It’s a well-known fact that the internet hates women. We’re too open, too discreet, too loud and of course too quiet. Trying to navigate public life as a femme-presenting individual has always been an uphill battle. Just look at what netizens did to Selena Gomez and Hailey Bieber—fabricating a false feud in order to up the stakes and create some organised chaos.
So, when images of Harry Styles and Emily Ratajkowski caught in an intimate embrace hit Twitter, I knew that pretty quickly the internet would be fixated on burning the female model for having what the public deemed as be far too many romantic encounters. Oh, and the fact that no-one expected Styles to kiss (or dance) like that…
Men in the spotlight have always benefited from the Lothario and charmer archetype. Leonardo DiCaprio can go from one 24-year-old to another and still be deemed a soul-searching bachelor. But when Taylor Swift has multiple boyfriends in one year, she’s pronounced as an 18th century harlot who’s clearly more interested in collecting male trophies than she is in gaining the public’s respect. And…the cycle continues.
Now, there’s a couple different points important to touch upon with the Styles x Ratajkowski coupling, first of there’s the highly unhealthy attitude some fans have towards the former One Direction singer and his romantic choices—safe to say, if you don’t fancy being at the end of torrents of online abuse from Styles superfans, stay away from the ‘Fine Lines’ singer (we’re thinking of you, Olivia Wilde).
But even more insidious than that, is society’s deep-rooted issue with female sexuality and the concept of a woman straying from the traditional monogamist ideal. Since her divorce from Sebastian Bear-McClard in September 2022, Ratajkowski has been romantically linked to the likes of Pete Davidson, Brad Pitt and Eric André.
Of course, no-one blinked an eye lid as Davidson made his way through Hollywood’s many eligible bachelorettes. And if there was discourse surrounding his dating history, it was almost always filled to the brim with praise and kudos for bagging such desirable women.
For Ratajkowski, the situation is entirely different. You only have to take a minute or two doom-scrolling on TikTok to find a collection of videos shaming the 31-year-old, decreeing how she’s definitely the wrong girl for Styles, and claiming that she’s clearly “trying to make [her] ex-husband replaceable.”
It should also be noted that the Harry’s House artist has had his fair share of celebrity romances. He’s been linked to a handful of Victoria’s Secret models including Kardashian heiress and problematic tequila brand owner, Kendall Jenner.
We’ll never fully escape the grasp that celebrities’ dating lives have on us, it’s a symptom of social media we’re never going to completely banish or dismiss. However, it’s entirely possible to love Harry Styles, Pedro Pascal, or Bad Bunny, and stop misogyny from dominating our screens.
Over the weekend we saw a revival of the internet’s favourite boxing match (and no, I’m not referring to the highly awkward and cringeworthy Jake Paul versus Tommy Fury event). I’m talking about the epic battle between Hailey Bieber and Selena Gomez. These two women have been pitted against each other for years and the combination of all of the online scrutiny, conspiracy theories and gossip has now become a well-rounded case study in online misogyny.
Let’s first consider the origin story behind these highly juvenile online rumours. In 2010, when planking was still a thing and everyone owned a colourful pair of skinny jeans, Gomez began dating Canadian casanova Justin Bieber. They had a very tumultuous relationship—one that included a seriously uncomfortable on-stage serenade and a number of confusing paparazzi pictures. The pair broke up several times and then officially parted ways in 2018.
Only months later, Bieber dated, proposed to and ultimately married the aforementioned Hailey. The pair have now been wed for over four years, however, netizens have found a way to keep this highly toxic—and misleading—love triangle alive.
Considering how incredibly far-fetched the most recent drama involving Gomez and Bieber has been, I’ll try and run through it as quickly as possible. So, in January 2023, Gomez faced some highly sexist and intense body-shaming online after images were shared online of her in a bikini on holiday in Mexico.
Shortly after, Bieber shared a video of herself, and fellow model Kendall Jenner, lip-syncing to an audio that said: “I’m not saying she deserves it, but I’m saying God’s timing is always right.” While the video has since been deleted, the footage was re-uploaded and fans were convinced that the two events were intrinsically linked.
Moreover, on 23 February, the ‘Who Says’ singer shared a video on her Instagram joking with fans that she had “accidentally laminated [my] eyebrows too much.” Only hours later, Kylie Jenner posted a selfie with a caption that read, “This was an accident?????” written in text placed over her brows. Then, the Kylie Cosmetics CEO shared a screenshot of a FaceTime call with Bieber in which the pair zoom in on their eyebrows.
All this to be said, fans were certain that Jenner and Bieber were directly poking fun at Gomez and the online sleuths became so intense that the 30-year-old singer momentarily deleted all of her social media accounts, stating “I’m too old for this.”
According to Insider, some individuals became so enamoured with feeling as though they needed to defend Gomez from this apparent bullying that they flooded Bieber’s TikTok video comment sections with tags to Gomez’s Rare Beauty cosmetic line.
While it would be easy to immediately assume that fans have fuelled rumours of hatred and judgement between these two women solely out of a lust for celebrity gossip, it would be inaccurate.
Of course, there is an element of this involved, however, when you look a bit closer, it’s plain to see that the internet’s obsession with this so-called ‘beef’ has a lot more to do with societal misogyny, than the power of TMZ.
Women have always been pitted against one and other, whether it be in the public eye, or in private settings. Female rivalry is an incredibly powerful tool for those who wish to keep the patriarchy thriving and manufacturing alleged catfights—particularly when the point of contention is presumed to be a man’s affections—perpetuates the stereotype that women are overly emotional, immature and dramatic.
Gomez and Bieber have gone out of their way to try and silence these rumours, even posing for a photo together in October 2022 in an attempt to squash the unnecessary drama. However, it seems as though they’re valued far more when they’re feuding than when they’re not.
What’s also important to note is that this glorification of female rivalry occurs in every facet of modern life. There’s no playful #TeamEdward or #TeamJacob when it comes to women—it’s cutthroat and it’s devastatingly harsh. And when the internet decides that a certain alleged feud amuses or interests them, they’ll find it increasingly difficult to ever let it go.