You’d be forgiven for thinking that once a person had been called an ‘elitist Nazi Barbie’ by a leading figure in the feminist movement, there would be no way back. That any chance of being hailed as a champion for the rights of women and girls was, frankly, pretty remote.
Which makes the reinvention of Taylor Swift all the more surprising. The 27-year-old singer has won her lawsuit against a DJ she accused of groping her in 2013, after her lawyer had said she was taking the action (for which she demanded damages of just $1) on behalf of all women.
Swift has long been thought, by many, to be a full fat faux feminist - who uses a message of female empowerment in order to sell songs
The singer said that radio host David Mueller groped her while posing for a photo at a meet-and-greet in Denver. She took the stand for about an hour last week, testifying that he grabbed her backside. “He stayed attached to my bare ass cheek as I lurched away from him,” she said, adding: “It was a definite grab. A very long grab.”
Swift released a statement after the verdict this week, saying "I acknowledge the privilege that I benefit from in life, in society and in my ability to shoulder the enormous cost of defending myself in a trial like this. My hope is to help those whose voices should also be heard. Therefore, I will be making donations in the near future to multiple organisations that help sexual assault victims defend themselves."
Cue the sound of words being swallowed the world over.
The list of ‘anti-feminist’ fingers pointed at Swift has steadily grown over the last few years. In 2015, it was critic Camile Pagila who called the singer an ‘elitist Nazi Barbie’ in an essay for the Hollywood Reporter, criticising the gang of female friends she regular appeared with on social media as an unrealistic portrayal of female friendship: "girl squads can help women advance if they avoid presenting a silly, regressive public image — as in the tittering, tongues-out mugging of Swift's bear-hugging posse.
"Swift herself should retire that obnoxious Nazi Barbie routine of wheeling out friends and celebrities as performance props,” she wrote.
Others have emphasised her ‘feuds’ with other female pop stars. Swift reportedly has a long-running animosity towards Katy Perry, sparked by a 2014 interview with Rolling Stone, in which Swift mentioned a female artist who was her “enemy”. Her single Bad Blood is widely thought to be about Perry ("I think that having a song and a video about tearing Katy Perry down, that's not women's empowerment," said her fellow singer-songwriter Demi Lovato), while on June 9 this year, Swift released her entire catalogue back onto Spotify - the very same day that Perry’s new album dropped.
I recall a night out with friends in my teens, when a man put his hand up my dress on the dancefloor. I was too shocked to push it away
Just as controversial, was her very public 2015 Twitter spat with pop star Nicki Minaj - when the singer seemingly failed to acknowledge the challenges facing women of colour in the music industry and which even die-hard Swift fans found hard to stomach.
There have been the whispers about how she only sings about boyfriends - as if that should be the point around which all girls’ lives revolve. And accusations that she promotes an ‘unrealistic body image’. Lovato has previously said of Swift: “Don’t brand yourself a feminist if you don’t do the work”, later adding: “To be honest, and this will probably get me in trouble, I don’t see anybody in any sort of squad that has a normal body. It’s kind of this false image of what people should look like. And what they should be like, and it’s not real.”
Basically, Swift has long been thought, by many, to be a full fat faux feminist - who cynically uses a message of female empowerment in order to sell songs.
Until now. Because there can be little doubt that in taking a stand over the groping incident - at great expense and no tangible benefit to herself - Swift has sent a truly positive and feminist message to her female fans. And it’s one they need to here.
It’s not just pop stars who find unsolicited hands wandering up their skirts. It happens all the time. Campus sexual assault has reached a critical level in US universities, while a 2015 study by Telegraph Women in the UK found that one in three female students had been assaulted or abused on campus.
Last month, figures obtained by the BBC found that the number of reported sexual offences on trains had doubled in five years, with the majority sexual assaults on females aged over 13. I have been groped on public transport myself, and distinctly remember a night out with friends in my teens, when a man put his hand right up my dress on the dance floor. I was too shocked to push it away and, like Swift, was grabbed for what seemed like forever. I was 17; he was in his mid 30s.
I have not always been convinced by Swift’s particular brand of feminism. By her self-proclaimed ‘feminist awakening’ as a result of her friendship with ‘voice of a generation' Lena Dunham - trumpeted all over social media.
But in speaking out about sexual assault and encouraging other women and girls to do the same (albeit also acknowledging her privilege in being able to take her assailant to court), Swift has, at last, done something truly feminist. This is a far cry from her VIP sisterhood; it is a genuine message to her 85m Twitter and 102m Instagram followers. It might not change her critics minds’ overnight, but it’s a step in the right direction.