One man, two women, and a whole load of drama.
We’ve seen that trope in movies, television, music, and even in real life. Often, it’s an earth-shattering feud that determines who the “main girl” is in a man’s life. But there's something we fail to acknowledge: Why are we all bending over backward for some guy? Why do we continue to define women through men?
Earlier in the month, we witnessed the rehashed feud between Selena Gomez and Hailey Bieber on our TikTok feeds. Coincidentally, a female rivalry between Nadine Lustre and Issa Pressman brewed in another corner of the world. Both feuds involve a man who was an ex to one and current to another. Both situations were mostly speculation over social media, and both were extremely heightened against both parties’ wishes.
As someone witnessing all this through the endless scrolling, it’s easy to dismiss these issues as the usual “tea” we’ll forget about in a few days’ time. We’ll needlessly post a few comments here and there over the little information out there and reshare some think pieces like this, then move on to the next issue we can get our hands on. Rinse, recycle, repeat.
But I think an underlying factor in all this is that the “tea” always revolves around women. While we can’t claim to know what’s going on behind closed doors, I have a question about how our society reacts in response to female feuds like this: Why do we revel in pitting women against each other?
How easy it is to paint a woman in a bad light
If mob mentality on social media has taught us anything, it's how easy it is to go on a witchhunt for a woman.
A few years ago, before the internet sided with Selena and Nadine today, both women faced an outlandish amount of backlash for various issues in the past. Some from statements they said out of context, some from rumors that were never confirmed. Others were mistakes they made before, as if they were infallible and incapable of any flaws.
While I won’t defend everything they’ve done in the past, I’m sure they just had their bad moments as normal human beings and are working to be better now. It is wild to think how quickly we all jump the gun and cast hate onto someone without knowing the entire context. This is not to say Hailey and Issa are devoid of any wrongdoing, nor are they “right” in any way. Simply put, the situation isn’t as black and white as we may think, especially since we don’t have the full story—something none of the people involved owe us. We’re essentially grasping at straws around people we don’t personally know. So, what right do we have to demonize these women based on speculation?
This sort of hate train happens way too easily to women, as if we were just waiting for that one mistake—true or not—to oust them of their place. We’ve seen it through Britney Spears and Taylor Swift, among many other women.
It’s like, in the blink of an eye, we all point our fingers and blame the woman, but we don’t seem to cast the same snap judgment over their male counterparts. This all boils down to our favorite buzzword: the patriarchy.
While we've seen some progress in how women are being treated today, this shows that we still live in a patriarchal society—meaning, men not only hold more power and privileges over women, but they also somehow make it remain that way. In this society, misogyny is culturally indoctrinated through traditions, religion, family structures, and even media. It’s almost expected that men dominate the lowly, subservient, not-too-ambitious women. And when women are far from that ideal? They’re criticized. They’re villainized. They’re seen as the outlier to standards no one can ever achieve in a lifetime.
When the ideal set for women is essentially perfection, it makes it easy for them to be demonized for “falling out of line” and not “knowing their place.” Every day, impossible standards are reinforced onto women, yet thinking back to all the men that have been outed for their sexual harassment, cheating scandals, or even misogynistic views, they seem to be pretty comfy taking their spot in the industry without consequence.
Unfortunately, our culture seems to have a prevailing attitude of looking at men as the standard and seeing women as less than—as if to say not gaining male validation would leave a gaping hole in their life. Put these two together, and what have you got? A perfect recipe to pit women against each other.
Why our culture loves to pit women against each other
When men fill all the seats on the table, women are conditioned to fall into a “crab mentality” and fight other women for their own spots. Quoting a feminist piece by the James Madison University, “we’re socialized to compete in some form or another because, as women, we all fall short of an ideal type: We fall outside of the category of man. We are conditioned to equate manhood with credibility, and because we were born with two X chromosomes.”
This mindset leads women to fall into a “one or the other” mentality that two women can’t co-exist simultaneously in one space. Hence, they’re conditioned to fight tooth and nail, even at the expense of fellow women. Often, they fight as a means for power—something they’ve been deprived of most of their life, or male validation—something that’s brought up as the golden standard.
Taking it back to female feuds, a common thread between all these is a man in the middle. It’s always about two women “fighting” over a single man a la The Boy is Mine. Think of the typical cheating situations depicted in Pinoy movies like No Other Woman and A Secret Affair, where the wife and mistress go at it while the man walks free. Think of just a few years back when we were all stuck on the Olivia Rodrigo and Sabrina Carpenter feud, despite how young they were to face all that.
This is not to say Hailey Bieber and Issa Pressman are devoid of any wrongdoing, nor are they 'right' in any way. Simply put, the situation isn’t as black and white as we may think, especially since we don’t have the full story—something none of the people involved owe us. We’re essentially grasping at straws around people we don’t personally know.
Female rivalry primarily comes from internalized misogyny or sexism. Because women unconsciously absorb daily patriarchal messages, those messages show up in how women interact with each other. To quote the Harvard Business Review, these messages “lead women to mistreat, underestimate, and distance themselves from other women in order to increase their power and standing among men.”
It doesn’t help that society eggs on this idea of female competition so much that we end up forgetting the true enemy in all of this: the patriarchal society that forces this “ideal” in the first place.
When we look back at the Selena-Hailey or Nadine-Issa issue, it all boils down to a pecking order that’s further heightened by the public who loves seeing women get “catty” amongst each other. In truth, we don’t know what’s happening or how each party feels, and we can only speculate as much information as we are given by the affected people. At this point, there was nothing to suggest anything was really going on—unless stated otherwise by the women themselves. And at the end of the day, none of these people owe us an explanation for the truth about their personal lives, despite being public figures.
So, the lesson in all this? Let’s not let this culture of tearing women apart continue to plague our heads and define ourselves and our relationships with other women. Let’s learn to step back, opt out of this silly rat race, and express ourselves away from what’s been fed to us.
To quote an article from Girlboss, “When we’re fed bulls—t about women, it’s important that we view it with a critical eye and a critical ear."