Vanity Fair April 2013, The Woman on the Page

Vanity Fair stands apart from the other magazines I’ve looked at so far, in that it’s not really about fashion and beauty. The cover advertises articles about a Syrian hostage ordeal, a 15-year-old who took on the Taliban, and the world’s most expensive apartment building. The cover girl is Taylor Swift–a person I’m interested in discussing.

Another noteworthy difference about Vanity Fair is that there are a lot more men on the staff. The ads, however, are mostly the same as what I saw in Elle and other fashion magazines.

One of the first features is an interview with Sandra Day O’Conner, who has recently put out a book. It’s mostly a short biography piece, which is disappointing.

Most of the articles in Vanity Fair are written by men and don’t focus on issues relating to women. The features on Bette Midler’s return to Broadway and Sheryl Sandberg are short, only one or two pages. Much of the content seems to be current events and issues.

But as I said, what I want to focus in on is the piece on Taylor Swift. I see her receiving a lot of hate online and in the media, and I don’t quite understand it. The biggest criticism of her seems to be the fact that she’s dated several men and writes songs about her break-ups with them. The article on Swift opens with a discussion of Swift’s “highly scrutinized romantic life, the stuff of tabloid obsession.” It includes a chart of the men Swift has dated, which only serves to enforce this obsession, rather than criticizing it.

Still, the article is mostly sympathetic to Swift. She’s characterized as hard-working and a great success, especially as a female artist. In regards to the criticism that she dates too much, Swift responds, “Since 2010 I have dated exactly two people.” She also says that she’s “sick of the tabloids saying I obsess over guys.” And yet most of this article is about the men Swift has dated and the songs she wrote about them. The article states that part of Swift’s success comes from “her willingness to play peekaboo with the tabloids, to discreetly gossip about exes–and herself.”

Swift says something in the article that I have to quote: “For a female to write about her feelings and then be portrayed as some clingy, insane, desperate girlfriend in need of making you marry her and have kids with her her, I think taking something that potentially should be celebrated–a woman writing about her feelings in a confessional way–that’s taking it and turning it and twisting it into something that is frankly a little sexist.” It’s a brilliant statement, I think, and I had no idea Swift had this level of awareness.

The article really wastes the opportunity to reveal a more interesting side of Swift. She’s generally portrayed as having no real substance, and I don’t think that’s true. I would be intrigued to know more about Swift, beyond the image she and the media create.

As for Vanity Fair, I have to say I was disappointed. It didn’t read like a magazine for women, since it doesn’t focus in on women’s issues.


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