By Olivia Libowitz
Elm Staff Writer
If I asked you, “What’s the beef with Taylor Swift and Kim Kardashian?” could you tell me? Even if you don’t listen to Swift and don’t follow Kardashian, could you tell me the basics? If you literally don’t care about either of them, do you still sort of know what’s going on? Why is it virtually impossible to escape this argument these days?
Swift and Kardashian are the current focus of a much larger societal issue. The world is obsessed with watching women fight each other. This isn’t new; this isn’t even a modern trope. This exact idea has been used in fiction for centuries, with characters such as Morgana and Guinevere in Arthurian literature, or Veronica and Betty in the Archie Comics. Since the dawn of tabloids and media culture, female feuds have moved to real women and their real fights.
It’s easy to see why tabloids and media focus so much time on female feuds—it sells. But why does it sell? One of the earliest female feuds in the American public eye was Bette Davis vs. Joan Crawford. Women who, according to a hundred sources, couldn’t stand to be around each other. Ryan Murphy released a TV show about the pair this year, referring to it as “a feud unlike any other.”
Countless feuds since then have proved that statement to be incorrect. Feuds such as Angelina Jolie vs. Jennifer Aniston, Mariah Carey vs. Jennifer Lopez, and Tonya Harding vs. Nancy Kerrigan have all captivated national attention. And now, Kardashian, Swift, Katy Perry, and other women seem perpetually to be in one large, tangled fight.
This may not come as a surprise to most, but the female feud narrative is deeply rooted in several sexist ideologies. It plays off the false idea that multiple women cannot occupy one space. Beautiful, strong figure skaters? Only room enough for one. Privileged white pop singers? Sorry, no room for two. Elderly actresses like Crawford and Davis, who have lost their looks? We certainly can’t fit two of you on screen. That’s the problem.
A CBC article on Crawford and Davis states that it feeds into “our societal desire to fit all types of women into ancient (and problematic) archetypes.”
If Swift and Kardashian are fighting, we can make one (Kardashian) the violent brute, and one (Swift) the innocent victim. Or, if you support the other narrative, Kardashian becomes the wife defending her husband’s honor, and Swift becomes the conniving liar. This same technique is used on women across the board. Feuds make it so easy to manipulate public perception of women, and how much space they’re allowed to occupy.
Another problematic trait of the female feud is that it plays into male fantasy. You see it everywhere in TV. From Barney Stinson in “How I Met Your Mother” shouting at his friend Ted for breaking up a cat fight before he could film it, to Jerry in “Seinfeld” explaining that if “women are grabbing and clawing at each other, there’s a chance they might somehow, you know… kiss.” These feuds trivialize actual issues women are facing, and the legitimate emotions they’re having, and reduces them down to a fetishized portrayal of women being angry for men’s pleasure. Like a glamorous pillow fight.
The last, and possibly harshest reality of the female feud, is that it continues the narrative that women cannot support each other and must always be competing. This makes an environment where women cannot boost each other up, cannot work together, and cannot have healthy disagreements without it being blown into hyperbolic proportions. Unfortunately, women know this too, and certain women will play into this obsession in order to boost ratings and public attention. Women, such as Swift, Kardashian, and Perry, realize that the perceived feud will bring them more attention than their skills alone, so they cater to this narrative. This continues the disappointing trend of women artists being judged by everything but their art.
In the long term, this continues to create an environment where women will be stacked up and measured, using each other as the rule, a technique that does nothing but make an already uneven playing field for women even more rocky.