The answer is totally sexism.
If you are like me and grew up listening to incredibly angsty twenty-something men whining harmonically about the women that have wronged them and the loves that have failed, then you know as well as I do that men write songs about specific women all the time. And they use their fuckin’ names (or names, anyway, that allude to specific women, just as the “Dear John” song alludes to John Mayer but uses a well-known conceit known as a ‘Dear John letter,’ Google that shit, to achieve thatˆ), too!
Like, I love Andrew McMahon as much as the next awkward teenage girl who hit puberty somewhere between 2001 and 2003, but homeboy writes a LOT of songs about specific women where their NAMES ARE THE TITLE: “Amy, I,” “Amelia Jean,” and “Letters to Noelle,” to name three of ROUGHLY TWO DOZEN. Fall Out Boy, Motion City Soundtrack, Brand New, fun., fun.’s previous and more depressed incarnation The Format, Taking Back Sunday, and countless others that I noticed, as I was nonchalantly scrolling through the time warp sections of my iTunes, talk about relationships with specific women and use names that probably only thinly veil the references to those women. Like, there’s no way you broke up with Justin Pierre for being a self-absorbed alcoholic or whatever and didn’t listen to Motion City Soundtrack’s next album and think, “Well shit, ‘Last Night’ is totally about our breakup, that blows. Why did that douche basically imply I broke up with him because I couldn’t keep up with his brilliance? What?”
The main difference is that Taylor Swift’s beaus are usually also famous, but here’s the thing: men in all genres of music are constantly — constantly— working out their relationship angst through music. Justin Timberlake has now written two consecutive albums, albeit with a seven-year gap, about his relationship experiences. Literally all Justin Bieber seems to sing about is some lady he wants to dance up on or how sad he is because some lady didn’t let him dance up on her. Bruno Mars writes about love and breakups all the time. Nate Ruess (of fun.) is all, “I Wanna Be The One” on one album and then on the next album is like, “Why Am I The One” and sometimes I just want to be all, “Jesus, why the fuck ARE you the one if you keep writing about your breakups on your albums?”*
This is because it is an artist’s right to work out his (OR HER) feelings through his (OR HER) art. This is as true for Taylor Swift as it is for Nate Ruess, okay? It’s as true for Taylor Swift as it is for Justin Bieber or Justin Timberlake or some other Justin who hasn’t surfaced yet (and probably won’t because it’s probably like Highlander and there can only be one). Female artists have as much right to write about their breakups as male artists do. And Taylor Swift’s not the only one to do it — she’s just been the most open in interviews and in the press about her relationships, which has led to this weird entitlement circle where people feel like they SHOULD know about Taylor Swift’s relationships, and then mock her mercilessly for writing about them.
Through some stunning combination of what appears to be her own willingness to connect with people through shared experiences by talking about her personal life, the fact that she dates people of equal visibility, the enthusiasm of whoever handles her image in flaunting that openness and visibility and encouraging the media to pry deeper, and the media’s willingness to throw women under the bus as “catty” or whatever have created an environment where Taylor Swift is
- expected to share personal information about her love life and
- punished for sharing that personal information OR
- punished for not sharing that personal information AND
- disallowed from writing about it in her music because ‘everyone knows already’ or something
I’m not saying she hasn’t had some part in creating this environment, but it’s sure as hell not JUST her. And I just don’t fuckin’ get why everyone is so obsessed with who she is or isn’t writing about or is or isn’t naming when dudes pull this shit ALL THE TIME. The difference is that she’s criticizing equally visible men. That’s pretty much it.
Like, homegirl needs to stop hating on other women so much and there have been a lot of great conversations about how she contributes to slut-shaming and victim-blaming and sex-negativity, but I’m JUST NOT CLEAR why the media at large is more concerned with whether or not she’s calling John Mayer a douchebag (basically) in a song than they are with, say, John Mayer being a total pretentious shit all the time.
Or, more generally: why the fuck are we being so much nastier to a girl writing about her breakups and love interests than we are to powerful men who do the same thing ALL THE TIME to women they met at Starbucks and who don’t have multi-million-dollar record deals?
* I am well aware these songs are about very different things. Also, I volunteer as tribute to be the next muse for a tortured love song, I am js. Call me.