Monday, February 15, 2016

Dear Future Feminist

An Open Letter to Meghan Trainor:

First of all, congratulations. So many congratulations! You’ve had an amazing year. I can only hope that my daughter has a tenth of your success and self-assurance (and income) at your age. Which is 22. Twenty-dang-two. Barely old enough to buy champagne and you’ve got a closet full of awards and constant radio play. Brava, honey.

What you’ve also got, as I’m sure you’ve noticed, is a lot of attention. I hope that most of it is positive and is filling your life with light and joy. But I know not all of it is. Aside from the assuredly awful comments you must get from a wide range of cretins just by being a woman and existing in public, there’s also been a negative wave coming from what seems like an unexpected source: feminists.

I’ve seen multiple articles decrying your lyrics as regressive, body-shaming, and even sexist. And the reason I’ve seen these articles is because, as a card-carrying feminist, I read the publications that produced them. And while I can see that not every one of your songs is a flawless paean to total gender equality, I totally disagree with their assessment about you as an artist.

It seems like because your first big hit had a refreshingly body-positive message, a lot of people were expecting you to bound into mainstream radio as a fully formed feminist icon. As a result, you got a level of criticism that the typical pop star gets to avoid. People attacked the fact that you sang jokingly about “skinny bitches” without noting that the entire reason you recorded “All About That Bass” yourself (instead of handing your song over to big fancy stars as you’ve been doing professionally since you were EIGHTEEN) was because there wasn’t a single not-size-2 singer out there to take it.

Sure, “Dear Future Husband” isn’t a Steinem-esque manifesto. But it’s not setting the movement back 30 years, either. I hear a woman clearly prioritizing her career, owning her foibles, and demanding respect from a partner, which is 1000 times more feminist than the typical mantras of “you complete me,” “please don’t leave,” and “you treat me badly but I love you” that have comprised female voices in pop music for the last six decades. You’re bemoaned for wanting to be loved even when you’re acting crazy? That sentiment made up 70% of Fiona Apple’s early radio play.

And clearly, the people criticizing these two songs haven’t heard the rest of the album, which my children and I have been listening to non-stop for months. I tend to hit Skip on “Walkashame” at the moment, although will encourage its “Hey, I make my own decisions and at least I was being smart” stance when my kids get a bit older. The way “My Selfish Heart” laments having to pass up love because of a focus on following one’s own dream may not be an ideal representation of an equal relationship, but it’s a realistic portrayal of the struggle many women face. The fact that you’re aware of it at 21 gives me a lot of hope and enthusiasm for your perspective as you move through the first real decade of your adulthood.

And that's why felt like I had to write this, because I want you to know that I represent everyone excited to see where you go next. I believe you’ll grow and learn and change, just like everyone does, and I hope you won’t quit sharing messages about acceptance and ambition and love on your own terms just because some people don’t think you’re doing it exactly right.  Nobody does it exactly right, but most of us don’t have the world watching while we figure things out. Just don’t confuse criticism of your work with your validity as an artist and professional. You’re phenomenal, and as my 12-year-old daughter belts on a regular basis, every inch of you is perfect from your head down to your toes.