Revenge, betrayal, demonstrations of loyalty by allies, and self-righteous indignation…all essential components of two rivaling 7th grade Queen Bees and their minions waging war against each other…. or of Kim Kardashian West versus Taylor Swift and their respective sisters and friends’ latest feud on social media.
Is there something about fame and celebrity that makes these women act like middle school mean girls? Definitely. Celebrity culture values and rewards the worst stereotyped teen behavior: Narcissism, superficiality, impulsiveness, groupthink, blind allegiance, and self-righteousness, especially when you’ve done something wrong.
When image is everything, revenge is completely acceptable. The similarities between how teen girls fight and celebrity women publicly feud is glaring. And encouraged.
Why should we care? Because we are all cultivating and reinforcing the basest of behaviors in our public figures—people who have enormous public platforms. Maybe it’s a way to make us feel better about ourselves because we don’t act this crazy? But in so doing this is the culture we are creating for ourselves and our children.
Let me break it down. When two powerful girls exist in the same social universe, each one follows a similar strategy to control their image, reputation and the people around them. The girls could be very different in the way they look, their “reputation,” and have completely distinct friend groups, but they still follow a similar path to social domination. In celebrity culture, the women who have achieved some degree of success have to at least understand how to work this system to the best of their ability. And some are definitely better at it than others.
Whatever you think about Taylor Swift or KKW, they are both geniuses at working this system for maximum benefit. They carefully curate their image to achieve immense financial success and position themselves constantly in the public eye. KKW is the bad sexy girl who will kill you if you mess with anyone close to her and Swift is the nice BFF white girl, constant victim of mean girls and bad boyfriends everywhere, who just wants everyone to get along.
But the way in which they play out their conflicts is a) strikingly similar to the strategies employed by girls 2) a problem because they aren’t girls. They are grown women. Each one is a publicly powerful woman manipulating the people closest to them by doing the following:
- Anoint a small group of friends as the inner circle
- Demand unquestioned loyalty
- Look for opportunities to show the outside world that she is above all the conflict–while approving her minions to attack on her behalf
- Conversely, those minions love to display their loyalty in hopes that their actions will reinforce their own power and social position
- Feel she has the right to seek revenge—therefore, whatever mean, unethical, “shady” thing she does is justified.
- Rarely, if ever, takes responsibility for bad behavior
There are also some serious downsides:
- Obsession with controlling and maintaining your image
- Your friends are too scared of you to tell you when you’re wrong (but that doesn’t always stop them from talking behind your back)
- You constantly question people’s loyalty around you
- You run the risk of turning into an unbearable narcissist
Yes, KKW feels good defending her man and exposing Swift. I’m sure it’s annoying to have an up close and personal experience with Swift claiming to be the innocent. You can see more than a small bit glee in the women orbiting the feud like Demi Lovato, Zendaya and especially Ms. #Rise Katy Perry
But what KKW did is still unethical. It doesn’t matter if you think the person you’re angry with is a fraud, a liar, or a cultural appropriator who leverages her nice white girl image to become immensely wealthy and a symbol of all that is good for girls everywhere.
It’s equally wrong for Swift’s and KKW’s family and friends to insult each other. And you know that as controlling as each of these women are that they knew and approved those tweets before they were posted.
When do we grow out of it? It depends on if each of us sees our part. Every click we make feeds the feud—the compulsion they have to win the battle of public opinion. Look around us. We are surrounded by a belief that the end justifies the means. I know it may seem odd to point to this controversy as an example of more serious problems in our culture (and of course our political system) but this feud shows more than Swift’s or KKW’s crass need for power and the need to be “right.” It also points to our collective weakness that we see this behavior as our entertainment.
Rosalind Wiseman’s 3rd edition of Queen Bees and Wannabes will be available in stores and online July 26.
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