When Taylor Swift was 19 she was in an abusive relationship. Statistically, most women will experience these kinds of destructive relationships. It may come from an intimate partner, a family member, or in my case– a guy you had the extreme misfortune of working with.
Most abusers want power. Most abuse is about power. Rape isn’t about sex; it’s about power and control. While abusers are clearly mentally unwell, they’re often intelligent and charming. They’re clever manipulators and will often use tactics like gaslighting to make the people they choose to abuse doubt themselves. If you’re able to speak out, they may try (and unfortunately may succeed) to portray themselves as innocent, as the victims of vindictive slander. It’s a terrible situation that virtually every woman has experienced more than once in her life. I don’t know a single woman who can’t recall such a situation.
What do you do when someone is trying to take control of your life, wants to turn people against you, and engages in stalking behavior patterns in an attempt to assert power? Well if you’re Taylor Swift, you don’t take it sitting down, that’s for damn sure. When Taylor Swift was nineteen she wrote a song that clearly says, “You’re trying to make me into a victim and I’m not going to let you.” She did that when she was 19! Of course, the media used this to further their narrative of her as boy crazy and vengeful, not realizing that she’d just given young women of the 2000s what Kathleen Hanna gave young women of the 1990s: a clear path out of that media narrative of victimized women.
Thanks to Tumblr user Monica-Geller, we can all take a moment to appreciate this perfect moment in the song Dear John:
The lyrics of that song beautifully capture what it’s like to have a mentally unwell man try to control you, and then what it’s like to decide you won’t be victimized, to reassert power over your own life. The man referenced in Dear John tried to manipulate the situation by releasing (a truly pathetic) song trying to deny his abuse, to make people feel bad for him. That’s what abusive men do. They’ll never take responsibility for their actions. And if you have the added struggle of dealing with an abuser who has sociopathic tendencies, you’ve got even more to go up against.
You probably can’t prevent abusive people from showing up in your life. And the very real and volatile, often deadly, fallout should never be ignored. But you also don’t have to resign yourself to a life of fear and mistrust. The person abusing you is sad and empty. You are not, which is probably one of the reasons you were targeted in the first place. An abusive person might stay in your life for a long time, because they’re sad and empty. But that doesn’t need to get you down, because you should be so busy shining like fireworks that when that pitiful abusive person tries to pull another stunt you pause and laugh and think, “You? Still?” and then get right back to your amazing and fulfilling life.
I’m so grateful that Taylor Swift was brave enough to write and share this song, to give young women this incredible example of owning your truth, speaking out, and living fearlessly. I’m so glad I got over my internalized misogyny, stopped exclusively listening to sad white boys, and became the conductor of the Taylor Swift Defense Train.
And I’m especially glad I did all of that before that sad empty guy I had the misfortune of working next to decided to start sexually harassing and stalking me. It’s a truly disgusting situation and it’s always disappointing to see how thoroughly wretched and actively malicious people can be, but that’s his lot to live with. All I’ve been doing in the months this has been occurring is casually achieving all of my personal and professional goals.
My world and life keep getting bigger and happier, and while it’s aggravating to still be dealing with a person who is so clearly and dangerously unwell… my fireworks are shining so bright I barely even notice.
All of my relationships are flourishing.
My friends are all shining in their own lives and making me better as a result. I love that I get to catch a plane, just because I want to drink wine with Madelaine. I can drive around with Whitney, screaming, “Testify!” Sam sends me mail addressed to “Bagels” and it gets delivered. Megan and Sarah meet me for Lady Brunch. Lindsay and I discuss the books we’re reading as if we’re living in the stories. Jennie wears silly cat ear headbands around the house with me. Taylor reminds me that our kind of love is immutable. Sue thinks I’m capable of performing and presenting alongside her (!). The coolest 11-year-old girl lets me goofily dance around with her. Lydia inspires me to do no harm, but take no shit. Vani reminds me that even small acts of resistance can have a big effect.
All of these things would be happening even if I never had to deal with being harassed. But abusers want to crush all the good things in your life and, like Taylor Swift, I soundly reject that kind of manipulation. This angry feminist killjoy is shining like fireworks.