Taking on toxic masculinity

Katie Shepherd & Allyson Chiu

THE WASHINGTON POST – Move aside, Taylor. It’s Tyler Swift’s time to shine.

Something like that was surely going through the mind of Taylor Swift’s chauvinistic alter ego when the pop singer introduced him to the world recently in a new music video for her song The Man.

But Tyler, who bears a strong resemblance to former Swift beau Jake Gyllenhaal, isn’t a random actor or model. He’s actually Swift in elaborate makeup, taking a swipe at the sexism that privileges male “alpha types” and “players”.

Swift uses Tyler to skewer toxic masculinity and double standards, while airing personal grievances with an industry that has often subjected her to intense scrutiny. Criticism of her career has ranged from endless speculation over her love life to questions about the motives behind the social and political stances she takes in her music.

Swift has said in the past that many of those critiques would not be made against a male performer in her position – a message she hammers home in the The Man.

Tyler in the music video ‘The Man’ isn’t a random actor or model; he’s actually Taylor Swift in elaborate makeup, taking a swipe at sexism. PHOTO: THE WASHINGTON POST

“I’m so sick of running as fast as I can, wondering if I’d get there quicker if I was a man,” Swift sings. “And I’m so sick of them coming at me again, ’cause if I was a man, then I’d be the man.”

Swift’s gender-bending music video, which has already been viewed nearly 11 million times on YouTube, had everyone talking.

Here’s what she wants you to see in her symbolism-packed takedown of the patriarchy.

Throughout the music video, Swift takes aim at the cultural norms that allow, and at times even encourage, men to develop overinflated egos.

It begins with a shot of Tyler staring out the window of a posh corner office with stunning views of the surrounding cityscape. His dark brown hair is neatly coifed, and he’s dressed in a sharp navy suit, giving off all the vibes of the archetypal male executive. Tyler treats his employees dismissively and barks orders at them, but that does little to quell the adoration. Women fawn over him as he exchanges bro-tastic greetings with his male staffers (yes, we’re talking about the exploding fist bump).

“I’d be a fearless leader,” Swift sings as the entire office gives Tyler an enthusiastic standing ovation. ‘I’d be an alpha type.”

For fans of Martin Scorsese and Leonardo DiCaprio, the opening scenes of Swift’s video probably looked pretty familiar: They’re a direct nod to the 2013 film The Wolf of Wall Street. It makes sense that Swift would choose to align her macho, overconfident male persona with a movie whose main character, portrayed by DiCaprio, is a corrupt New York stockbroker.

The song’s bridge finds Tyler enjoying a rowdy night out with the bros at a dimly lit club. Tyler cheers as one of his buddies takes a body shot off a scantily clad woman lying among scattered bills. More money rains down on the group of partyers as Tyler aggressively knocks back a drink of his own.

“What’s it like to brag about raking in dollars and getting models?” Swift asks in the song.

Through the behaviour of Tyler and his friends at the club, Swift scrutinises norms that encourage men to act like “playboys”. The scene could also be interpreted as a commentary on how women are often treated like objects that solely exist for the entertainment of men.

Another grievance Swift airs in The Man is the tendency for men to be held to a lower standard than women and be forgiven for shortcomings more easily.

Tyler’s metaphor-filled romp continues as he parties on a yacht surrounded by models in matching yellow bikinis, similar to a scene from The Wolf of Wall Street. The symbol isn’t subtle – and Swift’s lyrics let you know exactly who she is thinking of when she puts Tyler on a boat: “I’d be just like Leo in Saint-Tropez,” she sings.

She’s singing, of course, about DiCaprio. He’s not only the “Wolf”, but also in real life he’s known to take his young girlfriends and models who work with his charity on yacht rides in the waters around Saint-Tropez, France. Leo and Tyler can flirt and play with dozens of women without causing a stir, but Swift has long been publicly mocked for her long list of ex-boyfriends.

As Swift sings the chorus for the second time, Tyler wakes up in bed beside a beautiful woman. He leaves her sleeping alone and walks down an arched hallway, where colourful arms emerge from the walls and create a line of high-fives, a la the “tunnel” that welcomes football players after a win.

The shot clearly celebrates Tyler for his conquest – and implies that Swift, or any woman, would not receive cheers and adulation if the roles were reversed.

The scene is the visual representation of the opening verse of the song: “They’d say I played the field before I found someone to commit to, and that would be okay for me to do,” Swift sings. “Every conquest I had made would make me more of a boss to you.”

Swift also pulls into the music video more general complaints about the way men and women are treated differently. When Tyler visits a park with his daughter, he takes a call on his mobile phone as the girl stares at her lap. All around them, women are playing and paying close attention to their kids. The second Tyler puts the screen away and picks up the girl, the women gush. A banner declaring “World’s Greatest Dad” appears over his head.

One of the most pointed critiques Swift offers comes near the end of The Man. Tyler ventures onto a tennis court, where he initially makes a big show of strumming his racquet like a guitar and thrusting his hips with every successful hit. But when the game doesn’t go his way, he throws a tantrum.

In short, Swift is pointing out that women are expected to act nice, but for men, “it’s okay if you are mad”.