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It’s 2024. Why are we still pitting women against each other?

It’s 2024. Why are we still pitting women against each other?

Since social media teaches us everything we think we know about the celebrities we love, it’s easy to become invested in each report we see online. As a result, fans cling to often-inaccurate speculation, resulting in the unnecessary act of pitting accomplished women against each other.

In 2023 alone, we saw a handful of women accused of feuding with each other, with the reasoning behind the accusations often based on speculation and rumours. One such instance saw Hailey Bieber accused of mocking Selena Gomez’s eyebrows. Although Gomez and Bieber shut down the feud rumours, they weren’t the only ones pitted against each other in 2023, as Taylor Swift and Olivia Rodrigo and Emily Ratajkowski and Olivia Wilde also faced similar speculation.

Just three months into 2024, the behaviour has continued, with fans claiming that Taylor Swift was “snubbing” Celine Dion at the Grammys in February while the “Anti-Hero” singer was accepting her award for Album of the Year. Leading up to the 96th Annual Academy Awards, which took place on 10 March, there was a lot of discourse surrounding the women who didn’t receive nominations – specifically Greta Gerwig and Margot Robbie for their work in Barbie. The criticism towards women in the public eye extends beyond Hollywood stars, as Love Is Blind season six star Chelsea Blackwell was hit with backlash last month when she claimed she’s been told her that she looks like Megan Fox - only for her to be inundated by comments from those who disagreed with the comparison.

Whether it’s for entertainment purposes or not, fans are constantly turning towards theories about celebrities. However, the rumours are an unreliable source of information about those we admire, prompting the need to direct our attention to the fan bases, and how and why these speculated feuds are being created in the first place.

Speaking to The Independent, Michele Ramsey – an associate professor of communication art and sciences and women’s, gender, and sexuality studies at Pennsylvania State University – said that to understand why fans create these feuds, we have to look back at the stereotypes that women have faced. Those perceived ideas about women tie back to a common gender stereotype: personality traits. One example is that women are viewed as “accommodating and emotional,” while men are viewed as more confident and assertive, as noted by Planned Parenthood.

“When you identify as biologically female, you have those feminine gender roles that get constantly thrown at you,” Ramsey explained. “One of those stereotypes is the idea that women should always be nice, and always smile. If they’re not that way, there’s something wrong with them. If men do that, it’s not a problem. So when there’s anything out in the public that communicates maybe a woman of power is not nice, that gets exploded and pointed to.”

Often, when female celebrities are pitted against each other, a man is involved in some aspect. In Gomez and Bieber’s case, they’ve been accused of feuding since 2018, after the Rhode Beauty founder married the singer’s ex-boyfriend, Justin Bieber. History repeated itself in April 2023, but with different women, as Emily Ratajkowski was accused of feuding with Olivia Wilde after she was spotted kissing the director’s ex-boyfriend, Harry Styles. Ratajkowski addressed the allegations at the time, telling Vogue Spain that she “felt bad for Olivia,” since the actor was being attacked by the media because of the Gone Girl star’s kiss with Styles.

 (Getty)
(Getty)

While a woman’s success exists outside of their relationships, fans are still invested in the love lives of celebrities. Speaking to The Independent, Catherine Fairfield, a postdoctoral associate at Northeastern University who teaches women’s studies courses, acknowledged that we follow these romances because it’s just like the everyday gossip in our lives, where we love to hear what others think about each other and how they interact. However, that interest leaves room for inaccurate assumptions.

“I don’t necessarily think that an interest and intrigue around people’s relationships is an inherently negative thing, or that it’s driven by some kind of nefarious consequence,” Fairfield explained. “But I do think that there is a trend where we see more media about heterosexual relationships and that often uplifts the man at the centre. As a result, the women are then pitted against each other, and that can be distracting.”

Relationships aren’t the only aspect of celebrity under the microscope, however, as even the smallest comment is enough to set off fans. When Love Is Blind star Blackwell said people think she looks like Megan Fox, because she has “dark hair and blue eyes,” viewers didn’t hesitate to voice their disagreement.

Although Blackwell later expressed her regrets about discussing her comparison to Fox, the discourse around it became so extensive that even Netflix appeared to jokingly address it, prompting viewers to accuse the company of “bullying” Blackwell based on her looks. Fox’s ex-husband Brian Austin Green even told viewers to cut Blackwell “some slack” amid the criticism and shared his belief that the Jennifer’s Body star “would be flattered” by the comparison.

For decades, we’ve seen people compare successful women to one another when they’re working in the same industry. In June 2023, fans were quick to assume that Olivia Rodrigo’s hit single, “Vampire,” was about Taylor Swift, since the 21-year-old gave Swift writing credits on her song, “Deja Vu”, because it had interpolated (meaning the re-recording of a melody instead of sampling) Swift’s “Cruel Summer.” However, the “Good 4 U” singer clarified to Rolling Stone in September that she doesn’t “have any beef with anyone”. In February, fans encouraged others to put the feud rumours to rest when Swift was seen singing along to Rodrigo’s performance of “Vampire” during the Grammys.

 (YouTube)
(YouTube)

While the two singers never confirmed there was bad blood between them, the allegations of a feud sent shockwaves around the internet. Ramsey said that when she notices how frequently women are pitted against each other, she thinks about a popular lyric from Swift’s hit song, “You Need to Calm Down,” which goes: “We see you over there on the internet, comparing all the girls who are killing it.”

She acknowledged that Swift and Rodrigo are both creating music that promotes feminism in their own ways, which is why people opt to make those comparisons between them, rather than just applauding their success. She also expressed that in some cases, fans may take issue with how Rodrigo and Swift’s music pushes back against the stereotypes that are placed on women.

“These are two really successful women who by the way, their songs really do challenge the patriarchy in a lot of ways,” she said. “People are uncomfortable with too many powerful women, and I’m not saying it’s just men. I think we can internalise sexism and women can be uncomfortable with that too. There are also a good number of women who believe very traditional roles for women are correct.”

Since celebrities don’t often respond to theories about them, fans can become reliant on speculation that has very little or no truth to it.

Swift faced backlash in February when she was seen hugging multiple people on stage when accepting her Grammy Award, but didn’t hug or look at Celine Dion, who presented the award. However, speculation of a feud was quickly squashed when Dion – who made a surprise appearance at the event following her Stiff Person Syndrome (SPS) diagnosis – and Swift were photographed hugging backstage.

While fans were quick to assume that the pair were on the outs after their brief interaction on stage, Fairfield thinks this is due to the need for entertainment and escapism. According to Fairfield, because of our stresses in everyday life, we want to read something funny or innocuous online.

“I think of this as those five minutes of media intake, whether you’re at a bus stop or you’re sitting before a meeting starts, which are little blip moments where we would sit and read the tabloids,” she said. “I think what draws people to certain kinds of media is really complex, but when you consider what else is on the internet, in terms of news and information about the world, individuals are drawn towards things that have nothing to do with real life. Because you’re still too busy processing and trying to live with the big, impactful news of the world.”

When the 2024 Oscar nominations were announced in January, there was immense outrage that Gerwig wasn’t nominated for Best Director and Robbie wasn’t nominated for Best Actress for Barbie, even though the hit blockbuster itself received eight nominations. Ryan Gosling – who played Ken in the film and was nominated for Best Supporting Actor – even chimed in on the backlash, noting that Robbie and Gerwig were “two people most responsible for this history-making, globally-celebrated film”. The award for Best Director on 10 March ultimately went to Christopher Nolan for Oppenheimer, while the award for Best Actress went to Emma Stone for Poor Things.

While stars and fans came to Gerwig and Robbie’s defence when the nominations were first announced, other people on X – formerly known as Twitter – claimed that the viral discourse took away from the success of the female directors and actors who did receive Oscar nominations.

“The Barbie ‘snub’ backlash is so weirdly dismissive of Justine Triet and Sandra Hüller, at times in a truly hostile way,” one person tweeted in January, referring to the director and lead star of Anatomy of a Fall.

Another wrote: “To complain so loudly about the two blonde women who missed while ignoring the incredible work of first-time nominees like Justine Triet, Sandra Hüller, Lily Gladstone… and Barbie’s own America Ferrera, is objectively a bad look.”

Fairfield said she wasn’t surprised by the discourse surrounding Robbie and Gerwig, given the fact that they are the most in the public eye and have had success as white women in the industry. She also acknowledged that amid the reaction to the Barbie snubs, there should be support towards other directors and actresses, including the first-time Oscar nominees and other filmmakers who weren’t nominated at all.

2023 Gotham Awards - Winner's Room (2023 Invision)
2023 Gotham Awards - Winner's Room (2023 Invision)

“The discourse tends to be about successful white women, who are American, Australian, British, and have had certain Western privileges,” Fairfield explained. “I think the most effort goes to just getting people to watch the movies from other filmmakers, who are not in that kind of white Western norm that makes it to the Academy Award nominations at all.

“The discussion around Oscar snubs is important, so we can address what's happening concretely with an Academy Award. But also, it's distracting from the plethora of other kinds of voices and content that we could also be looking at.”

Fairfield continued: “For example, what role does Ryan Gosling’s statement play in all of this? I think it’s really valuable and meaningful when we do see the kind of critical work being done by people who are not directly involved. We have to have everybody be able to have those kinds of conversations to make a change.”

That perspective can be applied each time we see reports of a celebrity feud, or any time a woman is pitted against another. According to Ramsey, the main way we can stop pitting women against each other is by critcising the theories that make the headlines. She urges the public not to be manipulated by the media, noting that fans shouldn’t believe everything they see on the internet.

“Anything you learn can be unlearned. And if people aren’t doing that because it’s the right thing to do for women, let’s do it because this is the thing to do for your favourite celebrity,” she said. “You are feeding into this narrative and not critically assessing it at all. You’re believing what a fan says and responding and launching into conflict as if that’s true, when you haven’t checked that perception, and that celebrity hasn’t said anything that supports that reception.”