Taylor Swift & Travis Kelce: What’s a Feminist to Think?

Travis Kelce #87 of the Kansas City Chiefs celebrates with Taylor Swift after defeating the Baltimore Ravens in the AFC Championship Game at M&T Bank Stadium on Jan. 28, 2024 in Baltimore. (Patrick Smith / Getty Images)

(Published in Ms Magazine here.)

Move over Tom Brady and Gisele Bundchen—American’s prom has a new king and queen. Taylor Swift and Travis Kelce are here, and a right-wing political meltdown is in the works. Swift’s 300 million fans are protective of her and absolutely gushing about this storybook romance. What is a feminist to make of all this?

First, the meltdown.

By now, the furor from the far-right has reached comical proportions as Trump, the MAGA crowd, and Fox Republicans have twisted their knickers into knots over this pair. There was a time when sane Republicans might have enjoyed the uber-American spectacle of an attractive, blond, red-lipstick-wearing pop star dating a hunky Super Bowl-bound football player. But not these Republicans, and not these celebrities.

It has been suggested that the entire relationship is a Pentagon plot and that the playoff game to get Kelce to this year’s Super Bowl was rigged to make way for a Biden endorsement by Swift. Networks have been criticized for showing Swift in the stands too much instead of showing the game, even though actual footage revealed Swift onscreen for 44 seconds during the three-plus hours Chiefs-Ravens playoff game. Fox News specifically threatened Swift’s American fans to ignore her political choices. Even George Soros got in there somewhere—and that’s just a few of the choice bits.

Swift is an exceedingly famous, wealthy, independent, popular woman who has been in the public eye for 18 years. Her work and her public statements reveal a maturing woman who writes and sings about female empowerment, sexual harassment and gender politics (“I’m so sick of running fast as I can / wondering if I’d get there quicker / if I was a man”!) having a voice, and of course the difficulties of boyfriends and breakups.

Swift has come out for the rights of gay people, abortion choice, voter registration efforts (a newly anti-Republican position), various Tennessee state Democratic candidates, and Biden in 2020. The right knows she’s not on their side. Of course, they are out to get her. The right going after a strong liberal woman in coded, anti-female language is nothing new these days. MAGA knows its brand and its script.

 

Many women know that looking for like-minded men in 2024 is harder than ever.

 

And those fans?

They are both protective of Swift and positively giddy over this romance, and there’s more to it than the usual fascination with celebrity romances. Swift’s politics aligns left-of-center on the values chart—and that is precisely where more and more women find themselves.

Across the world, women are moving further and further left, as evidenced by polls, voting, social media, party affiliation and more.

But men, especially younger men, are veering right just as fast, if not faster. We are experiencing profound divergences along gender lines on nearly every topic. Men and women—especially younger men and women—increasingly differ not just in their politics but in their attitudes toward Black Lives Matter, podcast listening preferences, positions on gun ownership, social media use, and even the very topic of gender.

Increasingly, the exact positions and beliefs women find attractive are repelling to men, and vice versa. Listen to Joe Rogan? Thumbs up for guys, no way for girls. Think gun ownership is a plus? Sure, say dudes, forget it, say girls. And so on. So, while searching for love is a pretty enduring human quality, many women know that looking for like-minded men in 2024 is harder than ever. And that includes female Swifties, many of whom may be looking for a compatible man, too.

Enter: Travis Kelce. In addition to being a phenomenally successful football player with two Super Bowl rings, his public positions put him left of center. He took a knee in support of Black Lives Matter. He was in a Pfizer campaign—a pro-vaxxer!—as well as a Bud Light ad (remember Bud Light and its trans-support kerfuffle?) Kelce’s SNL skits reveal a sense of humor and, perhaps, a gender awareness that is all too hard to come by in young men (Straight Male Friend?). In today’s world, those public affiliations distinctly separate him from the rightward drift of so many men.

Also atypical is his willingness to support Swift. He has repeatedly publicly applauded her successes. His travel to Buenos Ares to see her concert, his celebration of her Grammy successes, his podcasts, and his social media posts are all unabashedly professional and positive about her. While his (internet) history is not completely unblemished, it appears he is a reasonably sane, left-leaning dude willing and able to be self-confident and support his extremely successful, wealthier girlfriend.

So maybe those legions of female fans are protective because they know how women are taken down, not just because of the usual fan-celebrity romance but because many of them still hope there is a good man out there. Even if not a wealthy Super Bowl ring-wearing football player, how about a regular dude who is gender-aware, supportive of a strong, independent woman, and not in the Andrew Tate fan club? Given the gender split we are witnessing, is a good man out there? Along with all the Swifties, I’ll be watching.

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