Message from the Center: Rebecca Solnit & Jon Christensen

I write this at the end of a bizarre, disturbing and utterly depressing two weeks, as a new Justice of the Supreme Court is being sworn in. The media — both professional and social— continues to hash and re-hash what did or did not happen, what might have happened, what might have been. I’ve tried not to listen to the news for a few days, but today this caught my attention: “Taylor Swift breaks political silence, will it destroy her career?”

Predictably, there are the haters:
— “Just shut up and sing.”
— “Does every pop star have to voice their political opinions to the world?”

And the supporters:
— “Taylor Swift just posted an extremely political post on Instagram & I’m so happy she’s using her huge platform to speak out!”

Putting aside what Taylor Swift believes, why is there controversy over her right to express it? Artists live in the world, are a part of the world, make art in response to the world—why would they be apolitical? Why do we want them to be? James Baldwin, Ai Wei Wei, The Dixie Chicks, Ted Nugent, Maya Angelou, Susan Sarandon, Patti Smith, Kanye West, Leni Riefenstahl, Lillian Hellman,  and hundreds more over hundreds of years — artists stand and have stood on both sides of whatever divide they happen to be on. Why the disbelief over Taylor Swift and her opinions? Are the rules different for twenty-eight-year-old female pop-stars?

Just shut up and sing.”

Apparently they are. When I first heard this “breaking news event” voiced by the talking head with the arched eyebrow and the smug tone posing as a journalist, it struck me that at the end of an unbelievable week about the silencing of women, we were still at it. The talking head wondered who had advised her to speak out. Really? Maybe she decided for herself.

In a recent postscript to an updated edition of the essay, Men Explain Things to Me, Rebecca Solnit writes:

The point of the essay was never to suggest that I think I am notably oppressed. It was to take these conventions as the narrow end of the wedge that opens up space for men and closes it off for women, space to speak, to be heard, to have rights, to participate, to be respected, to be a full and free human being. This is one way that, in polite discourse, power is expressed—the same power  that in impolite discourse and in physical acts of intimidation and violence, and very often in how  the world is organized—silences and erases and annihilates women, as equals, as participants, as human beings with rights, and far too often as living beings…Having the right to show up and speak are basic to survival, to dignity, and to liberty.

So, Taylor Swift has shown up and spoken out. Here’s hoping more young women do the same thing. To use Taylor’s own words, I think we’re Ready for It.

—Meryl Friedman
Director of Education & Special Initiatives