Our Modern ‘Love Story’: Ownership

“No, I’ve decided. I want to own my own book” says Jo March in the final moments of Greta Gerwig’s 2019 rendition of “Little Women.” The fresh and empowering message was timely and arising amidst the battle for Taylor Swift’s ownership of her masters. At the time, Emma Watson gave an interview to Variety, comparing the idea of Jo’s ownership of her book to Taylor Swift’s ownership of her music. A few years later, the release of “Fearless (Taylor’s Version)” is upon us. It’s an ongoing battle, but we are reminded of the question: When was the battle of women’s ownership ever won?

If you don’t understand why ownership is so important, after hearing Emma Watson speak about it, it has become clear: it’s about knowing your worth and owning it. Whether it’s our business, our art, our bodies, our stories or our choices; women are in constant battle over ownership — it’s so normal for everyone to have stake in your life and decisions.

The epic release of Taylor Swift’s “Fearless (Taylor’s Version)” — which, by the way, elicits immense satisfaction from being able to write the extra characters of “(Taylor’s Version)” — shows just how much Swift has grown. Like she said in “Fifteen,” “In your life you’ll do things greater than dating the boy on the football team, but I didn’t know it at fifteen.” This re-recording serves as a love letter to her younger self, reassuring her that she did do greater things, while looking out for her now when she couldn’t before.

The people who own her masters, which is the original recording of the music, profit off of her music, music videos and album artwork. They also own the right to make, sell or distribute copies. As Jo March said, “it seems like something I would want to own, no?” Whoever owns her masters is profiting from her music without having to do a thing.

Photo posted by @emrata on Instagram

Recently, Emily Ratajkowski came forth with her popular essay, “Buying Myself Back” published in New York Magazine. She writes of her experiences with consent and ownership over her image as a model, detailing paparazzi lawsuits and Richard Prince’s $80,000 “Instagram painting” of her, aka, a picture from her own Instagram blown up with his “creative” caption, while men, including her ex-boyfriend, debated over who owned the image; who owned her. She even details buying nudes back from an ex.

Photo posted by @richardprince_official on Instagram

The most striking battle she had with ownership, was when photographer, Jonathan Leder, published a book titled “Emily Ratajkowski,” which includes hundreds of racy images of her. The book was published without Ratajkowski’s knowledge or consent. It was reprinted three times, while she publicly objected to the photos; especially since they were taken in a context involving sexual assault. But still, the exhibition and book was successful and this photographer is still profiting off of her.

Ratajkowski writes how he will run out of “unseen” photos of her, but she “will remain as the real Emily” and continue forward. Swift would know of this too, having moved forward and re-recording her old music; not just to gain back control, but to write a new narrative. Ownership is something that is undervalued, and something we don’t often pay attention to. It’s easy to lose control of or give away. But, when it comes down to it, it might be one of the most important things in our lives.

Speaking about the ending of “Little Women,” Greta Gerwig told the “Little Gold Men podcast,” “What if you felt when [Jo] gets her book the way you generally feel about a girl getting kissed?… So it’s not girl gets boy, it’s girl gets book.” Gerwig has a point: maybe our modern love story isn’t about Romeo sweeping us off of our feet. Instead, it’s about owning as much of you as you possibly can. Then, Mr. Romeo can’t can’t claim rights to your images, your body, your business, or even your love without your consent.


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