I think Taylor Swift is problematic. She can definitely be a trademark White Feminist (for example, when she accused Nicki Minaj of “pitting women against each other” when Nicki was protesting the lack of representation of women of color at the VMAs). Also, I’m convinced Hiddleswift is a conspiracy, but I also think Calvin Harris is a big baby stuck inside a 6’2″ man’s body. Don’t you have something better to do than bitch about your ex on Twitter, Adam Wiles? Don’t you have to add catchy background noise to some song somewhere?
That’s beside the point. If Taylor is not perfect, and especially if she is not perfect, she still has the right to give and revoke consent at any time. When the newly formed and soon to be irrelevant feud between Kanye West and Taylor Swift is framed in terms of consent, it becomes much less about “dragging” or “shading,” and more about how badly we as a society treat issues of consent.
Let’s imagine that Taylor and Kanye did, in fact, have sex.
Let’s pretend that Kanye asks permission from Taylor to perform an act on her, and she says yes. Then Kanye does that but adds something else on that Taylor isn’t keen about.
At this point, Taylor says, “hey, uh, I like the first part, but I really don’t like the second part.” We’d hope that at this point, Kanye would say, “Duly noted, let me get back to what I was doing because imma let you finish.”
This scenario exemplifies how communication should work in a sexual partnership. Kanye explicitly asks for consent to a certain action. Then, Taylor revokes her consent because she wasn’t fully informed of what Kanye was planning to do, and in fact did not receive pleasure from what Kanye did. But instead of whining, pouting, or starting a Twitter war, Kanye listens.
(If you’re still wondering about consent, I love this British analogy that will clear things up.)
If you believe that the above scenario is fine, I hope you’ll consider that Kim Kardashian did not, in fact, expose anything about Taylor Swift. On the contrary, she exposed her husband’s disregard for consent at multiple stages of the production of the song “Famous.”
First of all, let’s talk about the line that Taylor objects to:
“For all the South Side n***** that know me best / I feel like me and Taylor might still have sex / Why? / Because I made that bitch famous.”
Wonderful. Ok. I can’t even deal with the implications of this line, which is “hmm, maybe one day Taylor will decide to bless me with her vagina in response for the professional favor I did her that one time.” That is LITERALLY the definition of a nice guy complex, which is the idea that “I am nice, therefore women owe me sex.”
A) No one owes you sex, Kanye.
B) Expecting sexual favors for professional favors is coercive, gross, and so Mad Men. Like Taylor, I object.
Secondly, let’s consider the transcript of Kim Kardashian’s snaps:
Kanye West: (rapping) “For all my South side n—– that know me best, I feel like me and Taylor might still have sex.”
Taylor Swift: “I’m, like, this close to overexposure.”
Kanye West: “This one is, uh – I think this is a really cool thing to have.”
Taylor Swift: “I know, I mean it’s like a compliment, kind of.”
“It’s like a compliment, kind of,” is the most lukewarm approval one can receive. In fact, I believe “It’s like a compliment, kind of,” is the actual definition of shade (the way that the remark “you’re such a creative cook” or “I love how you dress so colorfully” can be like a compliment, kind of).
Remember folks: when we’re looking for consent, we want it to be enthusiastic. We want to hear “Oh yes, please include that line about me,” rather than a protest about overexposure, followed by a “meh.”
Also, note that Kanye only raps the first part of the line in question for her, and not the second. Just because Taylor approved (and I don’t think she did, because it was unenthusiastic) of Kanye saying “I feel like me and Taylor still might have sex” does NOT mean she consented to letting Kanye say “because I made that bitch famous.”
Thus, Taylor is well within her rights to say that she didn’t consent to the entire line about her. I can completely understand why a woman who was acclaimed on her own (famous enough to win a VMA in 2009 before Kanye decided he had something to say) might get pissed that a man is claiming to be responsible for her success.
More disturbingly, did Taylor consent to Kanye’s “Famous” video? Can she sleep at night knowing that some dude ordered a wax figurine of her naked body, even if it was for the sake of “art?” Why is no one dragging Kanye for that?
Furthermore, I believe we’re facing a larger issue of consent about the recording that started it all: in the state of California, Kim Kardashian needs Taylor’s permission and Kanye’s permission to record a conversation between the two of them. Whatever. The courts will decide that as the world watches.
What I won’t watch and won’t stand for is this #KimExposesTaylorParty. Do not celebrate when the public mocks a celebrity who stands up for herself. Do not reward nonconsensual behavior with a fun hashtag. Put your politics into your tweets and stand up for consent.
tl;dr: Consent for one thing is not the same as consent for everything, and can be withdrawn at any time. What we are witnessing is a public withdrawal of consent, meaning “I once told you it was okay to rap about me, and now I changed my mind.”
If we support open and honest discussions about consent in sexual relationships, then I hope we have room to consider discussions about artistic consent. If we want to defend our own rights to give approval about the usage of our names, images, and bodies, let’s extend that same courtesy to a celebrity, even if she commits the human sin of imperfection.
I have one last thing to address: I am not blind to the realities of race in this situation. I do not mean to call a black man a liar, nor am I equating Kanye West to a rapist. White women have a long and problematic history of accusing black men of deviant sexual behavior (see: Emmett Till) and I do not want to be mistaken as doing so.
What I mean to suggest is that Kanye, like many people, could get better at asking for and receiving consent. While I have no idea what he does sexually, and do not claim to know, this situation with Taylor suggests that as an artist, he didn’t do a great job of making sure that his subject was really okay with his portrayal.
We all can do better, artistically and sexually. It’s truly on us. If we support the right to healthy consent in our own lives, I hope that we’ll put away the popcorn and extend T-Swift the same courtesy.