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Men are freaking out about Taylor Swift’s latest honor. What are they scared of? | Opinion

Some backlash to Taylor Swift being named TIME’s Person of the Year was to be expected. It is, after all, the first time a person has received the title for their success as an entertainer.

But in some corners of the internet, that backlash has reached peak levels of absurdity.

Some examples:

“It’s shameful and sad that a hyper-promiscuous, childless woman (Taylor Swift), aging and alone with a cat, has become the heroine of a feminist age.”

“If you don’t think that Taylor Swift has a predefined role in ushering in the New World Order, you need to start paying attention.”

“Taylor Swift promotes the Double Income No Kids girlboss lifestyle. She is the perfect vehicle for Democrat interests.”

There appear to be real people — with millions of followers! — who believe Taylor Swift is a psychological operation orchestrated by the Democrats to help Joe Biden win in 2024 and take over the world. Notice, too, how many of the criticisms have to do with the fact that she’s 30-something and childless. Is this 1950?

Of course, Swift is hardly perfect, and her fame certainly doesn’t erase her flaws. She is not immune to criticism about her business practices, the limits of her political advocacy and her recent association with Matty Healy, a man who has a penchant for racist and sexist comments.

But that’s not what this backlash is really about. Rather, there is a sizable bloc of people making a conscious effort to devalue the accomplishments of a successful woman — and what those accomplishments have contributed to society at large.

If TIME’s Person of the Year is meant to recognize a person of remarkable influence — good or bad — then Swift certainly fits the bill. Love her or hate her, it’s hard to deny Swift’s tour de force. She’s blazed trails in the music industry, made herself a billionaire and her career-spanning tour has become a cultural phenomenon with the power to fuel economies.

What makes Swift so successful — and beloved — is her ability to make young women and girls feel seen. They hear themselves reflected in her music. Though her career has made her absurdly wealthy, she’s still careful to paint herself as the girl next door, someone who reveals their vulnerability through their art. Her lyrics are eagerly, painfully evocative of the most universal emotions — love, heartbreak, melancholy, anger. And in a world that often makes women feel like their feelings aren’t valid, that means something.

But as Swift’s star rises, so too do the efforts to extinguish it. That’s not uncommon, but what’s unique is how much of the backlash seems to revolve around the sociopolitical force she has become. Men worked themselves into a tizzy over Swift appearing on their TV screens when she began a relationship with Kansas City Chiefs star Travis Kelce. Likely sensing that Swift was an even bigger phenomenon than Sunday football in America, the NFL hitched its wagon to her celebrity, posting tributes on social media and showing her on screen during broadcasts. The effect has been a boost in ratings, especially among female viewers. But it’s infuriated some men and right-wing pundits, who were quick to complain that Swift was “ugly,” “dumb” and “homely.” Her popularity, they said, is a “sign of societal decline.”

They’re telling on themselves. Sure, there are some who may underestimate Swift’s influence, but in this case it is less about ignorance than it is about fear. What makes Swift particularly threatening is not the power that she holds — it’s the power she bestows upon the many women and girls who adore her. It’s easy to discount Taylor Swift and her legions of female fans when they’re singing about high school drama and heartbreak. It’s harder, though, when 200,000 people in a football stadium scream lyrics like “F— the patriarchy” loud enough to register an earthquake. Or when a single Instagram post from Swift helps register 35,000 new voters.

For those who are used to holding the power in society — men, for example — that can be scary. Swift has achieved unprecedented levels of global stardom by exclusively appealing to a female audience. She’s inserted herself — and women more generally — into spaces historically dominated by men. The world often wants women to feel small. Powerless. Stifled by the expectation to be everything to everyone — a wife, a mother, a daughter, a therapist, a friend — instead of living for ourselves. Swift, intentionally or not, has helped women realize that it doesn’t have to be that way, that their feelings shouldn’t be so easily dismissed. That’s what makes her person of the year, but it’s also what makes people so desperate to minimize her.