2023: The year we still continue to pit women against each other

Emma Rouine explores how the media recklessly pits women against each other and the dangerous impact this has on the public.

“While social media is an incredible way to connect and build community, moments like this only create extreme division instead of bringing people together.” These were the words of Hailey Bieber last March when she took to Instagram amid her alleged feud with Selena Gomez. 

Seven months on, have people learnt from this? Have people learnt that their words are dragging women down and creating “extreme division?” In light of Hailey’s words here, it is important to consider the distinction between our online presence and our personal identity.

Our culture has always made us believe that it’s those with the perfect body shape and those with the defining facial features that attract all the attention. It’s been illustrated through the media for as long as imaginable. But what happens when women in the public light step out of these expectations? What happens when those in question are younger women emerging into the spotlight? 

It’s always the same story that gains attraction. Essentially, it’s just in a different font with different people’s lives being derailed for public entertainment. Yet, this is not something as frivolous as watching a repeat episode of your favourite TV show, these are people’s real lives that have been made a mockery of. We have to ask ourselves, though: why is it always women who are targeted?

Think of all the women’s feuds that have created so much attraction in the media, from the “WAG wars” to the alleged feuds in the royal family between Kate and Meghan. There are countless examples.

 Now, think of all the feuds among men in the media. 

It’s not as easy to do, right? 

Concerning this media obsession with women’s alleged feuds, Crazy Rich Asians star Constance Wu has said the media uses this story repeatedly as it “helps the patriarchy stay in power”. She expanded on this by saying, “If it’s a board meeting of all women and there’s only one seat for a man, the men will start becoming competitive. It’s about the scarcity, not gender.”

“In addition to tarnishing the artists’ domestic lives, media outlets now intrude on their professional lives too.”

With such few opportunities for women in specific industries, the competitiveness of this turns into a cutthroat competition no longer for the job, but rather amongst each potential “threat”. Consequently, speculations about the dynamics of women in the music industry have gained media attention in recent years. In addition to tarnishing the artists’ domestic lives, media outlets now intrude on their professional lives too.

Olivia Rodrigo is a prime example of this. At the outbreak of her career, when her singleDriver’s License” broke the global charts, the media became engrossed in an alleged love triangle revolving around herself, fellow co-star at the time Joshua Bassett, and Sabrina Carpenter (whom Bassett was romantically linked with). The media could not let the song live on its own. They showcased her personal life and tried to find some mere connection within it to the song. It degraded the essence of the song so that when one listens to it now, one can only hear lyrics that are supposedly directed towards Carpenter. 

Now, two years on, the media has moved on from the Driver’s Licence love triangle. However, Rodrigo’s relationships are still a main topic in the entertainment world. What has been dominating entertainment outlets in recent weeks, is this so-called feud between Taylor Swift and Olivia Rodrigo. It is linked back to Rodrigo’s 2021 debut album, Sour, where she gave up half of her royalties on her track “Deja Vu” due to the similarity to the bridge of Taylor’s 2019 hit track, “Cruel Summer”.

Although, all we have are rumours. Yes, Swift now holds 50% of Rodrigo’s royalties for “Deja Vu”, this is a fact. However, this so-called feud they have going on as a result? This is not a fact. We don’t know the truth and we may never know unless one party releases a statement. 

Even then, in saying this, the media will never be satisfied. The Selena-Hailey trope still trends online when both parties have already released statements about the controversy. One has to ask themselves – truly, what is so fascinating about imagining these fake scenarios between artists? What is the excitement in picking one side and choosing to cancel the other? Nothing but the core of an extremely toxic culture. 

Instead of empowering these women, we choose to break them down. We do not know their story and we certainly do not know the context, because we are the public and we should stay the public. These artists have not invited us into their homes and lives, therefore we don’t have a say in their dynamics with other people.

What I find so horrific on social media is the comments underneath well-known pop culture news sources, such as Pop Base and Pop Crave, who choose to broadcast these alleged stories. Fans of Rodrigo will slate Swift and her fans, while the same process will operate from the other party. It’s always “Which team are you: Taylor or Olivia?” Through this, social media illustrates that there’s only one spotlight available for these pop artists. 

Photo by Joe McCallion for Trinity News

Why do we as women feel the need to tear down other women in the spotlight when it is so incredibly difficult for them to break into the industry in the first place? Rodrigo has even noted this in a previous interview, where she said: “Young women are constantly compared to each other. I’m the ‘new this’ or ‘this woman meets that woman,’ and that can be reductive.” We should be empowering women, not belittling them. Fair enough, you may have a preferred music taste, but dragging them and their fans across social media is a step too far.

“It becomes a part of our mindset to believe that it’s normal to put a woman down due to our dislike of who she is dating.”

The trolling online does not just stay in the comment section on a Twitter post, it becomes internalised. It’s no longer just a problem that lingers every time we scroll through our social media feeds. Growing up in a generation where we see the media broadcasting comparisons between someone’s ex-partner to their new partner or slandering the success of someone new to the industry makes us automatically target them as part of some superficial hate campaign. It becomes a part of our mindset to believe that it’s normal to put a woman down due to our dislike of who she is dating.

What does that leave us with? If this continues, this form of misogyny will become embedded in each generation. It becomes normalised and seen as a rational response. That being said, it’s already practised in our own lives. It’s ingrained in us to envy the partner of the person we fancied or that girl who nabbed the job position we were dying to get. It’s not just something that we read in the news any longer, but something that has become a staple of our everyday lives.

It’s 2023, for crying out loud. It’s time to put this pettiness where it’s meant to be – in the past.

Emma Rouine

Emma Rouine is the current Student Living Co - Editor and a Junior Sophister English Studies student. She previously served as Deputy Student Living Editor.