Kristina Murkett

Taylor Swift and the problem with ‘sexist’ jokes

Taylor Swift and the problem with 'sexist' jokes
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It is the third day of Women’s History Month, and instead of talking about a range of female accomplishments and achievements; everyone is instead, once again, talking about Taylor Swift.

Swift tweeted yesterday, criticising the Netflix series Ginny and Georgia for its 'lazy, deeply sexist joke' which apparently is 'degrading hard working women.' The joke comes from the series’ finale, when 15 year old Ginny argues with her 30 year old mother and cries, 'What do you care, you go through men faster than Taylor Swift!'

A lazy joke? Yes. A deeply sexist one? I’m not so sure.

After a decade of mass tabloid coverage of her relationships, it’s understandable that Swift might be tired of her love life being a punchline. There’s no doubt that if you take the joke at face value, then it does seem outdated, repetitive, and - crucially - not true; she has been in a relationship with actor Joe Alwyn for over four years now.

The line might not be clever, but it is not necessarily misogynistic either. The resulting fury from the Twittersphere forgets one important thing: that men can be the butt of jokes too. Last year Ricky Gervais called out Leonardo Di Caprio’s reputation for dating younger women by saying, 'Once Upon a Time in Hollywood [is] nearly three hours long. Leonardo DiCaprio attended the premiere, and by the end, his date was too old for him.' Gervais also introduced Matt Damon as 'the only person Ben Affleck hasn’t been unfaithful to.'

Swift’s decision to tweet about the series is dangerous because it weaponises her fans and her own influence. Swift’s fans (she has 88 million followers on Twitter and 149 million on Instagram) have been quick to rally behind her, and have since been harassing Antonia Gentry, who plays Ginny, over social media.

Swift knows her own influence. Her fanbase wields the sort of power that could cancel an entire show on the basis of one line taken dangerously out of context. The series explores a range of important topics - race, class, sexuality, self-harm and disordered eating - and is far from sexist. In one episode, Georgia even tells her daughter, 'We live in a man’s world, and it’s exhausting to live in a world where you matter less.'

The show, if anything, pokes fun at the media’s brainwashing of young girls. One of Ginny’s friend’s automatic responses to boy drama is to say “I blame toxic masculinity.” When asked why, she replies, 'Oh… I don’t know.' Ginny’s ‘joke’ works much in the same way: she is parroting a trope that she has heard online but doesn’t really understand.

It’s a cheap shot, no doubt. And there is still undeniably a double standard between the sexual behaviours of men and women. However, the joke doesn’t fall flat because it’s insensitive. It fails because it’s unoriginal, and perhaps we should start judging comedy by its cleverness rather than its controversy.

The whole point of comedy is to subvert, surprise, satirise and shock. Of course some comedians and scriptwriters rely more on taboos than others, but they still need to show ingenuity, playfulness and intelligence.

In a recent interview for Louis Theroux’s Grounded podcast, Frankie Boyle, king of controversy, called out Ricky Gervais’ over-reliance on jokes about trans people. Not because the topic is off limits, or because Gervais is ‘punching down’, but because it’s 'lazy' to use the same gags over and over again.

Swift should have by all means called out the lazy comedy, but perhaps she should have thought twice before playing the sexism card. Such knee-jerk reactions risk clouding out genuine sexism. If the word is applied whenever offence is caused, it will soon become meaningless. 

Written byKristina Murkett

Kristina Murkett is an English teacher, private tutor and journalist

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