This article originally appeared on Forbes.com on August 23rd, 2019.
Taylor Swift is no stranger to dropping truth-bombs in her songs. She’s been releasing culture-shifting lyrical missiles for more than a decade, and her seventh studio album, Lover, is no exception. About ten minutes into an hourlong collection of expertly-crafted pop ear candy, Swift serves up what is, in my opinion, the most important song she’s ever written.
It’s called “The Man,” and it’s a brilliant portrayal of the subtle and not-so-subtle sexism women face every day. I’ve never wanted so badly for any song on any album to be released as a radio single. “The Man” is a song that literally everyone needs to hear.
“I’m so sick of running as fast as I can / Wondering if I’d get there quicker if I was a man,” Swift sings in the catchy chorus. Find me a professional woman who hasn’t voiced that thought and I’ll give you a dollar. Actually, I’ll give you a dollar if you’re a man. If you’re a woman, I’ll give you seventy-nine cents, since that’s what you’re likely earning for every dollar the man working next to you is getting.
Swift’s famously-sharp lyrics don’t stop there. The second verse goes, “They’d say I hustled, put in the work / They wouldn’t shake their heads and question how much of this I deserve / What I was wearing, if I was rude / Could all be separated from my good ideas and power moves.”
Some listeners may interpret the line as personal commentary on Swift’s mixed history with the press, or even the sexual-assault lawsuit she fought and won in 2017. However, every female listener (and, again, I don’t think I’m over-generalizing when I say that) will recognize it as a universal statement about what virtually every woman has endured in her professional life — including, apparently, the woman responsible for the highest-grossing domestic tour of all time.
I’ve been following Swift’s career closely since before her first single was released to country radio. The two things that have always impressed me most about her are her ability to connect with fans and her ability to articulate complex emotions and situations in simple, universal terms. She was already great at both when she was fifteen years old, and now, at 29, she’s better than perhaps anyone in the world in both disciplines.
The magic of “The Man” is not just that it captures a complex (and often misunderstood) issue so brilliantly and simply, but also that it conveys to Swift’s female fans that even she isn’t above the BS that so many of us are regularly subjected to. Although that may not sound like a hopeful message, camaraderie and relatability have always been staples of Swift’s appeal. She’s saying to women (and girls), “This isn’t okay, but it happens to me too.”
I’m only five years older than Swift, but when I reflect on the things I’ve encountered in my career, a bystander might assume I’m listing experiences from the 1950s: Sexual assault by a senior executive? Check. Being told to attend business dinners “as a prop”? Dozens of times. Being asked by an executive to “just twirl around for me once” after giving a big presentation? Oh yeah, that happened.
The rampant sexism I encountered in the music industry was one reason I launched my own company when I was 27, but even that didn’t make me immune to indignities: Potential partners questioning my expertise? Pretty much every meeting. Having others take credit for my ideas and accomplishments? It still happens most days. People discounting my value because I’m a woman? Although it’s impossible to prove, I’d bet at least 79 cents on it.
There are millions of stories just like mine. I could name at least a hundred friends and a thousand more acquaintances who’ve had similar experiences. That’s why Swift’s message here matters. And what’s better, critics who saw her as an unfit messenger in “You Need To Calm Down” won’t be able to lob accusations about Swift not living this song’s truth. She’s exactly the right messenger at exactly the right time.
“When everyone believes ya / What’s that like?” Swift muses. “And I’m so sick of them coming at me again / ‘Cause if I was a man, then I’d be the man.”
In a time when only 6.6% of Fortune 500 CEOs are women, less than 2.5% of venture funding goes to female founders, and the President of the United States is somehow still getting away with branding every woman with a dissenting opinion as “nasty,” “The Man” is the song the world needs right now.
I’m hopeful that Swift’s spotlight on the issue will spark a national conversation about sexism, power, and equality. The headline-dominating interest in her back catalogue’s acquisition — and her subsequent announcement that she plans to re-record her masters next year — should provide the perfect backdrop to heat up the conversation.
Thanks for writing this anthem, Taylor. Never doubt the fact that you are, without a doubt, the man.