As any avid fan of ‘How I Met Your Mother’ would say, we all have watched Barney Stinson running like his life depends on it to watch a bar cat-fight, or even slamming his fist through a wall and falling apart crying, “You never break up a girl fight!” while his best friend Ted stops two of his other female best friends from fighting with each other.
While that’s all jokes and fun, it also says something about the culture that prompts men to always encourage two women fighting. ‘Cat-fighting’, as Urban Dictionary defines it, is a nasty fight between women that involves certain things men consider out of bounds, like pulling hair or scratching. While this is an American concept that created Hollywood films like ‘Mean Girls’, ‘Bride Wars’, ‘Kill Bill’ with famous girl fight scenes, Indian mainstream soaps also promote ideas that women are essentially against each other in the family. In spite of being just any regular physical fighting that men engage in as well, women fighting, gets a special name owing to the male gaze making it an object of sexual fantasy. Women getting physical with each other- becomes ‘attractive’ as their body and mind both lose subjectivity in the eyes of the male audience.
It arises from the stereotypical belief that women are not capable of getting along or having any serious argument and instead just turn to immature, unreasonable fighting. Perhaps, that is where the media’s habit of pitting women against each other springs as well. We always see our Bollywood actresses being questioned about their contemporary actresses like they compulsorily need to be enemies. The media pitches them as hardcore competitors simply on the basis of their debuts being on the same day or something as simple as the men they are dating. They are asked to comment upon the others’ fashion sense, dating choices, their personal relationships etc.
Even in Hollywood, successful women in different fields are being portrayed as enemies all the time, like in the music industry, Kesha and Katy Perry or Rihanna and Beyonce. Any small conflict between two women- and the media is ready to project it as one of the greatest controversies remembered by history. Around almost every corner in Facebook, there are posts trying to prove women’s competence in fields like politics, cricket, protecting the country by shaming a porn actor or any slim-bodied woman with make-up for that matter. This idea of elevating one woman or one group of women to a pedestal is dangerous, as it is just another name for misogyny.
(Both of these women deserve to be respected for being who they are and should not be portrayed as competing against each other)
Although, sometimes women are indeed mean to each other, but that’s okay, because of the simple reason that they are people too. They can be assholes. While women should not be made into rivals they also should not be blamed for speaking about serious issues that could involve two groups of women (without attacking anybody else). Bollywood has histories of actresses who were indeed hostile towards each other, like Kareena and Priyanka, both of whom have exchanged silly jabs about the other in the media. They have every right to behave this way and should not fall victim to the patriarchal violence of being blamed by the media because of that. Awhile back, Nicki Minaj’s tweet about the problem of women of colour in the music industry was turned into an oversimplified ‘pitting women against each other’ by the White Feminist tone of Taylor Swift’s reply.
(Although Taylor realized her mistake and apologized later, which Nicki accepted)
Placing women on the opposite sides is a serious age-old problem in the media, that needs to be done away with; at the same time, people should be educated enough not to over-simplistically translate a woman criticizing another into bad Feminism. Surely, ‘women being friendly’ does not particularly do anything for Feminism; but since we live in a society where women have faced the most resistance from other women, it is important. As Kalki Koechlin asks in her spoken word performance, “Dear women, will you at least stand up for me?” it seems like the first step.
Recently, Sonam Kapoor slammed body-shamers which Anushka Sharma as well as Priyanka Chopra heartily supported. As the secondary citizens of a structure that already counts women, even successful women incapable of certain things, women have to work harder to overcome these shackling stereotypes, to prove themselves as mature, intelligent. In such a scenario, women supporting other women is definitely uplifting.
Written By: Tamalika Roy