Taylor Swift’s firm testimony in a civil trial this week involving a former radio host who allegedly groped her is sending a strong message to women who might experience similar forms of sexual harassment and assault: Don’t diminish the act.
“It provides a useful template for her fans, for younger girls who might experience these forms of harassment and be intimidated out of saying anything because their voice is consistently discredited,” said Karen Tongson, a professor who specializes in gender studies and pop culture at the University of Southern California.
Model for how to respond
Tongson says Swift’s authoritative stance while on the stand is a model for how to respond to questions trying to undermine the validity of a claim.
“A lot of young women have in mind, ‘well, who’s going to be believe me anyway?’ or ‘maybe it’s not a big deal,'” said Tongson. “It’s unclear for many what the line is of discomfort or how much discomfort one has to absorb before it’s worth talking about.”
‘It’s unclear for many what the line is of discomfort or how much discomfort one has to absorb before it’s worth talking about’– Karen Tongson, USC gender studies professor
According to 2014 Statistics Canada data, 83 per cent of incidents involving sexual assault — including unwanted touching — were not reported to police. The most common reason provided by victims for not reporting the crime was that it was considered minor and not worth the bother to come forward.
A Colorado judge on Friday dismissed a lawsuit filed by ex-DJ David Mueller, who blamed Swift and her team for getting him fired in 2013.
The pop singer countersued for a symbolic $1 US. She’s alleging Mueller intentionally grabbed her backside during a meet-and-greet with fans, prompting her team to contact his employer and demand appropriate action be taken.
In this courtroom sketch Swift confers with her attorney as David Mueller, back left, and the judge look on, during a civil trial in federal court Tuesday in Denver. (Jeff Kandyba/Associated Press)
Refusal to accept blame
Earlier this week, Swift, 27, stood her ground while testifying about her experience, despite probing questions from opposing counsel.
“I am critical of your client for sticking his hand under my skirt and grabbing my ass,” Swift testified Thursday when asked a question by Mueller’s lawyer.
“I’m not going to allow you or your client to make me feel in any way that this is my fault because it isn’t,” she said about Mueller’s job dismissal.
The Canadian Women’s Foundation told CBC in a statement that Swift’s refusal to accept blame is “particularly important, as that often happens when seeking justice through the court system.”
Swift’s matter-of-fact statements also sparked a rush of support from celebrities and fans alike.
Been in several meet n’ greets where radio staff attempt to cross lines. Love @taylorswift13 for fighting 4 women’s safety in the workplace.
Proud of @taylorswift13 for her fierce & cutting testimony & her refusal to settle for being treated like property. Her example is powerful.
I thought taylor would be upset & nervous on the stand but the fact she’s being so strong and standing up for herself MAKES ME SO PROUD
Mueller denies any wrong-doing. The jury is expected to return Monday to hear closing arguments about the remaining claims, including Swift’s countersuit.
Ambiguity around issue continues
Tongson points to “a lot of ambiguity in popular culture” when it comes to sexual harassment and assault, citing as an example reaction to the leaked tape last year of then-Republican U.S. presidential nominee Donald Trump bragging about grabbing women.
“With that hanging in the air, I think it’s especially crucial that someone who has such tremendous reach at the popular level and who also has a tremendous amount of power and money, frankly, uses her platform to show that there is a way to confront efforts to make those sorts of behaviours seem inconsequential,” said Tongson.