Nice Girls Never Win: How Taylor Swift Got Caught in a Web We All Weave

Oh what a tangled web we weave when first we practice to deceive

While researching an insignificant topic for a paper that was really assigned to practice our cursive, I became transfixed on this quote in the margins of the page of a children’s encyclopedia. I wrote it down. I recited it to myself. I fixated my fourth grade brain on what on earth that little ditty could mean. I knew that “deceive” meant something like “lie,” but I couldn’t understand why or how someone would practice to deceive. I didn’t understand then that, for many women, the very act of being nice depends on this practice of deceptive web weaving. I didn’t understand that this web that holds things together for time will only entangles the weaver.

Success and the Need to be Nice

Taylor Swift is caught in one such tangled web. After being “exposed” by Kim Kardashian she pivoted her story to accommodate the new information and keep Kanye West in the wrong. But none of the twists of this feud have been about the truth. Every turn is about personas (Swift’s, West’s, and Kardashian’s), and Taylor Swift’s is becoming unsustainable. Swift’s plight, from top-of-her-game to put-in-her-place, is an all too familiar one for a girl who wants to be known as nice.

First, a note on success: I refuse to believe that Taylor Swift is naive, stupid, or without control of her image. Like most famous artists, she has earned her success through a series of incredibly shrewd business moves and careful construction of a brand. Swift’s persona would never allow for an honest discussion of these aspects of her career, but there are there if you look past the red lipstick and instagram spam. The very brand that Swift and Co have created relies on Swift embodying the nice girl who’s defining characteristic is that she is likable.

Second, a note on being a nice: It’s not nice to say, “I got here because I worked my ass off.” Instead, nice girls say things like “I’m incredibly lucky” or “I couldn’t have done it without_____” It’s not nice to believe your work is better than others. Instead, nice girls show that they are just regular girls doing what came naturally to them. It’s not nice to keep a private, small circle of friends because it’s cliquey (read: bitchy). Instead, nice girls collect friends because everyone wants to be their friend and they’re so damn nice that they would never turn anyone away.

In this framework, Taylor could never speak specifically on what she had to do to earn an audition, a seat at the meeting, or control of her artistry. Taylor could never not like someone, unless that person was specifically and verifiably rude to her. Then, of course, not liking someone is justified. In this framework, Taylor must have a squad but can never support someone as controversial as Kanye West (even if she wanted to). To agree with Kanye when he is not being nice (i.e. calling Swift a bitch) means she may not be so nice. The web is tangled from the start because Taylor attempts to balance characteristics that are seen as mutually exclusive in our culture. You can’t be a nice girl and not be bothered by being called a bitch. You can’t be Taylor Swift and understand Kanye West. You can’t be nice and a shrewd business woman. 

In short, nice girls can’t win.

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Fathers be good to your daughters

When I was growing up, I wasn’t close to my dad. For me, he was the authority, the enforcer, the coach.

I grew up watching him on the sidelines of the football field every fall Friday night. He earned a solid reputation for being a son-of-a-bitch. Once at a middle school track meet a boy told me that my dad was an asshole. I responded, “If you think he’s an asshole, try living with him!” Our roles in each other’s lives forced us into positions that were distant from and in reaction to the other.

But there is a long season of a daughter’s life that is unknowable to her father. It isn’t just about him not liking your boyfriend (he didn’t) or not approving of the late night activities the cool kids were doing (he rarely). It is more about an inability to access the strange alchemy that turns girls into women.

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Should you read this?


The Basics

Title: By the Light of My Father’s Smile
Author: Alice Walker
Published: 1998


Yes, said Lily Paul. True education is never a one-way street.
Ouch! said Susannah.
Oh yes, said Lily Paul. I can study just as hard as you. And what I’ve learned from our years of mutual cramming is that I can neither have you nor be you. Nor can I have your childhood instead of my own. I’m stuck with who I am, she said, twirling a silver lock with her finder. I’m trying to learn that that’s not so bad.

If this book were a song, it’d be….

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