(CNN)It’s easy to argue that, in 2019, women are more powerful than they’ve ever been in United States history. A record 117 women won office in the 2018 midterms. A record number of women are vying for the presidency in 2020. The youngest billionaire in history is a woman (Hi, Kylie Jenner!). The number of women CEOs in Fortune 500 companies hit a record high. But even at a time when “something is happening” with women, we’re constantly reminded that even the most powerful among us have to fight for what’s theirs, whether it be reproductive justice, a seat at the proverbial table, or creative license.
We face a seemingly never-ending onslaught of examples that, in the midst of that fight, women are perceived as rude, angry, manipulative, or petty.
And we cannot deny that, far too often, behind these powerful women are men… taking ownership of those women’s work.
Over the weekend, Taylor Swift learned her six-album music catalog was sold to a company owned by music manager Scooter Braun, who Swift alleges has been bullying her for years. “Scooter has stripped me of my life’s work, that I wasn’t given an opportunity to buy,” Swift wrote in a Tumblr post. “Essentially, my musical legacy is about to lie in the hands of someone who tried to dismantle it.” She called it a “worst case scenario.” Swift also accused Braun of urging well-known artists Justin Bieber and Kanye West to direct their ire at Swift, too, pointing to a 2016 picture of Bieber, Braun, and West that Bieber posted on Instagram in 2016, captioned, “Taylor Swift what up.”
The reaction to Swift’s choice to publicly denounce what she believes to be a calculated sale of her life’s work to a man she says she no longer wanted to be associated with was immediate — and, to anyone remotely paying attention to how women are still treated in the United States, predictable. A Guardian writer described the situation as Swift “reigniting old feuds and giving us some new ones.” Bieber responded with a non-apology apology, saying “sorry” for the 2016 Instagram post but then asking what Swift aimed to gain from going public, writing in a new Instagram post, “What were you trying to accomplish with that blog post? Seems to me like it was to get sympathy.” Braun’s wife, Yael Cohen, also responded, writing, among other things, “Interesting that the man you’re so ‘grossed out’ by believed in you more than you believed in yourself,” insinuating in no uncertain terms that if it weren’t for him Swift wouldn’t be who and where she is today.
In a country whose critics notoriously turn their noses up at music geared toward teen girls and young women, like Swift’s, it appears to be painfully difficult for many to resist the urge to label what’s happening to Swift as frivolous drama. But this is a powerful woman losing the rights to what she created, to a man she claims attempted to control and hurt her — an outcome we’ve seen play out before.
In 2018, pop star Kesha lost her appeal to break from Dr. Luke, a music producer Kesha alleged emotionally abused and sexually assaulted her. Dr. Luke and his lawyers claimed in a lawsuit that her allegations were false and defamatory. While there are obviously differences in Swift’s and Kesha’s situations, the way Kesha describes hers feels resonant here: “You can get a divorce from an abusive spouse. You can dissolve a partnership if the relationship becomes irreconcilable,” said Kesha’s proposed countersuit after she lost her appeal. “The same opportunity — to be liberated from the physical, emotional, and financial bondage of a destructive relationship — should be available to a recording artist.”
Neither of these outcomes, or how these two powerful women in the music industry say they were treated, exist in a bubble. If life imitates art, and vice versa, then they are indicative of the fights women across the country are still facing — an extension of the foxholes women have been sequestered in for decades and the trenches that divide us. We’re still digging today.
Sure, two women — Kamala Harris and Elizabeth Warren — who, according to CNN, are rising in the polls, “each” won their nights of the Democratic presidential debates. But now Harris is the target of 2019’s version of Donald Trump’s birtherism. And political pundit Stuart Rothenberg asked his 37.3K Twitter followers if Harris was being “too aggressive” during the debates. Some have accused Warren of basically co-opting Bernie Sanders’ ideas.
Sure, a woman is the youngest billionaire on the planet, but in 2017 women were paid 80.5 cents for every dollar men made — black and brown women, and mothers, even less. Sure, we had the #MeToo movement and men like Harvey Weinstein were held accountable, but Louis C.K. recently received a standing ovation at a comedy festival in Brooklyn, and E. Jean Carroll accused the sitting President of the United States of rape (the 16th allegation of rape, assault, and/or sexual harassment against him) only to watch her story go vastly underreported. The President denied her allegations, stating she’s “not his type.”
As women, we’re to blame. We’re too aggressive. We just want attention. We don’t love ourselves enough. We’re manipulative. We’re not his type. We’re too much. We’re dramatic. We’re feuding.
And, like Swift, far too many of us are watching what we’ve worked so hard for fall into the hands of men who seek to control us, whether it be via our legacies, our reputations, our bodies, or our success.