Who's "The Man?"

By Elaina Veome

In 2017, the #MeToo Movement began, with women around the US beginning to call out sexual harassment in the workplace. Today, despite reaching the 100th anniversary of women gaining the right to vote in 2020, women continue to face a consistent difference in status throughout the workplace and in their daily lives. Taylor Swift has been an advocate for women’s rights. Throughout Swift’s career, the public has criticized her about a variety of things. In her hit song, “The Man,” she points out that things could have been different if she were a man. Swift’s music videos consistently have intentional choices behind them, as she looks to include “Easter eggs” and other more profound messages to appeal to her fans emotionally and logically. In Taylor Swift’s “The Man” music video, Swift highlights the challenges women face due to gender discrimination through her use of audio and linguistic elements, visual elements, and gestures made by the actors.

Scene One: Office and Power

The setting starts in a big city, which generally references influential people in society: lawyers, business people, etc. The scene opens with a man in a suit, looking out of his extravagant office building. “The Man’s” high status in his job is represented visually by his suit and office. Taylor Swift takes on the role of “The Man” to amplify the gender inequalities in society. The audio of the beat in the background matches “The Man's” energy as he struts across the office. The emphasis on the audio correlates directly to the confidence in “The Man’s” gestures. As he walks through the office, it is clear he is in charge and demands respect through his gestures. He dramatically crumples up the papers and barks orders at other workers. When he raises his arms to the happy applause of his coworkers, it is clear despite his seemingly rude or angry gestures towards other workers, he is still well-liked and respected. Swift uses this to create a stronger ethos for “The Man,” making him a confident, arrogant man in the workplace. The viewers can relate to the common trope in this scene, as some may work with men in their day-to-day lives that are similar to “The Man.”

Scene Two: Discomfort on the Train

On the scene on the train, “The Man” manspreads and smokes, seemingly visually unbothered and unaware of the spatial discomfort he is clearly causing the other women and people around him. In the background of the train, viewers can see the visual ads on the posters that show men in influential positions in athletics and business. Swift then appeals emotionally to the viewers through the longing in her tone through the lyrics, “I’m so sick of running as fast as I can,” and the lyrics, “If I was a man, then I’d be the man” (Swift, 2020). Her linguistic choices display the difference in work that women have to do to get recognition and equal treatment for their work. Her cry for justice emotionally affects her audience, causing them to pay more attention to the gender crisis. In the train station, as “The Man” urinates underneath the word “Karma” written on the wall, Swift’s visual message is evident; men will eventually have to face the consequences for their actions.

Scene Three: Women on the Boat

In the scene on “The Man’s” boat with numerous women, it is clear “The Man” views being with underdressed females as a symbol of superiority. This is a visual reference to other music videos with male artists surrounded by underdressed females. It shows how “The Man” views women as more material objects than people through the way the camera captures the females, using the visual sex appeal throughout this scene in the way they are positioned. It shows the women lying down and “The Man” standing up, showing an explicit representation of the status difference between men and women. However, this does not seem to bother the women, showing another message Swift is trying to achieve. Women should be bothered by this discrimination in gender, and collectively are not taking enough action to achieve an equal gender status. The visual use of the sunny day with the calm seas shows that not enough people are willing to “rock the boat” to make change, therefore, everything seems perfect in the eyes of “The Man.” In addition, the lyrics, “What I was wearing, if I was rude, would all be separated by my good ideas and power moves” (Swift, 2020) appeals emotionally to female listeners because women have to worry about how they present themselves to be heard by others professionally. In contrast, Swift presents the idea that this does not always have to be the case if the call for true change is answered. Swift elaborates on her ideas of presentation through her lyrical and audio choice of “they would toast to me oh,” with cheering in the background (Swift, 2020). She uses the cheering audio to create an idealistic future, where she would be able to keep her personal life and her actions in the workplace separate. Swift would be celebrated for her accomplishments without the repercussions of actions that occurred outside of work. This audio choice also creates a perfect case scenario for “The Man,” due to his achievements inside the office being irrelevant to his freedom outside of the workplace.

Scene Four: Bedroom and Hallway

In the darker-lit bedroom scene, the woman in the bed is shown naked and vulnerable, while “The Man” gets out of the bed and is already in another suit. Through the lighting and exposure choices, Swift visually shows the imbalance between the two in the relationship, portraying the woman as almost weak, with “The Man” as powerful and in charge of the relationship. As he moves to the hallway, there is a picture of himself which shows his narcissistic values, overemphasizing “The Man’s” obsession with his influence and authority over society. The hallway then has 19 colorful disembodied hands stretched out for high fives.

This visual scene caused some fans to speculate that the 19 hands allude to the 19th Amendment for the women’s right to vote. Swift builds her credibility on her knowledge of women’s rights, with 2020 being the 100th anniversary of this amendment. As he receives the high fives, it shows “The Man” as “cool,” or someone people would want around. His large gestures exude confidence at the same time Swift plays the chorus, saying “I’d be the man,” (Swift, 2020). Swift uses “The Man’s” gestures to emphasize that women should be able to have the same confidence as men in society. Then, when he is with the child and shows the child ten seconds of affectionate gestures, there is a “World’s Greatest Dad” sign in the background. This alludes to Swift’s message that men do not need to do much to seem like the perfect father figure to others. Everyone is seemingly impressed by his short interaction with his daughter. Swift uses this to appeal emotionally to both women and men, to show how men are not interacting enough with their kids, yet they get all the praise. On the other hand, women are usually expected to take care of the children but oftentimes do not receive the same kind of recognition.

Scene Five: Wedding and Tennis Match

The scene with the wedding shows the problems with older men marrying younger women. The woman typically wants the man’s money, and the man wants the woman’s body. It is clear this is not a loving relationship and the gestures of “The Man” makes the woman feel uncomfortable, as she flinches when he kisses her, and then she proceeds to leave when he smashes cake around her face. Despite the fact that “The Man” made her uncomfortable, the woman chose to marry him for his money. Swift uses this scene to appeal logically to the audience, saying marriages like this are unstable, and create numerous authority imbalances. In addition, women should find monetary security through their own jobs, instead of through a man. Shortly after the marriage scene, Swift shows a scene with a tennis match. This scene shows a man playing for a women’s charity, but he continues to rage throughout the whole match, using dramatic gestures to show his anger by one of the referee’s calls. Swift appeals to the audience emotionally, showing it is not important to “The Man” to raise money for the charity. It is only important he makes a name for himself and defends his pride.

Scene Six: Final Conversation

The final scenes are some of the most important, when Swift says to “The Man,” “Could you try to be sexier? Maybe more likable this time? By the way, excellent work over there, Lauren, that was astonishing” (Swift, 2020). Through her linguistic choices, she appeals to her viewers emotionally who have heard or felt similar things throughout their lives. Swift now flips the script to put women in positions of authority, through the gestures of having “The Man” come to her, the director, for approval. She uses this as her call to action, showing the possibility of changing the gender norms through women claiming significant positions in society. It then shows in the credits, Taylor Swift was the one playing “The Man,” the whole video, showing that women can work to create an equal society for all. Her gestural and visual choice to be “The Man” shows a satire for men’s behavior. She is also living out her own fantasies about automatically having influence over society as a man.

As the #MeToo movement brought more awareness to the need for justice in the workplace and as the fight for equal rights and opportunities for women continues, Taylor Swift’s “The Man” has become an anthem for the Women's Rights movement. Through her uses of gestures, audio, and spatial/visual elements, Swift is able to portray the need for change in a male dominated society. Swift lost power through losing herself. She faced sexual assault in the music industry. After that time, she was able to come back stronger than before. Now, Swift herself is a leader for equal rights for women, as she has continually been in the public eye, and has demonstrated what it means to be a strong female role model. She embodies an influential woman who knows how to stand up for her rights. Swift uses this forum to send out a warning call to society: it is time to make a change.

TaylorSwiftVEVO. (2020, February 27). Taylor Swift - The Man (Official Video) [Video]. YouTube.

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