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SEXIST BEATDOWN: Revenge of the Smiler Edition

Readers! Have any of you been adolescents? (Probably yes.) Specifically, have you been adolescent  girls? (Probably sometimes. It’s complicated!) Well, super. Because now, we’re going to conduct a brief pop quiz on the adolescent female experience, and trust, and who exactly will fuck you over and how. Specifically, when you think of the wilds of female adolescence, and the young ladies who are capable of causing the most damage therein — when you, as a wee tween, are choosing who to trust and who not to trust — which of the below do you choose? Which one is going to hurt you the worst, and on purpose?

(A) The sulky, eyelinery girl who already smokes cigarettes at age twelve, smokes pot and drinks beer, drinks that beer either in the company of her parents who know about it or figures she can get away with it because they never pay enough attention to her to find out, and lashes out sometimes, mostly at adult authority figures, because something is going on with her life and it’s just not good.

(B) The chick with the tragic wire-frame glasses who looks like her parents still dress her and is really into The Dragonriders of Pern, who occasionally tries to come up with a stinging comeback when she’s being picked on but who’s too awkward and divorced from social norms to pull off anything convincing.

(C) A perfectly normal, wholesome, well-behaved young lady who’s involved with many normal, wholesome, character-building extracurricular activities and always has a smile for everyone and never gets involved with any of the troubles or bad decisions that plague other girls and just, really, seems so nice.

As we all know, Option C IS THE MOST DANGEROUS GIRL ON EARTH. In adolescence, no-one is normal. That’s why it’s adolescence, for fuck’s sake. The girl who can pull off “normal” the most convincingly is usually the girl who’s best at lying. And all too often, she is The Smiler. The Smiler is nice. The Smiler is pretty. The Smiler is popular, but not too popular; she’s just normal folks, you know? The Smiler is good in school and her teachers love her, but she’s not the valedictorian. The Smiler is in show choir and is cast in all the theater productions, and she makes sure of her position by purposefully fucking with people’s heads and making them cry during auditions with “helpful advice” about how nobody likes them and they should leave to make people happy, but she’s smiling. (Actual true story.) The Smiler is a respected youth group leader, a pillar of her community, and she tells the girl who’s been abused by her boyfriend that it wouldn’t have happened if she hadn’t presented herself so provocatively, but she promises that Jesus can make it better, and she’s smiling. (Also actual true story.) Sometimes, the Smiler is so good at what she does that the Smiler is your friend: Talk to the Smiler! Hang out with the Smiler! The Smiler only wants to help! Tell the Smiler your troubles — your many secret troubles that no-one knows about because you’d prefer to keep them private! But surely you can trust the Smiler? Except that two weeks later, everybody somehow knows a distorted Grand Guignol disastrous version of exactly what you told the Smiler, and your life is effectively over until college. (I was home-schooled.)

And sometimes, a girl wins a Grammy or several with songs and/or a personal brand that would appear to be the exact musical equivalent of a Smiler. Let’s talk about that with the exciting and lovely Amanda Hess of TBD, just ONE. MORE. TIME!

ILLUSTRATION: She seems sweet!

SADY: Hello! Are you ready for Taylor Swift: Round 12,500,723?

AMANDA: I hear Taylor Swift has released another album that is unflattering to her sex partners and/or sex partners’ sex partners. Therefore IT IS GO TIME

SADY: I don’t know. I have problems with Taylor Swift, which are, Example A: Slut-shaming, and Example B: The fact that she is posited as an anti-bullying Girl Power archetype when she writes songs that are like “go and tell my friends that I’m obsessive and crazy / that’s fine I’ll tell mine that you’re gay.”

AMANDA: Oh great.

SADY: Example C: Articles that are like, “the thing that is great about Taylor Swift is that she hasn’t ‘accidentally’ released a sex tape,” with the “scare” “quotes,” to show that you know everyone else is a big old whore. But then I wrote about her and I was like, “hmmm? Is this slut-shaming? Have I stared into the abyss TOO LONG?”

AMANDA: Haha. Perhaps. I mean, I am by no means going to come out against a person writing a song about John Mayer being kind of a shithead. That rings true to me.

SADY: WHAT??? John Mayer was a JERK? UNPOSSIBLE!

AMANDA: But there are some contexts where I think Swift overplays her naivete to cover for her own personal shitheadedness. For example, writing a song about how dude should dump his girlfriend for her, and then writing a song about some bitch stealing her boyfriend. It’s kind of cute in an “oh, youth” kind of way, but not exactly in a “great song!” sort of manner.

SADY: Right. I mean, “Speak Now” THE SONG would, with a different last verse, be one of the more hilarious things ever written. She is like HIDING IN THE DUDE’S CURTAINS AT HIS WEDDING at a certain point, so that she can take him away from his horrible bitchy bride. But then the last verse is like, “and he’s totally thrilled that I showed up here stalkerifically and he thanks me for saving him from the woman he was going to marry five minutes ago for no apparent reason because we all know I am the only one for him.” Which is still pretty hilarious, but in a different way. And I think I’d be in a place to forgive it, if she weren’t being branded as a “role model.”

AMANDA: I mean, her songs are deeply crazy* to me. She comes off as self-righteous and delusional a lot of the time. And that would probably make for some really awesome music if she got a little bit of self-awareness and learned to criticize herself along with … all other women, specifically, and humans, more generally? In that song, for example, the bride-to-be disinvites Taylor Swift from her wedding. And Taylor Swift is indignant over this detail! Meanwhile, she is scheming to derail the marriage entirely. So, that whole disinvitation thing kinda makes sense?

SADY: It’s a very strange cosmology, in which morality is determined not by The Good or utility but by How Nice You Were To Taylor. Or, really, How Much You Like Taylor For She Is A Beautiful Princess.

AMANDA: It’s the princess thing that is so odd. I was perplexed, in the Don’t Marry That Bitch song, about all the details concerning how ugly the other lady’s wedding dress. Taylor Swift has essentially positioned herself as the only person allowed to wear a white dress at any occasion. So, that is unreasonable.

SADY: But, like: Taylor Swift is “Twilight.” It’s this totally idealized romantic narrative that fourteen-year-olds can project themselves into which is unrelated to the realities of relationships. Like: I have never broken up with someone and been like, “clearly, I can see who the villain was here, and ascertain my own innocence entirely!” And I can see why fourteen-year-olds think that getting up on stage and singing the words “you’re gay” about an ex is what empowerment looks like, or find that “Better Than Revenge” song, with ACTUAL BACKING VOCALS singing “she deserved it,” to be a means of rising above adversity. My problem is, if we as adults agree that demeaning the most people the most effectively in the quest for boys is what adolescent girls should be doing to “empower” themselves, then the problems of female adolescence — nay, female existence ITSELF! — just got a whole lot more Exactly The Same.

AMANDA: Right. I mean, the best girl is the one who gets the boy! But if another girl gets the boy, she is a slut! Also, the boy is John Mayer? So everyone is empowered … to be awful in this scenario.

SADY: Exactly. Also, remember: If a boy dumps you, he must never know sleep or the loving touch of a woman/slut again, for he has cast his bid on the side of Evil and Hatred and Kitten-Drowning in the great cosmic battle. All women to come into contact with this boy in the future are scheming evil mattress harpies who wear pastry dresses. However, if you dump a boy, merely release a single saying that he was nice and you’re sorry you were kind of mean! That should fix it!

AMANDA: OK. So there was this point at the beginning of this conversation where we were like, so … is this slut-shamey? But I have since lost any train of thought that might support that hypothesis. Thoughts?

SADY: Well, I wrote something about how her marketing really depends more on the fact that these are all real live boys — famous boys! Possibly Gyllenhaalian boys, in fact! — and that the whole deal with people being excited about this record is the fun hot celebrity gossip. But then I was like, “pointing out that a lot of her music depends on Look At Who I Dated You Can Get The Real Dirt Here might be essentially calling her a whore.” I am conflicted!

AMANDA: Eh! Yeah, I mean, I don’t mind so much about the celebrity cross-promotion synergy. That would just make the songs sort of aesthetically horrible. It’s the tone that makes them more offensive.

SADY: Indeed. I just… I enjoy ladies who write about their lives, Amanda! That is a thing I am really into! And yet, the Taylor Swift, she is only Writing About How She Feels, and of course the way we feel about things is always contradictory and self-incriminating and self-centered at times, AND YET. What I feel is that I am hanging out with the youth group leader/glee club star/all-around nice girl who also spreads a rumor about how you went to third base with Derek and are a total skank.

AMANDA: And the song about this encounter is like 7 minutes long and sounds like all the other songs about the other skanks, as well.

SADY: Right. If Swift committed to being an asshole, imagine how much more fun it would be! Like, don’t sugarcoat it, lady! BE THE JERK THAT YOU ARE. But the packaging is like putting chocolate sauce on a dog turd. Do you think I’m not going to notice the turd (which is you being mean)? Or do you think I find turds (which are you being mean) delightful and delicious?

*I know some folks don’t like this use of the word! Tiger Beatdown acknowledges and respects that. Tiger Beatdown also isn’t a fan of comments that focus on one word or line in a piece rather than the piece as a whole. Please keep that in mind.

51 Comments

  1. anna wrote:

    ” And yet, the Taylor Swift, she is only Writing About How She Feels, and of course the way we feel about things is always contradictory and self-incriminating and self-centered at times, AND YET. What I feel is that I am hanging out with the youth group leader/glee club star/all-around nice girl who also spreads a rumor about how you went to third base with Derek and are a total skank.”

    This aspect of Taylor Swift The Image used to be conflicting to me in a similar way – lordy knows my own life & thoughts don’t always follow a perfect feminist narrative, so why am I so critical of a girl who’s just singing about her experiences? Ditto that, I loved the Best Coast album that came out this summer, and that’s filled with lyrics like:
    “I wish he was my boyfriend
    I’d love him to the very end but instead he’s just a friend
    I wish he was my boyfriend

    The other girl is not like me
    She’s prettier and skinnier
    She has a college degree
    I dropped out when I was seventeen
    If only I could get her out of the picture
    Then he would know how much I want him

    One day I’ll make him mine
    And we’ll be together all the time
    We’ll sit and watch the sun rise
    And gaze into eachother’s eyes
    And know that he knows
    I know that he knows
    That he wants to be my boyfriend”
    (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=y40TsOIpuEU)

    And it’s like – how can I love this song while hating Taylor Swift’s You Belong to Me?
    I think the difference is (the way I interpret it, at least) the Best Coast album, which also contains lyrics like “I hate my job/ I miss my mom/ I wish my cat could talk” or “there’s something about the summer that makes me moody” (ok granted, she’s not getting Pulitzer either anytime soon) – is more honest about the faults on both sides. And not just in a “I wear sneakers, ain’t I wholesome?” kinda way but in a “I know I can be an asshole but life is frustrating and sometimes I just get lonely” kinda way. Which is why BC and TS can have such similar lyrics and yet stir up completely different responses in me.

    (Is this derailing? I’m sorry, I’ve been listening to so much Best Coast lately).

    Friday, October 29, 2010 at 9:14 pm | Permalink
  2. Jennifer wrote:

    Ugh. Now I’m just totally disgusted with this girl. I keep thinking of Edie McClurg in Ferris Bueller’s Day off. “Mm mm mm. What a little asshole.” I think she just flushed her “sweet n’ innocent” act down the toilet there.

    Hell, the fun of “You’re So Vain” was that it could be anyone. Now I just feel dirty and disgusted.

    Jake should run like hell. Except it’s probably too late already.

    Friday, October 29, 2010 at 9:26 pm | Permalink
  3. Emily Emily Emily wrote:

    Er… I’m sure it’s not what you INTENDED to say, but your footnote comes across as a bit of “Yes, I know we’re being offensive here; don’t you dare call us out on our privilege here.” Which might be something to be aware of?

    Aaanyway since you did mention you’d prefer comments to not ignore the content of the article as a whole, I’ll give my opinion on that. Which will be pretty boring because I don’t listen to Taylor Swift–and after reading these last few posts, probably never will start listening to her–or really any music like her. And I pretty much agree with everything you’re saying here.

    Friday, October 29, 2010 at 10:41 pm | Permalink
  4. Sady wrote:

    @Emily: Actually, going into this is always complicated, but what the footnote means to say is that I acknowledge and respect the fact that some people feel “crazy” is offensive, acknowledge and respect that those people choose not to use it, but as a person who’s been on antidepressants since the age of seven and whose brother currently is on disability due to a severe mental illness (which is irrelevant, except that “our privilege” is chimerical in this case; don’t assume that, just because people disagree with you on a language issue, they have no stake in the language), I have zero issue with it. I acknowledge and respect people’s choice not to use it, and I acknowledge and respect people’s choice to use it to describe irrational and ridiculous behavior.

    @Jennifer: You’re being pretty extreme here. Can I ask you to tone it down?

    Friday, October 29, 2010 at 10:52 pm | Permalink
  5. Emily Emily Emily wrote:

    Yeah, that makes sense. Personally I wasn’t bothered by the use of “crazy” to describe willful irrational or ridiculous behavior either–and use it like that myself regularly–just that the footnote is a bit uncomfortably close to typical silencing attempts. Which, as I said, is pretty clearly not want you’re trying to do.

    Friday, October 29, 2010 at 11:05 pm | Permalink
  6. Em wrote:

    Wanna know something scary? The Smiler in my HS class actually was that nice. One in a million. Unlike Taylor Swift, who seems to be your garden variety Smiler.

    Saturday, October 30, 2010 at 12:32 am | Permalink
  7. Nicole wrote:

    You should watch the “Journey To Fearless” tv special show.
    It’s the most ridiculous slash infuriating thing ever. All about how wonderful she is.
    Also, lots of video of Taylor Swift looking pleased and/or satisfied while crowds cheer at her. Which is kind of sickening.
    Although, to be fair, she’s a very good businesswoman selling her product. Even if that “product” is harmful to others.

    Saturday, October 30, 2010 at 2:10 am | Permalink
  8. TrishB wrote:

    Argh. Totally, entirely B) here. Except, since I’m now old, the glasses were huge ass faux tortoise shell plastic frames. I even had little gold stickers in the far bottom corner of one lens. It was the 80s. But the Dragonriders thing totally holds up, along with failed attempts at comebacks.

    Saturday, October 30, 2010 at 2:52 am | Permalink
  9. Cecilia wrote:

    @ Anna: The Best Coast lyrics are – in my interpretation – very tongue in cheek. It’s not like she’s actually going to off the girl so she can get the guy, I think it’s more of a parody of how jealousy and love can work in ones mind.

    Saturday, October 30, 2010 at 5:51 am | Permalink
  10. Marie wrote:

    This song is scary: doesn’t it ever occur to this girl that boys are human beings with free will? That they’re not toys?

    Saturday, October 30, 2010 at 8:22 am | Permalink
  11. k not k wrote:

    This is not a constructive fully formed comment or anything, but Speak Now = OMG WTF. She doesn’t even *describe* the “wrong girl” in any way except to say that she is the wrong girl, and that the wedding dress looks like a pastry. Is she only the wrong girl because she’s not Taylor Swift? It kinda sounds like it.

    Saturday, October 30, 2010 at 8:30 am | Permalink
  12. I’m kinda old, so this opinion might not surprise anyone, but in my opinion, the most offensive thing about Taylor Swift is that *she can’t sing,* and yet she still gets a platform for her inane, if not often creeper POV. I don’t need my music entertainment to have everything in one package. I don’t care if you can’t sing your way out of a paper bag or tune a guitar, but you best be saying something that doesn’t suck if that’s the case (Patti Smith, Exene Cervenka). And if you have nothing interesting to say, you better say it with the kind of talent that would make the ABC song bring tears to my eyes. (Ya, I got nothing.)

    So tell me, WHY? Why do people listen to her?

    Saturday, October 30, 2010 at 10:24 am | Permalink
  13. Laurie wrote:

    Whoa, whoa, whoa. I adore and obsess over this blog, but the opening to this post does not jive with me. Why are we telling girls who they can and can’t be? I was a sheltered, relatively-well-adjusted girl in high school, much like Girl C, and I felt a constant pressure to be like Girls A and B. I was, and am, a kind and caring friend, despite how often I do or don’t smile and how often I do or don’t drink beer (in high school: never; now: often).

    I know that’s not the point of your post, but it rubbed me the wrong way. Girls can smile if they want to!

    Saturday, October 30, 2010 at 11:19 am | Permalink
  14. AngryPunkPixie wrote:

    *sigh* I worry about my niece because she is a taylor swift fan, i wonder if my niece understands what taylor swift is even saying!

    Saturday, October 30, 2010 at 11:25 am | Permalink
  15. anna wrote:

    Cecilia – again, that’s kinda how I interpreted it too. Looked at literally, the message is slightly warped, but once again it’s the frustrated-at-life, knowingly-unreasonable, self aware reaction. Whereas Taylor is all:
    “I wish you were my boyfriend
    The other girl is not like me
    She’s prettier, Well, in that more obvious way
    And also kind of a slut
    And a total bitch, I mean, what’s up with not laughing at your jokes?
    I’m actually totally prettier than she is, you’ll see it once you take off my glasses
    I just don’t go around flaunting it in a short skirt like that skank because I have ~inner beauty~ as well, unlike SOME people.
    Oh, right. I wish you were my boyfriend”

    Saturday, October 30, 2010 at 11:32 am | Permalink
  16. Sooz wrote:

    APP: If you have the opportunity, you could always sit and have a chat with her about the message of the songs. I grew up listening to a lot of music that had problematic messages, but I turned out OK (I think) because I was encouraged to think about it and sort out the problems from the things I like.

    Saturday, October 30, 2010 at 12:26 pm | Permalink
  17. Paula wrote:

    I guess my biggest issue with Ms. Swift isn’t that she has selfish, unlovely thoughts but that she thinks they are worthy of being recorded and shared with the rest of the world. This mean, creepy, petty, woe-is-me stuff should be kept within the pages of a diary.

    Saturday, October 30, 2010 at 12:28 pm | Permalink
  18. Gnatalby wrote:

    I don’t know, some girls are actually just nice and well adjusted and I don’t think we need to pathologize that. I wasn’t one of them, was definitely a B, myself, but the girls in my high school who were Cs were what they seemed to be, and grew up to be sweet people, if facebook isn’t a total sham.

    I don’t think it’s a good message to send to teen girls if we say “You’d better visibly display some vulnerabilities and fucked upness or you are the face of teen evil.”

    That’s its own kind of sexism.

    Saturday, October 30, 2010 at 12:34 pm | Permalink
  19. margaret wrote:

    @gnatalby I definitely feel you here. I think Sady was over-stating things for comic potential, but I don’t really see the benefit in pathologizing the girls who look normal by most external measures. The Breakfast Club would not be down with that.

    The girl Sady described above sounds like an absolute monster, and I am prodigiously sorry young Sady ever had to encounter someone like that.

    Saturday, October 30, 2010 at 2:42 pm | Permalink
  20. Sady wrote:

    @Laurie: Well, I’m glad you read the blog! And I’m sure you know that I write about what I think on it, because if I had to write everything so that it was true For All Women Always, I would never write a single declarative sentence. I bet you’re super nice and never used your social privilege and institutional privilege to inflict the cruelty and marginalization of misfits, outsiders, and non-normals on which that privilege depends. Honestly, I bet that’s true! In my experience, that’s not always (or usually not) the case, though.

    Saturday, October 30, 2010 at 2:53 pm | Permalink
  21. Melissa wrote:

    @Angrypunkpixie, re kids maybe not even understanding what she’s talking about (yet)

    I teach voice, and I have a student who keeps bringing in Taylor Swift songs she wants to do. Right now she’s doing “Fifteen” (even though she’s 11 and the character in the song is supposed to be read as significantly older than 15), and she’s decided to change the name “Abigail” in the song to the name of her real-life best friend–even though the character of “Abigail” is the one who “gave everything she had to a boy who changed his mind.” I tried to point out that maybe it’s not actually a nice thing to do for her friend, since the lyric isn’t actually a nice one, but she doesn’t seem to get it. I’m just letting her go with it for a moment.

    Saturday, October 30, 2010 at 5:08 pm | Permalink
  22. Laurie wrote:

    “I bet you’re super nice and never used your social privilege and institutional privilege to inflict the cruelty and marginalization of misfits, outsiders, and non-normals on which that privilege depends. Honestly, I bet that’s true!”

    Wow! Well, that was unnecessarily alienating. What a shame.

    Saturday, October 30, 2010 at 5:36 pm | Permalink
  23. margaret wrote:

    @Laurie I really think Sady was being sincere when she said that, not snarky.

    I’m a bit of a smiler too, although also a bit too much of a smart-aleck to be one completely. But I have certainly encountered people who were immediately willing to discount my worth as a person just because I present as well-adjusted and nice, so I understand where you’re coming from. That’s not say that there aren’t countless times the same quality has worked in my favor and gotten me LOADS preferential treatment from authority figures– probably far more often than it’s effected me negatively. I see that and own it. That said, it was disappointing to see Sady signing up so completely for othering a whole group of women. I can see how her experiences would lead her there, and she has every right to say whatever she wants to one this blog when sharing her opinion. But it is disappointing, because I feel like that’s a trap Sady is usually good at avoiding, and that’s one of the qualities I’ve always admired about her writing.

    But Sady! You can say some things I don’t 100% agree with sometimes and I will still think you are an exceptionally gifted thinker and writer. And I have a hard time imagining you meant the comment to Laurie sarcastically– that’s not your style.

    Saturday, October 30, 2010 at 5:46 pm | Permalink
  24. margaret wrote:

    OH GOD AND ALSO: Sady, your thoughts about the album as a whole, i.e. the majority of what you have actually written here, are substantive and intelligent. And I am always delighted to see you and Amanda Hess, back together again.

    Saturday, October 30, 2010 at 5:50 pm | Permalink
  25. Brenda wrote:

    Oh, Taylor Swift. I have given her a lot of leeway, because she is so hilariously, Twilightishly, teenage, and her songs were always full of awful, mistaken ideas about life, but they rang true. Sitting there, twirling your hair, being like “she just doesn’t get your humour like me” – it’s just so teenage and unfiltered. But…she doesn’t seem to have gotten any more self-reflective as she’s grown up. At a certain point, I just don’t know if there is value in just saying your feelings without, like, any reflection or anything.

    I liked a lot of the songs on Fearless in a guilty pleasure way, because they’re nice melodies and Swift – while she’s not the greatest singer – does have a very expressive voice. But aside from “Speak Now” (which I agree is semi-intentionally funny) and “Mine” (which I like in the guilty-pleasure way).

    Saturday, October 30, 2010 at 7:55 pm | Permalink
  26. Irised wrote:

    *blinks* I … thought Sady was talking about a particular brand of unpleasant person who pretends to be ~oh so nice and normal~ while actually being horrible? Not saying every girl who smiles and is average/normal seeming is horrible?

    Well anyway. I love these conversation discussion posts, they’re always interesting and easy to read. And a part of my heart sings to think that someone has a “hahah I stole your boyfriend” song and an “oh that horrible girl stole my boyfriend” song in the same album. Tee hee.

    Saturday, October 30, 2010 at 11:00 pm | Permalink
  27. Catherine wrote:

    Taylor Swift is petty and unreflective–plenty of people in the industry share those qualities. Personally, I’m more bothered by the preponderance of shallowness, piggishness, and outright sexism among male songwriters, from oldey times to today. And unlike Swift, those guys have collectively created the normative outlook for us in music and elsewhere. This very young female singer is just a pale moon reflection of the sun that they created. She’s internalized and is trying to win by the terms set by Male Approval-ism.

    Saturday, October 30, 2010 at 11:43 pm | Permalink
  28. Sady wrote:

    @Laurie: So, just to be clear, my options are:

    (A) Agree with you and tell you that you’re awesome right off the bat, or
    (B) Agree with you the second you pose any disagreement and tell you you’re awesome, or
    (C) Tell you that you’re probably awesome and If It’s Not About You Don’t Make It About You, and be called “unnecessarily alienating?”

    And you’re doing this ON the post about self-absorption and people making moral judgments of others based on whether they’re treated like beautiful princesses. Correct? Just to be clear: I didn’t have to approve your comment. I didn’t have to respond to your comment. And, having paid you both those favors, I definitely wasn’t obliged to be POLITE about your comment. Unfortunately, I was, but I didn’t tell you about how you’re the most special snowflake in the whole damn blizzard, so, you know: I guess I paid the price for that hideous sin.

    @Irised: DING DING DING. We have a winner.

    Sunday, October 31, 2010 at 1:05 am | Permalink
  29. KittyWrangler wrote:

    ummmm, maybe she’s super smiley and wholesome because that SELLS and has a new album full of celeb-specific snark because her last celeb-specific snark sold really well? And maybe a super-young pop-star like her didn’t cook this whole thing up herself. You know… big record execs and producers aren’t known for their hands-off approach. Personally I think it’s really smart from a publicity standpoint, because teen stars who remain 100% sweetness have to either be that way forever and ever or come out as mega-sexual a la Britney. On the other hand if teen stars don’t do the wholesome smiley act at all, such as current Miley, the public will eat them up, spit them out, slut-shame them and they’ll be old news or tabloid tragedy fodder in two years, at most. She seems to be walking a successful line: not nice, yet not a slut. The whole point you’re making, that a pop star’s overproduced lyrics aimed at 14-year-olds might be immature posturing, is dead on but how is that news? Sorry for the snark, b/c I totally enjoyed reading this and definitely laughed out loud a lot.

    Sunday, October 31, 2010 at 2:01 am | Permalink
  30. Nikki wrote:

    The thing that drives me the craziest about Taylor Swift is that she’s a Smiler (which is a really great way of putting it, and has the added advantage of sounding like a creeper in a video game) trying to pass as a B.) sweet nerd girl.

    As an ACTUAL sweet nerd girl (ask me about my D&D character) with the hygiene problems and communication problems we are stereotypically ascribed, I do not need Taylor Swift putting on the glasses and pretending to speak for the nerds, among other reasons because if I wrote the OMG WTF Why Are You Marrying Some Bitch and Not Me song, it would probably go more like “I’m pretty sad that you aren’t into me because I like you, but if you think she’s better than me oh well, you’re probably right.”

    The key characteristic of a Smiler is the faux-populism, the fact that they’re willing to get closer to a target to figure out her weaknesses. They’re the ones who told me to come sit with them during lunch and begged me to talk to them, so they could mock my naievete in thinking I was worthy of sitting in their proximity. They’re the ones that made me afraid to eat lunch in a group for a year, for fear that they were just inviting me into their circle to pick me apart.

    Sunday, October 31, 2010 at 4:27 am | Permalink
  31. Samantha b. wrote:

    @Catherine, well certainly it’s hard to say that you’re wrong, but by that standard no woman/girl can be held responsible for her behavior. Which seems to get us back where we started, where our side always right, and the Enemy is always wrong. And that right there is what really, really fucking rankles me about Taylor Swift’s music, that she’s loudly reiterating to girls that there’s no value to self-criticism. It strikes me as very American (though we didn’t invent it,) this dualistic good v. evil mode of thought. And it’s a remarkably effective way of leaving one’s self rife with insecurities, because it structures a model of seamless perfection that’s never, ever going to pan out. So we can torture innocents in Iraq or write viciously homophobic lyrics or whatever awful, evil thing because we’ve been given license by having been wronged ourselves at some point. It’s a model that does a fuckload of damage in the world, not the least of which is to our own self-respect. Yeah, it’s a pretty way to think in the short term, but it’s going to send you into endlessly looping spirals of self-destruction in the long.

    Sunday, October 31, 2010 at 7:08 am | Permalink
  32. Victoria wrote:

    I love Tiger Beatdown and am really bugged by Taylor Swift but, like Laurie, I felt really disinvited by the opening, not because I was an innocent, privileged “smiler,” but because trying to pass as one was the only way I thought I could circumvent the constant teasing and meanness that came from being 1) poor and 2) socially incapable of participating in what looked, to naive me, as “normal” teenage life.

    In my experience, both as a teenager and now, as a professor teaching 18-year-olds all day, the “smiler” types were/are the girls with eating disorders, the girls who did/do not know how to keep their awful boyfriends from running their lives, the girls who were/are most limited by the world of expectations-for-girls. In short, the girls who most need what TBD does on a daily basis.

    Yup, they’re mean sometimes. They’re acting out, failing to reconcile who they are on the inside with who they think the world demands they turn out to be.

    Sunday, October 31, 2010 at 10:22 am | Permalink
  33. RoseG wrote:

    Funny, when I see a description that is like me in some ways, but unlike in other, more crucial ways I feel no need to point out that the description doesn’t apply to me–because it Isn’t About Me.

    Victoria, you’re right that this kind of cruel behavior usually comes from a place of real pain and fear, and the people (not just girls) who do it need help. But what they need first is a swift (ha!) kick in the pants, because someone who’s hurting others can’t be helped until they stop lashing out. Contrary to popular belief, telling someone that they’re being cruel, or manipulative, or an asshole when they are, in fact, acting like a cruel, manipulative, asshole isn’t mean–it is HELPFUL.

    Sunday, October 31, 2010 at 12:09 pm | Permalink
  34. KMTBerry wrote:

    It seems to me that the BIGGER problem is that, we aren’t “allowed” to have a slew of interesting, different lady pop stars (as a contemporary of Exene, I assure you that she and many others like her were pretty much “locked out” of popstardom on the level of Taylor Swift), no, instead THIS (Swift) is the only “style” of Lady Pop Star that we get to choose from…a conventionally attractive young lady who is everything that men allow a lady to be and not a single thing more or less. Swift is the only kind of aspirational model that young ladies get to have, and she might as well have “approved by the Patriarchy” stamped on her forehead.

    I mean seriously, UGH, and, while I am at it, why does Feminism have to be invented ANEW every generation; each new crop of young girls thinks they are the FIRST ONES to come up with the obviously GREAT strategy of completely conforming to Patriarchal ideals? And then, around thirty, start to see that maybe that isn’t the greatest strategy after all, and MAYBE Feminism has some points….but only as long as it doesn’t get them branded as bitter, unshaven, old, wrinkly, or UNSEXY! Because they don’t want to be identified with THOSE Feminists!

    It seems like Feminism can seldom achieve its goals, because it starts out at the same place every time: Man-Pleasing.

    Oh, and girls, here is a great role-model for you: a young sexy blonde with little talent, who is REALLY GOOD at SELLING HERSELF!!

    Knock yourselves out imitating her! See you at the bar!

    Sunday, October 31, 2010 at 1:43 pm | Permalink
  35. Catherine wrote:

    @Samantha, Well, I find it hard to disagree with you as well, and I don’t think my point precludes yours. I wasn’t trying to say that therefore she’s not accountable to the dreck that she produces, or that it doesn’t have a pernicious effect in perpetuating the suck. Ultimately she (or rather, the image created by her songs and all the image-makers that created this public Taylor Swift character) needs to be held to the same standard – not higher, not lower. I am simply frustrated by the omnipresence of the sexist suck that makes it hard to recognize its points of origin. But no, this does not automatically create a blank check to espouse antifeminist actions for reasons of individual satisfaction.

    Sunday, October 31, 2010 at 3:26 pm | Permalink
  36. Bethany wrote:

    Interesting thoughts here. I’ve never liked Taylor Swift’s songs. Where I work, they have a radio station on 24/7 that plays lots of Taylor Swift and all that other no-talent pop crap. I swear my blood pressure would go up just listening to You Belong to Me. I think it feels even more personal to me because in high school I was very much a B and would get resentful of other girls who dated boys I liked. But I got over that, and Swift really isn’t providing a good example for girls. I don’t like these kinds of revenge songs that demonize other women (don’t like Carrie Underwood for the same reason). I wish there was more media out there that promoted friendships between girls, instead of jealousy over boys and constant competition. That may be what friendship for some girls is like, but it really shouldn’t be the example that we always get.

    I have a fear of people who are like The Smiler, whether they are male or female. I worry about being taken advantage of by people who seem nice but are really sociopaths (or basically not good people).

    I’m socially awkward, so I tend to smile and be really nice to people because I want to be liked, and I want attention. I’m a little self-absorbed mostly because I’m an introvert and shy, but I do genuinely care about people. I think most Smilers probably aren’t bad, just that they have a need to be liked by others. Not a bad thing, really.

    I guess the point was for the A, B, and C examples to be kind of shallow. Any of those “types” are capable of being great people, or of being assholes. One of my best friends was kind of a Smiler in school, but she was actually dealing with huge family problems and crippling self-esteem issues. Looking at people as stereotypes doesn’t really help us. It’s not too different from what Swift is doing in her songs.

    BTW, I’m not familiar with Swift’s music, so does anyone know if she writes her own lyrics? (and even if she does, she probably gets lots of “advice” about what her lyrics should be about).

    Monday, November 1, 2010 at 10:43 am | Permalink
  37. Kiri wrote:

    For what it’s worth, this entire post resonated with me so much, it’s almost scary. And umm, I like you, and… stuff? I’m really bad at giving compliments that don’t sound cloying and ass-kissing. But yeah, I liked this post.

    Monday, November 1, 2010 at 12:33 pm | Permalink
  38. Ella wrote:

    A part of me really, really wants to like Taylor Swift- her music is my favorite kind of terrible/catchy and I approve of her business sense! But the whole people I am sexually interested in are “toys on the playground” and “belong to, oops, I meant *with* me”… I find that way more disturbing than the smiling Disney Princess aesthetic. There’s room for girly girls who want to marry Prince Charming in the world- where it gets really fucking creepy is the implication that Prince Charming is a prize to be fought over, which brings us back around to a mirror image that old patriarchal standby of women as passive objects of desire, which does not actually become o.k. when you’re doing it to a guy.

    Monday, November 1, 2010 at 1:50 pm | Permalink
  39. AnthroK8 wrote:

    So, Ms. Swift. Yeah. I am so glad I read this post, because I never have to think about why she bugs me a lot again, because I can just point here and say “READ THIS HERE!!”

    It seems to me that the thing about Smilers is… they SEEM nice but AREN’T NICE. And the way that works is, they hide out in the crowd of people who SEEM nice and ACTUALLY USUALLY ARE PRETTY NICE MOST OF THE TIME. But that predatory abusive behavior requires being mistaken for something else.

    Which means, all you (us) self-identified Smilers (or Dragonriders of Pern Nice Girl Smiley Mixes, if you’re me) out there? Are necessary, or the bait and switch doesn’t work.

    ALSO! I don’t know about the rest of you-all, but there were not very many people in my school who consistently, actively, outspokenly intervened in that Smiler-Perpetrated-Abuse when they saw it happen.

    I know I let stuff go out of fear when I should have been saying “WTF OMG leave her alone already you abusive witch!” But I was too busy being nice to EVERYONE to tell that one SPECIAL SOMEONE to FUCK RIGHT OFF.

    By the time I was about 16 I was growing out of it, thank god. But I am not about to tell the world I wasn’t passively condoning some shit, because I did until I got some courage.

    So. Smilers. Need us Going About Our Business Smilers to be in any way effective.

    Monday, November 1, 2010 at 2:52 pm | Permalink
  40. Eneya wrote:

    I had a delusional moment some time ago I though “Is this sarcasm? Is it possible that this is reverse psychology, is she making a deep comment of the really shallow way girls and women are represented?”… then I was “naaaaah”.
    But it was a nice thought…

    Monday, November 1, 2010 at 3:48 pm | Permalink
  41. Copcher wrote:

    @Anthrok8, regarding people speaking out against Smiler-Perpetrated-Abuse, I think that is one of the hardest things to do. Smilers (and when I say that I mean people who use smiliness and pretend to be nice as a form of manipulation, not people who are just generally smiley and pleasant) are often very skilled at making people feel like crap without being able to articulate why they feel like crap. It’s the sort of thing where, when you see it happen, it sometimes looks super obvious, but when you try to call them out on it, you generally end up looking ridiculous, even if they don’t try very hard to come off as innocent. They often have allies who will stand up for them too, making whoever the bullying is directed at feel more isolated and often feel like the whole thing is not worth pursuing.

    I teach middle school and high school, and even in that role I have a hard time calling out that kind of behaviour. I haven’t been in this situation yet in my career, but I have colleagues who have called out students on this kind of behaviour, and they had to deal with a parents (sometimes many sets at once) who were angry at them for picking on their children who hadn’t done anything. Or, at least not anything that my colleagues could clearly articulate.

    That may have been worded a bit poorly. Side question: is there any way to preview comments before posting them?

    Monday, November 1, 2010 at 9:47 pm | Permalink
  42. AnthroK8 wrote:

    COPCHER:

    I teach college students, and what you describe can certainly happen in higher ed classes, too.

    Lately, I have a TOTALLY NO ZERO TOLERANCE POLICY FOR HATE. It’s hard, but I just say “there is no unthinking ableism (GOD! LAME) sexism (Chicks!)/misogyny (Ladies are stupid!)/racism (he’s a pimp!)/ silencing (snickers at commetns)” in this class.

    It’s hard to get sneaky meanness off the ground if anything other than respectful discussion is immediately smacked down.

    But, it’s hard. I understand that. And when parents back it up, it’s even harder. And finding vocabulary to articulate it is difficult.

    A friend of mine teaches HS French and she says “in Madame’s class, there is no hate, only love” and it seems to have sunk in, over a decade.

    Tuesday, November 2, 2010 at 2:32 pm | Permalink
  43. Gnatalby wrote:

    Funny, when I see a description that is like me in some ways, but unlike in other, more crucial ways I feel no need to point out that the description doesn’t apply to me–because it Isn’t About Me.

    Except that this is what Say wrote:

    (C) A perfectly normal, wholesome, well-behaved young lady who’s involved with many normal, wholesome, character-building extracurricular activities and always has a smile for everyone and never gets involved with any of the troubles or bad decisions that plague other girls and just, really, seems so nice.

    As we all know, Option C IS THE MOST DANGEROUS GIRL ON EARTH. In adolescence, no-one is normal.

    Please tell me how that is not an indictment of all smiling girls? Where has this girl been a cruel, manipulative asshole?

    Yes, Sady goes on to describe times that some smilers have gone on to be cruel manipulative assholes, but I contend, and many in the thread would agree, it’s perfectly possible for a girl to smile a lot and seem nice and well adjusted because she IS nice and well adjusted.

    That shouldn’t be a sign that someone is the “most dangerous person o earth.” Girls shouldn’t have to be or seem fucked up to prove they’re good enough for our compassion. And I expect Sady would agree with that generally since she’s also written essays about not tearing down successful women within feminism, but frankly that sentiment is not on display in this particular essay.

    Tuesday, November 2, 2010 at 3:15 pm | Permalink
  44. Jeannette wrote:

    gah taylor swift. is it wrong to wish she WOULD just come out with a sex tape already? or pull a britney/christina/miley and start wearing little-to-no clothing? that would be really satisfying (in a non-creeper way). also, as a former Smiler myself, I really was a fantastic liar. Oh the pressure to be liked by everyone, it definitely gets to you. once i realized that most of those people were assholes and why the fuck did i care if they liked me anyway? well, let’s just say i don’t smile so much anymore :)

    Tuesday, November 2, 2010 at 10:43 pm | Permalink
  45. Eleutheria wrote:

    @Jeannette: gah taylor swift. is it wrong to wish she WOULD just come out with a sex tape already? or pull a britney/christina/miley and start wearing little-to-no clothing? that would be really satisfying (in a non-creeper way).

    I really take offense at your statement, and how you seem to rejoice that her “sexualisation” would imply both degradation and public humiliation.

    Wednesday, November 3, 2010 at 6:54 pm | Permalink
  46. jule_b_sorry wrote:

    I liked it better when the Donnas sang it loud n’ proud with “Get Rid of that Girl”.

    If you’re going to be a relationship-trashing psycho, at least be honest about it and do it to a fast rock beat!

    Thursday, November 4, 2010 at 4:45 pm | Permalink
  47. Em wrote:

    is it wrong to wish she WOULD just come out with a sex tape already? or pull a britney/christina/miley and start wearing little-to-no clothing? that would be really satisfying (in a non-creeper way).

    Yes. Now go sit in your corner and think about what you’ve said.

    Thursday, November 4, 2010 at 5:31 pm | Permalink
  48. The Best Kelly wrote:

    Wow, this post completely explains why you hated me when we met. I was 100% The Smiler (accept the whole blame abuse victims thing. But I would have told them Jesus could help. I’m so glad you could see past my smiler ways to be my friend :-)

    Friday, November 5, 2010 at 10:59 pm | Permalink
  49. aravind wrote:

    Girls shouldn’t have to be or seem fucked up to prove they’re good enough for our compassion.

    You’re describing social abnormality as “fucked up” which is EXACTLY one of the things Sady described those sweet, normal, nice girls as doing (that is, policing). I think you should reread upthread the person (sorry, I forgot who) that said that the “Smilers” hide in groups of nice-ish groups who generally provide cover for them, even after members of the group realize how the “Smiler” is using them. You’re right that not every girl who seems “normal” is involved in vicious social policing, but a huge number of them seem to be, to varying degrees.

    Saturday, November 6, 2010 at 12:54 am | Permalink
  50. Farore wrote:

    Anthrok, seeing as ‘witch’ is a descriptive term for a practitioner of any one of a wide variety of pagan/neopagan/etc beliefs, I think maybe it ought not to be used as a pejorative?

    Friday, November 12, 2010 at 8:54 pm | Permalink
  51. M Dubz wrote:

    I’ve been mulling this over for a bit, and I definitely agree with Sady’s analysis that the Smiler is the most dangerous of those three girls, but I was having difficulty articulating why. Then I figured it out.
    It’s not that all three of those types of girls can’t or won’t come after you in high school. They can and they will. I was definitely a B, down to the wireframe glasses, and I got harassed by a bunch of A girls all through high school. But it didn’t really affect me super much, other than pissing me off when I had to have gym with those idiots. This was, in large part, due to the fact that I was childhood friends with a rather prominent Smiler (that, and the fact that my other B friends were loud, outspoken, feministy types who cushioned the nasty). Since the girls with little social currency were the ones going after me, it was easy to brush them off and ignore them.
    However, if one of my school’s Smilers had taken it into her pretty head to abuse me, that would have been an entirely different ballgame. Smilers are the ones vested with social power in high school. Their decisions as to who is acceptable to leave alone and who must be crushed have weight that carries to other members of the student body. A and B are disempowered already because they do not fit the ideal of what a Good, All American High School Girl should be. Their hatreds are personal, and can sting, but don’t carry wider social effects. Out of those three, it’s really only the Smilers who have the ability to spread their personal animosity into a wider student war against their victims.

    Saturday, November 13, 2010 at 11:08 am | Permalink