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#Swiftgate and the It Girl Complex

20/07/2016 17:03 | Updated 20 July 2016

"Do u guys follow me on snap chat? U really should ;)"
At first glance, it appears the slightly egotistical boasting of a twelve-year-old, hardly an inspiring slice of intellect nor a motivational call to arms. Yet, that, in those eleven words, is how Kim Kardashian unleashed a social media explosion against pop's good girl, Taylor Swift.

"Kim is a savage!" jeered Kardashian's sister, Khloé. "Don't fuck with her man hunni."
Thousands of Twitter users followed suit, bombarding Swift with a vitriolic hurricane via the #KimExposedTaylorParty.

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In her defence, Swift asserted her ignorance of the offending "b****" lyric: "Being falsely painted as a liar when I was never given the full story... is character assassination". However, even "character assassination" appears a somewhat sugar-coated interpretation; this was not an "assassination" but a bloodied execution, hurling Swift from her pedestal to the jaws of baying consumers.

I would hardly say I am Swift's biggest fan; indeed, at points, I would hardly even say I liked her. I always viewed her as the Queen Bee in the school playground; the musical embodiment of Mean Girls' Regina George. Where once I gushed at her talent, I later began to question her veracity. For a woman who has become an icon of contemporary feminism, her elitist 'girl squad' and capitalisation on high-profile boyfriends have doused her calls for female empowerment with its fair share of insincerity.

Yet, the latest backlash against Swift cannot simply be viewed as a "suspicion of successful women". This latest scandal demonstrates not an issue of misogyny, but the flawed feminism of celebrity culture: one in which women are idolised not for what they do, but for the image consumers hope they represent.

The relationship between feminism and celebrity culture is one that has continually been manipulated by the media industry. Since Helen Reddy's 1972 hit, 'I Am Woman' became "the worldwide anthem of second-wave feminism", numerous female stars have recognised its marketability. From the 'girl power' toting Spice Girls to Beyoncé's 2008 manifesto, 'Single Ladies (Put a Ring On It)', feminism has been viewed as an almost bulletproof method with which to garner a concrete fan base. Indeed, the empowered 'It Girl' has come to synonymise any successful female celebrity from Twiggy to Lena Dunham, reflecting a woman "who makes her name in a sphere... broadly delimited to men".

In many ways, I do not doubt the feminist intentions of the 'It Girl' label. Prior to the second wave of feminism in the 1960s, women's role was largely confined to the domestic sphere. Although stars such as Audrey Hepburn achieved meteoric success in the 1950s, a large portion of her fame was rooted in her status as a "style icon". Her popularity with "ordinary women" stems from exactly that distinction: as "the ideal femininity" from which "ordinary women" are inevitably separated.

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Photo: pixabay.com

The 'It Girl' label, therefore, has since acted as a feminist mechanism, used to encourage female ambition within the fantasy realm of the celebrity stratosphere. Indeed, part of the allure of contemporary 'It Girls', Jennifer Lawrence and Anna Kendrick, is that they are so authentic, so accessible to "ordinary women".

However, as is all too often the case, it is a concept that has rapidly begun to rot, merely perpetuating the jewel-encrusted sexism that riddles celebrity culture. To be defined as an 'It Girl' no longer portrays an independent woman in control of her own success, but an instrument "passive and pliable". By idolising women as such, we are inevitably dehumanising them, dooming them to a superficial vision of femininity that no woman can effectively fulfil.

Swift's dethroning is hardly a novel phenomenon: Miley Cyrus was branded "a performing tongue with a woman attached" following her raunchy transformation to adult star; Anne Hathaway was chastised for being "fake and smug" after winning an Oscar in 2013; even Beyoncé has been scorned for "playing the race card" with her latest album Lemonade.

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Photo: en.wikipedia.org

However, what is different about Swift's current controversy is that it has been inflicted, not by a malicious media, but by Kardashian. Certainly, as Anne T. Donahue highlights: "Feminism does not mean we are all friends". Yet as a figure who has both dominated and threatened the boundaries of contemporary feminism, Kardashian's latest swipe has highlighted the superficial fragility of our perception of female stars. Certainly, I mistrust Kardashian's stance as a 'feminist'; when issues such as misogynistic violence and educational limitations are rampant, I question quite how a naked selfie enriches the global quest for gender equality. Yet she is a figure who, by enjoying the status she has, has ludicrously caricatured the position of women in celebrity culture. As such, although rather "pathetic", '#Swiftgate' has potently exposed the blatant flaws with our idolisation of famous women. Kardashian - whether intentionally or not - has highlighted the backstabbing, ruthless artifice of the celebrity underworld, and its suffocating repercussions for female stars.

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