Despite Taylor Swift’s aspiration that her sexual assault trial last week should stand as an example for all women, what’s been notable outside the courtroom is how little support from the sisterhood Swift’s had.
When Swift’s pop contemporary Kesha faced her own sexual assault case last year – against music producer Dr Luke – female celebrities clamoured to express their support. An MTV line-up of Divas tweeted their wishes: Lady Gaga, Ariana Grande, Kelly Clarkson, Lily Allen and Lorde made #freekesha trend. Even Adele used the headline-grabbing moment she collected her BRIT for Best Female Solo Artist to holler her encouragement for Kesha. By contrast, Swift’s case was met with deafening silence from prominent women. Where was Girl Power when she needed it?
Such silence is especially audible because Taylor herself is a self-styled queen of sisterhood feminism. She has surrounded herself with a “girl squad” of supermodels and singers, among them Cara Delevingne and Karlie Kloss. She’s flown her posse of girls on holiday, posed with them on Instagram and brought them on-stage with her arm-in-arm at her shows. Last week, however, that “girl squad” were not enthusiastically waving pom-poms outside the court. Instead, Cara D was tweeting promotions for her novel and Karlie was busy posting pictures of herself on the beach.
That women do not feel moved to support Taylor Swift is their prerogative. Especially when they have other, such pressing, concerns. Perhaps women feel conflicted about supporting Swift, who is after all a complex victim. She lost credibility over an encounter with rapper Kanye West that cast him as misogynistic. Swift has also been called out as a fair-weather feminist after declining to show Hillary Clinton public support in the run up to the US election, or turning up for the women’s march against Trump.
Whatever the reasons the sisterhood has abandoned Swift at her most vulnerable, in doing so they have highlighted something feminism rarely admits - how questionable a key mantra of feminism is: That ALL Women must blindly support other women. This is summed up by the classic Madeleine Albright mantra, trotted out again and again, that “there is a special place in hell for women who do not help other women”.
To some women, this diktat is so essential it defies intellect. Thus one American feminist proudly boasted she supported Hillary Clinton because she was voting “with my vagina” (vom). Likewise, the Guardian’s Jessica Valenti so prioritised Clinton’s sex, she declared (before the US election), that to make Clinton the first female president she’d happily “play the gender card…again and again”.
At its most dangerous this feminist obsession with gender over reason culminates in an over-idealisation of women – and the belief they can do no wrong. It’s such thinking that leads feminists to declare that in all sexual assault cases female ‘victims’ must be automatically believed. And it allows Director of Public Prosecutions Alison Saunders to justify muddying the clear-minded law - skewing it in favour of women in rape cases. So now a man accused of date-rape find the onus on him to convince police a woman consented to sex, undermining the very principle of innocent until proven guilty.
The idea women have a moral duty to support other women regardless of whether what they say is credible is, of course, absurd. Women – who are not homogeneous – are as capable as men of being shits, of lying, conniving, and being manipulative. Surely to believe otherwise is sexist.
Even feminists know this. The truth is the sisterhood, while declaring that women must support one another, has long been happy to freeze out or ignore women who don’t uphold their beliefs. Usually ladies who are right-leaning. Hence many feminists – while campaigning for more women in power – would certainly not celebrate the political prominence of Margaret Thatcher, Sarah Palin, Marie Le Pen or even Theresa May. In the same way Women In Journalism does not see fit to revel in Katie Hopkins' (controversial) success as a female columnist.
Now, once again, Swift’s case reveals feminism's guilty secret: that it does not support All Women but only those it approves of. And while this might shatter the gender-centric logic of feminism itself, ultimately it’s an approach that, to my mind, seems a lot more reasonable.