The summer of 2023 has been a whirlwind for popular culture and feminism, with Taylor Swift's Era's Tour causing a small earthquake, "Barbie" making pink waves in the film industry and Beyoncé's Renaissance Tour projected to become the highest-grossing tour of a female artist ever.
For many Michigan State University students, all three have been integral in redefining feminism, beauty and sexuality.
“The things that women see representing themselves makes a big difference,” hospitality sophomore Liz Brey said. “Seeing somebody like Taylor break records, take back her own music and do all of the things she does, being one of the best artists out there, can empower other women to be stronger. But a lot of her music does that, too.”
Brey, who is president of the MSU Taylor Swift Club, said Swift, Beyoncé and "Barbie" are "carrying the economy." With social media experiencing a rapid growth spurt in the past few years, Brey said, pop culture influences everything.
As of Sept. 13, "Barbie" is the highest-grossing film this year, beating the box office record originally held by “Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows part 2.” The movie was lauded for its portrayal of themes like womanhood, belonging and femininity, among others.
Social relations and policy and comparative cultures and politics senior Mackenzie Lovell said feminism within “Barbie” and Taylor Swift is at face-level, but a good first step in portraying the significance of women in society.
“While Taylor Swift and Barbie were culturally significant, it was people showing up to that movie and showing up to tour and then discussing it that made it so prevalent in society,” Lovell said. "So I think it kind of starts in there, but I have hope for the future that this will continue and this was a starting point, and more of these female-led films, music will be more popular.”
In addition to critiques about "Barbie" lacking depth, Taylor Swift has also faced controversy for being a "white feminist," or only supporting feminism without acknowledging the difference in issues that white and POC women face. Lovell said discussing these issues are important for making progress with women's rights.
“Things are allowed to be critiqued without completely destroying them," she said. "We can just notice where their errors are or their gaps. We can critique women. We just have to do it in a way that's like safe because honestly, a woman like her has been critiqued so much by the media and very unsafe ways that it's it's hard to find that balance. Yes, Barbie could have been more complex in its description of feminism and analysis of feminism, but I don't think that's necessarily what the movie was for.”
Similarly, Lovell said Swift could be more outspoken because of her significant presence in society. While Swift is a a feminist and advocate for the LGBTQ community, Lovell said, there is always room for growth and Swift could work to be more inclusive.
International relations and history junior Paige Lawson said Kens of Barbieland being the caretakers and the Eras Tour being a “feminine type” brought back the original purpose of feminism: equality for everyone and feminine traits being considered masculine and vice versa. It is not “a man-hating thing," she said.
Lawson said she is glad there are so many different inspirations in media for people to understand and connect to now.
"Beyonce is iconic, and having her being a woman at the top of music charts when she did was great," she said. "And it has been something that's really cool to see her kind of come back and take that again, and show everybody she's still there and being older doesn’t change who she is as a woman, which is cool to see.”
Lawson said she thought it was cool that many people who are “stereotypically masculine” were dressing up “feminine” at The Eras Tour.
“Pop culture probably plays one of the biggest roles right now in influencing how society views women,” Lawson said. “People take Taylor Swift, the Beyonces and the Barbies of the world and put them as the head of women. Then they think however those women are being treated, it’s okay to treat all women or all non-men like that – anybody who portrays femininity. It happens to feminine men as well. They get disrespected by masculine society.”
Lovell feels that pop culture has the power to influence people to believe certain stereotypes of femininity, such as only associating pink with women. In the "Barbie" movie, Lovell said, the use of pink wasn't necessarily to enforce gender stereotypes, but instead act as a play on it and reference the original doll's design.
While Brey said she thinks this pop-culture boom of feminism will last forever, Lawson and Lovell are not as certain.
“I want [this boom of feminism] to last longer, and I think it could,” Lovell said. “But I think it relies on the hands of people who are inspired by the Taylor Swift or the Barbie movie to look into those films or music or TV shows, and that have some more messages... that they're trying to ....bring into that like discussion of pop culture. And I hope that happens, but I don't know.”
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