along about being complex and cool.  Next thing I know I am all choked up. WTF.

As the song goes, “if I were a man, I’d be the man.” I agree. Taylor has been taken advantage of, verbally harassed and sexually assaulted although she is one of the hardest working and prolific musical artists of our time. Empirically, she is a stunning example of success. “They’d say I hustled, put in the work, they wouldn’t shake their heads and question how much of this I deserve.” Yup.

Whether or not you are a fan, Taylor’s success as a musical icon is undeniable. When she was 19 years-old, she was the youngest person ever to win Album of the Year. She went on to win this coveted award again, joining an elite group of only five recording artists who have won it twice (and the only woman.) By age 23, she had seven Grammy awards. Four of her seven albums sold over one million copies in the first week alone. Taylor Swift is one of the best selling artists of all time. OF ALL TIME. Like on a par with Elvis and the Beatles.

Taylor Swift is not just a singer-songwriter, she is also a savvy businesswoman, building one of the strongest brands and most loyal fan bases. She doesn’t take shit from anyone; especially men who want to control her. She is re-recording all the music that she created but doesn’t own so she can turn the screws on the man who stole her music.

Taylor reported the guy who grabbed her ass at a photo shoot, ultimately fought him in court and won – when he tried to sue her for losing his job. She landed the cover of TIME Magazine’s “Man of the Year” issue for coming forward in the wake of the #metoo movement. Why it is still called “Man of the Year” is mind-boggling, but this is not what made me cry.

The pop star defies labels to my daughter and to me. She is not the man or the woman, she’s just Taylor. That’s all she ever needed to be to inspire my daughter to take guitar, piano and voice lessons, start a band of her own and perform at clubs and street corners. Together, we have seen Taylor Swift in concert twice, and waited in line for four hours at her recent New York City popup shop. We plan to see her at the Lover East Music Fest next summer. I know every song by heart and follow my daughter’s @taylorswiftpink Instagram account. Call me a Swifty-at-Fifty because simply put, I could not ask for a better role model for my daughter.

I’d like to compare Taylor to my favorite rock star, Bruce Springsteen. If there ever was someone who is the man, it’s Bruce. However, Bruce hasn’t had a number one hit and didn’t win a Grammy until Dancing in the Dark (on his seventh album.) He was bad at business – he was still in bankruptcy when his iconic Born to Run album was released. Still, I don’t remember Bruce Springsteen being interrupted and disrespected while he was accepting an award. I’ve never heard anyone criticize what he was wearing. Who would even dare to grab his ass? To even question how much of his success he deserves? That would be ludicrous! Bruce is not just the man, he is the boss! Double standard much??

How many more awards does Taylor Swift need to earn and how many more millions of albums does she need to sell before commanding this kind of respect? After 15 years of dominating the music charts, Taylor Swift is still attacked by critics and competitors who denounce her every move and delight in her every setback. Still, this was not why I cried.

At 50, I have two teenage daughters coming of age in a world where women and men are still not equal. Not even fucking close. And Taylor Swift nails it. When she sings, “I’m so tired of running as fast as I can, wondering if I’d get there quicker if I were a man,” I feel her exhaustion and frustration. So what is with this double standard? If a woman can run a very successful music business and blow up the charts yet still struggle with inequality, there is something seriously wrong in our society. It doesn’t bode well for the rest of us who don’t have Taylor’s clout.

I grew up trying to keep up with my brothers in a male-dominated household in the gender-bending 70s. My mom promised that things would be different when I grew up. But they aren’t yet, and they might not be for my two daughters. Maybe there will never be equality for men and women, despite how much actually has changed. And that is why I cried.

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