The media operates on the principle that two women in close proximity must either be the best of friends or sworn enemies.
Just look at the story they’re trying to make out of Kate Middleton and Meghan Markle’s relationship. Kensington Palace had to issue a rare statement explaining that there was no feud between the two after The Sun ran a piece claiming they had an “explosive row” because Meghan was allegedly rude to a member of Kate’s staff.
“This never happened,” the Palace explained.
Of course, it would have been a boon to much of the press if it had. People love feuds between women. It is the fuel the entire Real Housewives franchise runs on (perhaps because it was easier to vent our recession era ire on women with hair extensions throwing drinks than it was to direct it, more appropriately, towards their husbands, who actually caused a financial collapse). The feud between Paris Hilton and Nicole Richie-“she knows what she did”-seemed consuming in the early aughts. Katie Perry and Taylor Swift’s feud supposedly inspired the song "Bad Blood", and the music video in which Taylor Swift’s band of celebrity friends all explained that they hated someone. And then there's the “feud” between Jessica Simpson and Natalie Portman the press reported on just yesterday (the “feud” seemed to consist of a misunderstanding that Portman immediately apologized for).
There is something uniquely gendered about a feud. A list of the 24 Most Heated Celebrity Feuds of All Time cites only three between men. That doesn’t mean they don’t happen-I find it difficult to believe that the men in the Trump White House are all really civil to one another. Yet weirdly, Google doesn’t yield articles with headlines describing a “feud” between Anthony Scaramucci and Steve Bannon. That’s in spite of the fact that Scaramucci literally called Bannon “the creature from the black lagoon” and, for reasons known only to him, called The New Yorker to describe Bannon “sucking his own cock”-a moment in history that I fully expect my grandchildren to think I am joking about when I describe it to them, because there is no doubt in my mind I will still be talking about it 50 years from now.
There are feuds between men, certainly. But we expect men to fight. A “boys will be boys” attitude expects conflict between two men. So when men quarrel, it’s generally not reported on enough to be as memorable as, say, the feud between Joan Crawford and Bette Davis, which inspired the Ryan Murphy television show, Feud.
You will be far less likely to see a piece about a man feuding with his ex’s new partner than you will the kind still running regarding Angelina Jolie and Jennifer Aniston. In 2018. Jennifer Aniston and Brad Pitt split up in 2005. Angelina Jolie and Brad Pitt broke up in 2016. It is a source of ever-present bewilderment that we are still invested in the notion that these women hate each other.
But to make two successful women who are in the spotlight “feud” serves to reinforce gender stereotypes. These women might be famous, and wealthy, true, but apparently they got that way because they are mean and petty.
The constant notion of two women feuding also reinforces the outdated notion that there is limited room at the top of a given profession for women. If you are a woman at the top, you must be forever invested in destroying other women trying to take your status from you.
Both notions make ambition seem less attractive to women, and ignore the fact that there always seems to be quite enough room at the top for an unlimited number of men.
That is not to say that women fall into the other stereotype, which is that we are all lifting one another up all the time. Whenever I see a meme about how “real queens fix other queens crowns” I always think perhaps some of these queens should just hire a hairdresser, so all the other queens could get on with the business of ruling an empire. Women are not all nurturing angels looking to befriend every single person we meet. That sounds extremely time consuming. Many women out there are perhaps not looking for more best friends. They may be just fine with those they already have. And most women interact with one another without any bitter, long-lasting rivalries erupting.
I imagine that Kate Middleton and Meghan Markle will get through their very fortunate lives with minimal difficulties. But then, I suppose there’s no television show titled “Nice People Getting Along Nicely.”
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