Graphic by Angela Zheng
“It is difficult to imagine that Kavanaugh’s confirmation to the Supreme Court over the weekend had no effect specifically on how Swift and other young victims of sexual misconduct view politics.”
Content Warning: Sexual Assault and Harassment
Country-turned-pop star Taylor Swift was not yet two years old when Anita Hill testified before the Senate Judiciary Committee in 1991 that she had been disturbingly and perpetually sexually harassed in the workplace by then-nominee to the Supreme Court Clarence Thomas. Hill described how Thomas continually spoke to her about pornography and about his own genitals, and repeatedly asked her out. She told of how he once reprimanded her over finding a supposed pubic hair on a can of coke on his desk. The then-all-male Senate Judiciary Committee lead by Joe Biden questioned Hill brutally, including accusations that she is insane. When the veracity of her experience was questioned, Hill declared, “I am not given to fantasy. This is not something I would have come forward with if I was not absolutely sure of what I was saying!” Her bravery and sacrifice, though at first seemingly in vain as Thomas was confirmed to the Supreme Court, would inspire a wave that changed the nation.
1992, the year in which Taylor Swift turned three, became known as the “Year of the Woman” after Anita Hill’s story fired up the nation; a record number of women ran for office and doubled the number of female-held seats in Congress. Suddenly, California was represented by two female senators, the first Black woman senator was elected, and both already-sitting female senators won reelection. Congress was then 10% female, overall. Many of the women who ran directly attributed their passion to the Anita Hill hearings, including current Senator Patty Murray (D-WA), who was first elected to the Senate that year.
The Anita Hill hearings shocked awake America’s conscience, if just for a little bit, to the disparity in power between victims and abusers in our culture. After Clarence Thomas was confirmed to the Supreme Court despite Hill’s testimony, a grassroots progressive wave began that swept Bill Clinton and the Democrats into office on a radically pro-LGBTQ+, pro-woman, pro-union platform the next year. In 1994, Congress and President Bill Clinton worked together to pass the Violence Against Women Act, which created substantially stronger protection for victims of abuse under federal law, as First Lady Hillary Clinton and the first female Attorney General Janet Reno championed the 1995 creation of the Office on Violence Against Women within the Department of Justice.
Meanwhile today, for the longest time in her career, Taylor Swift has represented a brand of shallow celebrity and political apathy. Her lingering silence on pressing social issues was seen as a pageantry of privilege and wealth, as if to say that problems which do not affect oneself do not matter. Her music generally never acted as social commentary unless to address controversy about herself, so much so that her last album was literally named for what it is about: “Reputation.” This facilitated the perception that she secretly stands in concurrence with the worst actors in our society – the white supremacists who hold Swift in high regard for her Aryan appearance. Bolstering this belief was the lawsuit Swift attempted to bring in 2017 against a blogger who implied that Swift sympathizes with white supremacists. Now, this era of political bystanderism has come to a close.
In a lengthy and heartfelt Instagram post this week, Swift encouraged fans from her home state of Tennessee to vote for Democratic candidates Jim Cooper and Phil Bredesen in this November’s House and Senate races, respectively. She cited specific issues of social equity which are threatened by Bredesen’s opponent, Republican Rep. Marsha Blackburn, including equal pay for women, the reauthorization of the Violence Against Women Act, and civil rights for same-sex couples. Swift decries systemic racism as “terrifying, sickening, and prevalent.” She asserts that “any form of discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender is wrong.” Her full post reads:
“I’m writing this post about the upcoming midterm elections on November 6th, in which I’ll be voting in the state of Tennessee. In the past I’ve been reluctant to publicly voice my political opinions, but due to several events in my life and in the world in the past two years, I feel very differently about that now. I always have and always will cast my vote based on which candidate will protect and fight for the human rights I believe we all deserve in this country. I believe in the fight for LGBTQ rights, and that any form of discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender is WRONG. I believe that the systemic racism we still see in this country towards people of color is terrifying, sickening and prevalent. I cannot vote for someone who will not be willing to fight for dignity for ALL Americans, no matter their skin color, gender or who they love. Running for Senate in the state of Tennessee is a woman named Marsha Blackburn. As much as I have in the past and would like to continue voting for women in office, I cannot support Marsha Blackburn. Her voting record in Congress appalls and terrifies me. She voted against equal pay for women. She voted against the Reauthorization of the Violence Against Women Act, which attempts to protect women from domestic violence, stalking, and date rape. She believes businesses have a right to refuse service to gay couples. She also believes they should not have the right to marry. These are not MY Tennessee values. I will be voting for Phil Bredesen for Senate and Jim Cooper for House of Representatives. Please, please educate yourself on the candidates running in your state and vote based on who most closely represents your values. For a lot of us, we may never find a candidate or party with whom we agree 100% on every issue, but we have to vote anyway. So many intelligent, thoughtful, self-possessed people have turned 18 in the past two years and now have the right and privilege to make their vote count. But first you need to register, which is quick and easy to do. October 9th is the LAST DAY to register to vote in the state of TN. Go to vote.org and you can find all the info. Happy Voting!”
However, the most prominent theme of Swift’s post is that it was motivated by her experience as a victim and the victimhood of others whose lives were then reduced to catchy headlines in cold and morbid fashion for all to read. She focuses on the importance of the Violence Against Women Act, which she accurately says “attempts to protect women from domestic violence, stalking, and date rape.” She makes clear that she has “been reluctant to publicly voice my political opinions, but due to several events in my life and in the world in the past two years, I feel very differently about that now.” In the past two years, Swift and all the other brave souls of the #MeToo movement have brought about a cultural and legal reckoning for predators who think they can get away with harassment and assault. Also in the past two years, the Republican-controlled government has enabled and empowered sexual predators of all kinds, up to and including the President of the United States, and now Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh.
Taylor Swift’s strong 2017 testimony about her experience being assaulted rang honest and harrowing, much like Anita Hill’s 1991 testimony against Clarence Thomas and last week’s testimony of Dr. Christine Blasey Ford against then-nominee to the Supreme Court, Brett Kavanaugh. In June of 2013, Swift held a backstage meet-and-greet at Pepsi Center in Denver, Colorado. It was at this event that former radio host David Mueller assaulted Swift by thrusting his hand under her skirt and groping her. When she spoke about it publicly, he sued her for three million dollars for defamation. She counter-sued. In August of 2017, that case finally came to a close. Swift won. The jury found Mueller at fault and ordered him to pay full restitution to Swift; Swift demanded a symbolic payment of one dollar. The most sensational part of the trial, according to media coverage of the event, was Swift’s concise and searing testimony. She once said to the attorney cross-examining her, “You can ask me a million questions—I’m never going to say anything different—I never have said anything different.” When it was asked if she mistook Mueller for someone else, she replied, “He had a handful of my ass. I know it was him.”
Dr. Ford’s experience being questioned by the Senate Judiciary Committee had several similar moments. Ford testified that she was assaulted by a drunken Brett Kavanaugh and his friend Mark Judge at a house party in the mid-1980’s. She described how Kavanaugh held her down on a bed and covered her mouth to stop her from screaming while he groped her and attempted to remove her clothes. She says she thought he was going to rape her, and that he might accidentally kill her. She explains how she fought her way out of the room and ran out of the house, traumatized. Asked if she might be misremembering who assaulted her, Dr. Ford said she was “100 percent” certain it was Kavanaugh – “Indelible in the hippocampus is the laughter, the uproarious laughter between the two, and their having fun at my expense.”
Perhaps the similarity in experience Swift has with Christine Blasey Ford in having their credibility questioned on the stand made her realize how intertwined politics is with what kind of culture we make for ourselves in this country. Perhaps Dr. Ford’s testimony built or strengthened a bond of solidarity between Swift and other survivors. Whatever may have been the cause, Swift now sees what millions of Americans can see after the Senate confirmed an alleged sexual predator to the Supreme Court (again): the Republican Party is on the side of abusers today, just like they were in 1991, and they cannot be allowed to maintain the levers of power.
While Swift did not explicitly state that Christine Blasey Ford’s bravery is what inspired her to make her Instagram post, it is difficult to imagine that Kavanaugh’s confirmation to the Supreme Court over the weekend had no effect specifically on how Swift and other young victims of sexual misconduct view politics. It has become personal for many millennial voters in a way it was not before. A recent study shows that 15% of millennial women and 3% of millennial men have been sexually assaulted, and after watching these hearings, we are all Christine Blasey Ford like our predecessors were all Anita Hill. We all have a stake in voting out the party that gave Dr. Ford’s abuser a lifetime seat on the Supreme Court. It is time for a new progressive wave. It is time for a new “Year of the Woman.” It is time for the #MeToo Midterms.