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Celebrity Catfights and Pop Culture’s Endless Quest for the Damned Woman

We’ve seen it time and time again. Nicki Minaj and Cardi B. Kim Kardashian and Taylor Swift. Joan Crawford and Bette Davis. And now Hailey Bieber and Selena Gomez. Pop culture loves a female feud and will stoke it endlessly until it fizzles out and both women are forced to publicly address it and call it quits.

This week, Selena addressed on her Instagram story how Hailey Bieber has been receiving death threats. The drama escalated within a matter of weeks. Sly, cheeky comments flooded Hailey’s makeup tutorials to try using Rare Beauty, Selena’s makeup brand. Now, as the feud continues, with or without the two women’s involvement, misogynistic comments dominate the conversation, making it inseparable from the drama’s origin.

Was it Hailey making fun of Selena’s eyebrows? Was it Selena shading Hailey in TikTok comments? The beef may have started this year or years before, but it became so publicised and broadcast across all social media channels that public involvement felt warranted - or even required.

I counted at least five people who asked if I had been keeping up with the drama - and I myself had asked people that, too. Who doesn’t love celebrity tea? This is a generation that watched The Wendy Williams Show, Dr. Phil, and Real Housewives whilst home sick from school. We flock to Love Island every year. Drama sells, and it sells all across magazines, TV, and Twitter.

Yet I can’t shake the feeling that this industry is centred on women - how women interact, how they behave, how they absolutely cannot stand each other and if they do, are they even friends?

Conveniently, Justin Bieber has been left out of the Hailey and Selena narrative, despite his slew of scandals, including singing racial slurs, physically assaulting fans, and neglecting a pet capuchin monkey. Yet as fans pinpoint him as the origin of Hailey and Selena’s disagreement, regarding his dating history, he is virtually eliminated from the dozens of timelines, explanations, and theories. When we see a disagreement between two female celebrities, it becomes a fight in which the public is urged to pick sides. Think pieces and articles trace it back to various points in their careers, indicating that it began long ago, and they were destined to be pitted against each other.

The obsession with catfights harkens back to a deeper, darker trend of women’s treatment in the media - public witch-hunts and targeted hate campaigns that have damaged countless women’s lives in the entertainment industry. Megan Thee Stallion’s experience of horrific misogynoir after being a victim of gun violence and intimate partner violence was publicised all across the Internet as fans of Tory Lanez called her a liar. Britney Spears, after suffering from a mental health crisis, was branded as “crazy”, and paparazzi photos of her with a shaved head covered tabloids all across the world. Instead of receiving support from their trauma, Britney and Megan became targets for hate.

The abuse that Megan and Britney experienced runs from the same source that led to death threats against Hailey. A woman in crisis is Hollywood’s favourite pastime, yet the hardships they’ve endured are construed to be their own fault. If there isn’t a woman on trial consistently, there is nothing to read. Take one look at the comment section of any woman who has been branded as “problematic” - misogynistic insults blot out any words of support. Hate towards male celebrities, especially ones that have committed terrible acts of violence against women are virtually absent from media narratives. Yet when women are human beings that make mistakes, they are broadcast as aggressors and made as an example to other women everywhere: that anger is wrong, that emotions are wrong, that speaking out about their mental health is wrong.

Looking at these stories of famous women in the arts who have experienced abuse at the hands of the media, I can hardly see the same treatment towards their male peers who have made the same mistakes (usually even worse ones), yet they receive none of the notoriety. Male celebrities that commit hate crimes and abuse women and children still enjoy the success and praise they’ve always had, with little to no consequences.

When looking at the figures prominent in pop culture, one has to wonder, are they really as bad as media outlets are saying? Or are they just women, expected to be perfect, expected to be silent, and expected to stay in their lane. The next “catfight” I want to see is a woman speaking her truth, however uncomfortable that may make others.

Illustration: Calum Mayor

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