Monday, March 12, 2012

Woman on Woman Action: Why Do We Tear Each Other Down?

While writing those posts about the birth wars a while back, I figured out that the fight was much deeper than I initially suspected. I had heard women on both sides of the debate say that they felt ridiculed and belittled by women on the other sides of the debate. Home birth supporters call women stupid for getting elective c-sections. Some women seek out other women talking about their non-medicated births and leave e-cards like this one:

And that's bad enough. But I also saw--to my disgust--women (on both sides of this debate) blaming other women for the deaths of their own children. Women who support hospital births were mocking women who lost their babies in home births. Women who support home births were mocking women who lost babies in hospital births. I have no words for that. 

As is my post-modernist wont, I tried to understand this phenomenon by piecing together some disparate texts. In what other contexts are women tearing each other down instead of finding the common ground? 

The first text I thought of was Nicky Minaj's "Stupid Hoe" (warning, in addition to having some pretty awful and divisive lyrics, this video is also pretty aesthetically awful (in my opinion) and the song is way more catchy than it has any right to be).

The premise of the song is a series of disses, and I feel like this line pretty much sums up the tone:
Bitch talkin' she the queen when she lookin' like a lab rat/I'm Angelina, you Jennifer/Come on, bitch. You see where Brad at
And that's the intersection I want to examine: how do we construct narratives about women competing over a man? How do women in these confrontations interact with one another? What does popular culture tell us about the way we "should" interact with one another? And what do these messages mean for women's ability to interact in other contexts?

As I started digging deeper into this question, I found out that I had a lot of material to deal with. I've decided to look at songs about love triangles and analyze them for messages in the way women interact. I've got three different topics to cover, and I'm going to break them up into three separate posts (linked below).

  • Direct Competition- Some songs demonstrate women in direct competition. Both of the women get a voice within the song itself, and each woman demonstrates her own particular perspective on the situation, which both demonstrates the complexity of human relationships and prods the listener to take a side.  Representative songs from this mold are "Does He Love You?" by Reba McIntire and Linda Davis, "The Boy is Mine" by Brandy and Monica, and "The Best Woman Wins" by Dolly Parton and Lorrie Morgan.

  • Offensive Threat- Some songs demonstrate women who are actively pursuing other women's boyfriends/husbands. They have the sole voice in the song and often belittle or otherwise marginalize the woman who they aim to take the man from. Sometimes, these women don't even talk directly to their competitors, but to the man they aim to take. Representative songs include "Girlfriend" by Avril Lavigne, "Don't Cha" by the Pussycat Dolls, and "If That's Your Boyfriend (He Wasn't Last Night)" by Me'shell Ndegeocello

  • Defensive Threat- Of course, the flip side to the offensive threat is the defensive threat. We also have women who use songs to defend their position and "ownership" of the man in question. These women are often angry, threatening, and ready to fight for their men. Representatives include "Jane Doe" by Alicia Keys, "You Ain't Woman Enough (To Take my Man)" by Loretta Lynn, and "The Earrings Song" by Gretchen Wilson. 
Are we conditioned to tear each other down? Is competition over men a metaphor for competition over other things? If so, can competition be a good thing? How do we find common ground?


  1. I can't stand Nicki Minaj. Granted, I don;t know a lot about her music as it's horrible. But my students showed me her Grammy "performance" and I was appalled at her use of sexist slurs against women. I don't know if it was the song you have above or not, but I am guessing her hate of women is probably a universal theme in her music.

    1. She's been featured on some other artists' songs that I've liked, but I don't think I've liked anything she's done on her own. "Stupid Ho" is particularly offensive to me on both moral and aesthetic grounds. I did read some really interesting analysis of Minaj.

      I'm still not convinced that she's presenting many redeeming qualities, but it did complicate my views a little.

  2. I think women also do it passive aggressively, and not just over men. There are a lot of women out there projecting perfection, and making the rest of us feel inadequate (if we let them)...

  3. In light of your most recent post, I feel like Carrie Underwood's "Before He Cheats" should be the wild card for your "Offensive Threat" post. I think analysis of it will be less positive than "Beautiful Liar" - she belittles the other woman throughout - but the focus of her active aggression is on the man's car. Actually, that might not work for that post, attacking material items as proxy might be a different analysis in and of itself.

    1. Oh, that's a great point! I think that "Before He Cheats" is some sort of hybrid between the "Offensive Threat" and the "Defensive Threat." She's actually defending herself after she's been cheated on, and that's where the demeaning of the other woman comes in, but I think the defensive is the weakest position in these songs. Since it's more attractive to get to be the offensive threat, Underwood might be trying to combine the two.

      Isn't it crazy that there are enough songs about women attacking each other over a man that we can have Venn diagram analyses of them?

    2. Yes! Also, I remembered Dar Williams's "As Cool As I Am" when I was driving back from the library. I think this song is in part responding to the theme of women attacking each other over a man. I also think she's pointing out how it upholds patriarchal oppression, how it can be encouraged by men.

      For example:

      "So I watched the way you take your fear and hoard the horizon, / You point, you have a word for every woman you can lay your eyes on, / Like you own them just because you bought the time, / And you turn to me, you say you hope I'm not threatened"

      She pushes back against the expected response ("I AM threatened" / "Get away from my man") in the refrain: "I will not be afraid of women"

      And probably one of my favorite plays on the concept of the other woman, is this line from the last verse:
      "And then I go outside to join the others, I am the others."

    3. I had never heard this, and I just looked it up. So good! And you're right, "I am the others" is incredibly powerful. Thanks!

  4. I think any kind of power system maintains its control through dividing those who are lower in the hierarchy, so that women, who have less influence/advantages/benefits/so and so forth are taught to fight each other rather than band together and thus gather support and strength. I think the individual has to see the greater picture and how tearing down anyway is an act of immaturity and insecurity, and says more about the speaker (I'm looking at you, Nicki M., than those he/she is slamming)