Brown student Clara Beyer is no stranger to memes. After starting her own blog, That Girl Mag, and photoshopping Cosmo covers with Marxist undertones (much to the delight of Buzzfeed), Beyer has a knack for communicating through social media. Last month she created @FeministTSwift and received 26,000 followers in just one day (the account currently has over 114,ooo followers), another Buzzfeed mention, and a (possible?) book deal. The Twitter account pairs Swift lyrics with feminist messages, providing hilariously problematic and insightfully pointed messages. With @FeministTSwift, Beyer successfully connected two pop culture “feminist” nods: first, the celebrity parody feminist meme (let’s not forget Ryan Gosling here) and Swift’s complicated, and at times questionable, history with the label. Critics say that pinpointing feminism to yet another straight, white woman with a history of explicit slut-shaming in her music is taking feminism’s message too far away from where it needs to be—with the underrepresented , the working mothers, transgendered people, and youth of color. Others applaud Beyer for inserting feminism into pop culture discussions and showing that feminist ideals can come from problematic places. Bluestockings talked to Beyer about her personal feminism, how humor helps, and her next social media project. – Ana Cecilia Alvarez, Managing Blog Editor
Liliana Gutmann-McKenzie. : Give us some basic background info.
Clara Beyer: I’m class of ’14, and I grew up in Alexandria, VA (just outside DC). I’ve taken all of one sociology class at Brown, Sex, Gender, and Society, and I took Femsex this fall, but I’m really not an expert in this kind of thing by any means. I’m a Linguistics concentrator, and I have no idea what I plan to do with myself after graduation. I love writing though, and @feministtswift has already opened so many doors for me, so I’m hoping I can leverage this for some kind of employment someday. Who knows?
LGM: First of all, you must be a Taylor Swift fan, to know her lyrics well enough to turn the upside down. What is your favorite TSwift experience/song? [Full disclosure: I went to her Speak Now concert with my little sister, and while I was probably the oldest one in the audience, I absolutely loved it!]
CB: I’m absolutely a fan. I’m actually so jealous that you’ve been to her concert. I’ve heard they’re incredible and that she’s so cool live. I have a new favorite Taylor Swift song every week. The great thing about Taylor is that there’s a song for every situation you could possibly be in. And not just romantic situations. When I was nervous before going on TMZ? I listened to Long Live. When I was getting angry emails from random internet strangers? I listened to Mean. There’s a song for everything.
LGM: Why did you decide to start writing @FeministTSwift? Where did the idea come from?
CB: I was walking home from work one day, listening to Taylor Swift, and it just came to me. I tweeted the idea and kind of put it away… and then got a phone call ten minutes later from Kevin Carty (’15). He was the one who said “This needs to actually happen.” I thought it would be fun, and funny, and maybe some internet people might enjoy it. I never imagined it would get this huge.
LGM: Do you do any other work (around campus or your community) surrounding feminism?
CB: Not really, honestly. I interned for NARAL one summer, and I went to a Students For Choice phone bank one time. I also blog about feminist topics from time to time at my personal blog, That Girl Magazine. I don’t consider it a feminist blog so much as a college blog that happens to be written by a feminist.
LGM: What was your first memorable experience with feminism? Was there a specific event, person, reading or artist that made it important for you or was it more gradual?
CB: It was definitely gradual for me. I grew up around feminism; my mom used to do work for NARAL (which is how I got that aforementioned internship #fulldisclosure). I had a phase when I would have told you I wasn’t a feminist, because 1) I didn’t totally understand what feminism was and 2) it upset my mother — teenage rebellion is fun. Luckily I grew out of that. By the time I got to Brown, I definitely identified as a feminist.
LGM: Who is your feminist icon?
CB: Oh man, I don’t know. Taylor Swift?
LGM: For many of us, it is difficult to reconcile the fact that we both consider ourselves ardent feminists, but we also love things (such as TSwift, Disney movies, rap and hip hop) that are decidedly un-feminist. How do you navigate this tension in your own life?
CB: It’s rough. But at a certain point you have to trust yourself. You have to know that listening to one problematic song isn’t going to turn your whole ideology upside down involuntarily. At the end of the day, your beliefs are up to you. I mean, Lana Del Rey has songs about like, murdering people, and I still listen to her without fear that I’m going to wake up one day, slap on some red lipstick, shoot my sleeping lover, and then drive off on his motorcycle. We have to be informed consumers though – I’m more worried about the kids in middle school who are listening to all this music and taking it at face value. If I can get them to think critically about Taylor Swift’s lyrics with this twitter account, I’ll be really happy.
LGM: In a March 2013 Vanity Fair interview, Swift doesn’t describe herself as a feminist and has made many decidedly “un-feminist” remarks where she called out her critics for taking “a woman writing about her feelings in a confessional way—that’s taking it and turning it and twisting it into something that is frankly a little sexist.” Do you think its possible for people who don’t consider themselves feminists to better the cause? How important is the labeling?
CB: I always interpreted that statement as pretty feminist actually. She’s right – a lot of the criticism she’s received has had some weird sexist undertones. and she totally should be calling the media out on that.
That said, I hate that she won’t call herself a feminist. I think the label is important, because feminists get such bad press. People equate “feminist” with “unpleasant angry undesirable woman.” I really want to fight that stereotype with this project. Feminism can be fun! Feminists can be funny! They can like glitter and sparkly dresses and still be feminists!
LGM: While given spotlight in the major feminist blogs, such as Feministing and Jezebel, @FeministTSwift has also been highlighted in the Huffington Post and Buzzfeed, both of which have a much broader audience. Moreover it’s lauded for its humorous merit, much like Feminist Ryan Gosling before it. What does this say to you about claims that feminism can’t be funny and that feminists are humorless? Are we making progress in the public eye in that regard?
CB: That makes me so happy. I’m actually talking to a guy who runs the largest Taylor Swift fan podcast in the country, and I might do an interview on there. I’m psyched about it. I really want to get to people who haven’t necessarily spent time thinking about feminism, and show them that it doesn’t have to be this alienating counterculture. You can be a feminist and keep liking Taylor Swift! I’m hoping this is good PR for the feminist movement. Fingers crossed.
LGM: Along those same lines, you tackle many tough and essential issues in your Tweets, such as slut shaming, wage inequality, and sexual assault, yet in a comical manner. Do you see humor as an effective way to broach these subjects with a broader audience?
CB: Absolutely. I always said, “rape jokes are never funny” but it turns out they totally are sometimes (making fun of victims is probably still never okay, but making fun of society is totally fair game). And I’m really trying hard to fight this idea of feminists as humorless killjoys. Obviously there’s a time and place for being serious and talking about issues. But there’s also a time and place for a well-done rape joke.
LGM: For the emerging feminist population, primarily high school and college students, how do you see social media (Facebook, Twitter, Instagram) acting as an effective tool not just casually but for bringing issues to light but to initiate more serious conversations about feminist issues?
CB: Social media is so awesome. If I had been born in any other generation, I would probably just be the town weirdo handing out flyers. I love how much the internet is capable of, for entertainment and for social justice. I got an email from somebody at DoSomething.org a couple days ago, asking me to tweet about their petition against a super-rapey “seduction manual” on kickstarter. I did, and they ended up reaching their goal and then some. Kickstarter didn’t pull the campaign, but they’ve written an apology and donated $25,000 to RAINN, so they definitely got the message. I’d like to think my tweet (*cough to my hundred thousand followers cough*) actually made a difference here. And that’s so cool.
LGM: Taylor Swift has both participated in and been a victim of slut shaming. How do you think the objectification and persecution of celebrities can affect the lives of those who read tabloids and celebrity blogs?
CB: It’s all just so negative. I hate it. Especially because it’s disproportionately critical of women and their choices. Like, a woman in the public eye is fair game for all kinds of sh*t, whereas men seem to get a little more dignity. I honestly can’t read most of that stuff. Except Perez Hilton. I like him.
LGM: Beyonce is another celebrity who has gotten criticism in the feminist community for not self-identifying as a feminist and having, at times, some rather questionable lyrics and messages. Do you think it is their responsibility, as powerful women in the spotlight, to promote feminist ideals?
CB: I don’t think so. I mean, I’d really like them to, because they’re in such incredible positions of power that they could harness for so many great causes. But I wouldn’t call it a responsibility. I mean, nobody’s a good feminist all the time, right? I’m definitely not.
I also think it’s unfair to have these expectations of powerful women, when we don’t give powerful men the same responsibilities. Feminism isn’t just a girl thing! I’d love to see Robert Pattinson to come out and say he’s a feminist. Or even better – Justin Bieber. Imagine that. It would be great.
LGM: At that same time, what are the implications in your opinion of putting more straight, cisgender, white, able-bodied and other privileged people on the face of feminism, when feminism encompasses so many more types of identities and bodies?
CB: That’s such a good point, and such an important point. Taylor Swift and I have a lot of the same privileges, as straight, cis, able-bodied, white women who grew up in financially secure families, so it’s been pretty easy for me to imagine her feminist alterego’s favorite causes (hint: they’re mine). But aren’t I just reinforcing all these other privileges in the name of fighting male privilege? I don’t know. Obviously, nobody’s suggesting we kick all the straight white women out of feminism. And if you’re looking for one perfect representative to be the face of the feminist movement, good fucking luck. I’d love to see more diversity though. Somebody needs to make a FeministRihanna account. Or FeministBigFreedia. Hmm…