July 21, 2015 — Taylor Swift’s first single, Tim McGraw, debuted in 2006 when Swift was only 16 years old. I was 12, and instantly enchanted. I loved everything about Swift, from her honest lyrics to her curly hair.
Today, both Swift and I are nine years older—she is 25, I am 21—and as a loyal fan I’ve watched her grow from a spirited teenager into a successful, innovative, and dynamic young woman. Swift has played a critical role in shaping the kind of woman I hope to become—especially in regards to one very important issue: feminism.
Feminism has been at the forefront of my mind since I began my internship at Catalyst, about a month ago. In the short time I’ve been here, I have learned a great deal about what it means to be a woman in the workforce and—even more importantly—what it means to be an effective, inclusive leader.
There are four particular behaviors that Catalyst research links to being an inclusive leader: empowerment, accountability, courage, and humility. I believe that Swift exemplifies each one of them, making her a special kind of role model—not just for women and girls, but for everyone. Here’s why:
She is an advocate for female empowerment. Swift’s self-produced music video for Bad Blood features a fabulous array of female celebrities (Lena Dunham, Jessica Alba, Cindy Crawford, Selena Gomez, etc.) as fierce action heroes. I love this video for many reasons. First, it’s empowering to see women dominating an action sequence! As Star Trek actor George Takei says, “Come on Marvel, T. Swift is showing you up.” The video also serves as a great example of what can stem from a collaborative effort by a group of creative and intelligent women. After watching this video, I felt inspired, empowered, and proud to be a woman.
She considers her fans to be largely accountable for her success. One cannot possibly claim that Swift doesn’t appreciate and adore her fans, with countless examples of her expressing her gratitude. She has sent personalized Christmas gifts to her fans. She held “secret sessions” for her fans, so they could listen to 1989 before it was released. She even surprised one of her fans by attending her bridal shower. It is important for artists to stay connected to their fans because without them, success is impossible. Catalyst believes the same concept applies to leaders. Good leaders—inclusive leaders—ensure that employees feel engaged, empowered, respected, and valued.
She is not afraid to speak her mind. Swift shows a tremendous amount of courage when it comes to standing up for what she believes in. Her willingness to make bold statements recently led to an enormous change in the music industry. Swift authored a Tumblr post entitled To Apple, Love Taylor and actually convinced Apple to reverse its decision to withhold royalties from artists during the free trial period of Apple Music, the company’s new streaming service. While this act obviously speaks to Swift’s immense influence, it also speaks to her character, showing that she has the courage to openly challenge society’s norms, despite the potential risks.
She admits when she’s wrong. Swift has admitted to not identifying as a feminist until rather recently, when her friend Lena Dunham explained what feminism really means. In an interview with The Guardian, Swift said: “As a teenager, I didn’t understand that saying you’re a feminist is just saying that you hope women and men will have equal rights and equal opportunities. What it seemed to me, the way it was phrased in culture, society was that you hate men.” By explaining her “feminist awakening” in this way, I believe Swift was able to really impact women who were initially hesitant to embrace the philosophy of feminism. Through her humility, Swift shows that it’s OK to make mistakes and that it’s important to consider the perspectives of others.
As such an enormous icon, Swift has the ability to positively influence people of all ages, in all parts of the world, on issues such as feminism, leadership, and more. I certainly know she has positively influenced me. I work to emulate many of these characteristics as a woman and inclusive leader.
I would like to thank you, Taylor Swift, for constantly inspiring me in so many ways. I am confident that I will be calling you my role model for years to come, just as I did when I was 12 years old—and just as I do now.