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.
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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.