Serena v Sharapova: Latest chapter in a 14-year catfight.
That was the title of an op-ed in The Australian this morning, and my face is still scrunched up in aversion.
The article documented the apparent rivalry between Serena Williams and Maria Sharapova drawing on recent events which support said catfight. And, in case you were under any illusions their relationship wasn’t a catfight, the author sets things straight by repeating it five times in a five-hundred word piece.
Competition and rivalry is at the core of professional sport– it’s what fuels athletes and what hooks an audience. It’s what makes the game good. But when this competition is between women, the subtext changes. Women are different. Their fight is more about their innate “woman-ness” than the game they are playing. They are marking their territory in a way only women can, tearing each other down (and they’re probably being a little bit slutty at the same time.)
The etymology is clear. A cat is a woman loose and promiscuous. She is backbiting and malicious, driven by no greater purpose than her own spiteful gains.
It’s a trope reinforced time and time again and not one unique to sport. Businesswomen, entertainers, doctors, scientists, teachers, engineers –none are exempt. If you’re a woman with ambition, or even a woman with an opinion, society tells us you’re likely to scratch another woman’s eyes out in the process of getting heard or getting what you want.
Sarah Jessica Parker spoke of her frustration with the term last year, after she and her cast mates from Sex and The City, faced ongoing scrutiny about their off-screen relationship. “It used to really confound me and really upset me because we were part of a family of Sopranos and no one ever questioned the relationships of the men on that show and no one ever said to them, ‘Did you hang out this weekend with each other? Did you give each other Christmas presents?’ ” she said during an interview with Howard Stern.
“This sort of narrative, this ongoing catfight, it really upset me for a very long time,” she said.
The same narrative is one that female politicians in particular, know well. The Washington Post proves this in an article today, which examines “new challenges” arising as more women run for office.
Most of the female candidates interviewed spoke passionately about the benefit of greater gender diversity in politics and how they were thankful for once to be judged on their policy not gender. “Because I’m taking on a woman incumbent, the focus has been a lot on the very sharp policy differences,” Katie Porter, a Democrat and consumer advocacy lawyer running in California’s 45th district told reporters.
And yet, the story’s subtext was always going to be about the catfights: these women with their claws out, will end up pulling one another down in the end.
There’s a wave of women running for office. What happens when they face each other? https://t.co/inU2LBoQMm
— Washington Post (@washingtonpost) June 1, 2018
It’s an exasperating cultural construct, perpetuated by television, film, radio, advertisements, books and of course articles like the two mentioned above. It’s hard to escape but let’s be straight, it holds no water. Humans fight. Cats fight. There is no crossover.
So let’s all do ourselves a favour and stop buying into this crap.