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BENITEZ: Pawns of patriarchy, media manipulation of female celebrities

Column: Hear Me Out

The ongoing feud between celebrities like Olivia Rodrigo and Sabrina Carpenter raises questions on how society may contribute to these conflicts and why they receive such high levels of media attention. – Photo by @oliviarodrigo / Instagram
@sabrinacarpenter / Instagram

I was on one of my usual TikTok scrolls when one specific video by the user @simplylillie made me stop in my tracks. The video, which has more than 4.8 million views, features audio of a remix of Olivia Rodrigo's "drivers license" and Sabrina Carpenter's "because i liked a boy."

My first thought was how great the remix sounded and how well both artists' voices complemented each other. Yet, the text on the TikTok brought home a common reality: "I still can't believe society pit my girls against each other, so we'll never get a collab”. 

Rodrigo and Carpenter's "feud" has been going on for a while.

It all started when Rodrigo released "drivers license," a pop song about a heartbroken teenager watching her ex move on. There was already speculation that the song was about the singer's Disney co-star, Joshua Bassett, but nothing was ever confirmed.

Nevertheless, the lyrics of "drivers license" talk about an older blonde girl, someone who always fueled doubt in her mind during the relationship. During the period when the song was released, pictures of Carpenter, a 24-year-old blonde, with Basset started showing up, alongside rumors that the two were a couple.

That was enough to ignite the fire.

Carpenter released her album, "emails i can't send," in 2022, featuring some songs that are hard not to assume are about Rodrigo.

Her song "because i liked a boy" talks about a relationship and its issues that are painfully similar to all the rumors. And her song "Skin" just seems like a witty, targeted response to Rodrigo herself. 

What could have been two young, successful women and ex-Disney actresses supporting each other turned into a media-intensive celebrity "feud."

Famous women having "feuds" is not a recent thing.

Mariah Carey and Whitney Houston, Taylor Swift and Katy Perry, Bette Davis and Joan Crawford, Angelina Jolie and Jennifer Aniston — we have seen it all over. Just like Rodrigo and Carpenter, society and the media tend to pit women against each other.

We often think that these feuds are just an example of today's media — stories written by tabloids trying to sell a product.

But that is not always the case.

In a 2008 interview with the Daily Mail, Christina Aguilera talked about her feud with Britney Spears: "It must have seemed as if we were competing with each other, but, in reality, (Spears) is someone that I used to hold hands with."

This demonstrates that sometimes feuds are not always just media — they are there to show women where their place is.

In her article, "Does Patriarchy Divide Women: The Importance Of Solidarity" on feminism in India, Damini Mehta argues that the patriarchy "creates a narrative where women cannot thrive, but even if they somehow manage to, the way it then restricts them is by creating a narrative of 'only a select few of you can access resources and prestige, and that has to be done at the cost of the others.'"

Societal norms and expectations often place women in competition with each other, especially in industries like entertainment. There is a historical narrative that suggests only a limited number of spots are available for successful women, which leads to heightened competition.

Mehta argues that the way this happens is that patriarchy fosters a dynamic where women are set against each other, leading to a negative perception of female counterparts and a constant comparison to establish oneself as the sole successful woman.

Consequently, women find themselves in an environment where they are subtly or overtly urged to undermine each other, striving to emerge as the superior woman in their respective roles.

According to an article by the Harvard Business Review, "The precept of 'one seat at the table' comes from a belief that diversity is mandated but not useful. In fact, there's extensive evidence that more diverse teams perform better, are more innovative (and) produce more revenue and higher profits."

This means that female rivalry has neither meaning nor purpose. 

Overall, celebrity feuds among women, such as the one between Rodrigo and Carpenter, are not merely tabloid sensationalism but rather a reflection of deeply ingrained societal issues, particularly patriarchal influences.

Historical instances prove that these conflicts extend beyond media narratives, often being shaped to define and confine women within prescribed roles.

Firstly, we need to stop pinning women against each other. And secondly, we must realize that women have more power when they stand together.

By mentoring, supporting and showcasing the strength of women, we contribute to a higher representation of women in the workforce and help place them in influential positions.

It is important for young people today to see that women have lots of different stories, interests and experiences. Women are more than just how they look or any conflicts they might be involved in.

We should appreciate and celebrate the many talents and aspects that make each young woman unique.

Marina Benitez is a School of Arts and Sciences senior majoring in journalism and media studies and minoring in gender and media. Her column, "Hear me out," runs on alternate Mondays.

*Columns, cartoons and letters do not necessarily reflect the views of the Targum Publishing Company or its staff.

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