Taylor Swift performs during the 2013 CMA Music Festival on June 6, 2013 in Nashville, Tennessee. Photo: Christopher Polk
Despite having only launched on June 12 the parody Twitter account Feminist Taylor Swift already has over 100000 followers. It takes the often saccharine lyrics of avowed non-feminist songstress, Taylor Swift, and tweaks them to include a touch more gender equality. For example, ‘She wears short skirts / I wear t-shirts / Neither of us is asking for it’ and ‘It's a love story / Baby just say yes / because consent should always be freely and enthusiastically given’. Account creator Clara Beyer was a fan of Swift, but always found her lyrics to be problematic, so took a little initiative and reimagined them. Oh, and it also has an excellent icon of Swift Photoshopped as Rosie the Riveter. (There’s also Feminist Kanye tweeting, if you prefer rap to country pop.)
On June 13 YouTube user Taylor Adele Smith posted a Feminist Make-up Tutorial which gives useful suggestions like using a primer before applying eyeshadow so it ‘stays strong, just like the woman’s spirit through millennia of misogyny’ and when applying foundation ‘make sure you give every part of your face a fair and equal amount of representation, unlike the government and prime time television’. It now has 300000 plus views, 1800 comments and an over 98 per cent thumbs up rating (a rather unheard of rate of approval on the snippy world of YouTube comments).
Smith expressed surprise and gratitude over the attention garnered in an update on the video, before clarifying her intentions for the parody. “In case you didn't catch on, this video is supposed to be a tongue-in-cheek parody on some of society's crazy stereotypes of feminists... It's meant to play on some common misconceptions about feminism. There is a difference between feminism and misandry, and this video is a satire based on the fact that these two things get mixed up all too often.”
And of course there’s the grandmummy of them all, the now retired Feminist Ryan Gosling. It’s a meme, it’s a Tumblr, it’s even a handsomely bound coffee table book. It’s so popular we’re surprised CBS haven’t optioned the rights to develop a cruddy laugh-tracked sitcom based on it. Started by Danielle Henderson in October 2011 (so it’s 63 in internet years) as a way to keep track of the theorists she was covering in her gender studies program, the site juxtaposes feminist theory with pictures of a certain movie star heartthrob looking dishy.
So why have these parodies gone viral? Firstly, they’re funny. People like to laugh. Secondly, gender issues are at the forefront of current political discussion. And lastly, they tap into pop culture for a witty discussion of feminism that has a fresh perspective. Kevin Carty, collaborator on Feminist Taylor Swift told The Washington Post that both he and Beyer “believe in bringing more people into feminism and gender-critical conversations”. And he believes, “the easiest ways to do that are to engage them with things they’re already into in their daily lives”, whether that is pop music, Ryan Gosling or YouTube make-up tutes.
These parodies use the Trojan horse of humour to help underline the idiocy of inequality. In her 2012 Slate article The Mockery Feminists writer Katie Roiphe discusses (and is somewhat critical of) the rise of a sarcastic, satirical breed of feminist, citing Tina Fey and Caitlin Moran as high profile examples. Roiphe notes that “the funny, wry, and ironic are ascendant” in popular feminism – “a kind of feminism that employs humour or sarcasm as its medium, with outrage manifesting as mockery, power taking the form of laughing, or sometimes just scoffing”.
But it seems to me this idea of the ‘mockery feminist’ can have a lot of strength in highlighting these continuing problems. Parodies tap into that vein of bringing up the serious issues of inequality but with levity, which can be an incredibly powerful way to deliver more progressive ideas about gender to those who may be less familiar with them. In this way these parodies can be as powerful as petitions when it comes to changing attitudes, particularly as their breeding ground of the internet makes them much more likely to reach those such as teenage girls who might be encountering feminism for the first time.
As well as using humour to deliver a message of equality, the parodies also help blow up the old tired stereotype of feminists as humourless scolds, not to mention that ridiculous chestnut that ‘women aren’t funny’. Every time a woman uses humour it lessens the idea that humour is somehow a male domain whose vast and incredible power may only be wielded by those with testicles. And if, as with these parodies, it can educate and empower at the same time? All the better.