Saturday 17 November 2018

Feuds, glorious feuds - why are we so fascinated by catfights?

As tensions boil over between Kim Cattrall and Sarah Jessica Parker, Katie Byrne looks at our enduring fascination with catfights

Sarah Jessica Parker and Kim Cattrall in Sex And The City
Sarah Jessica Parker and Kim Cattrall in Sex And The City
Mean girls: Kim Cattrall and Sarah Jessica Parker. Photo: Getty Images
Susan Sarandon as Bette Davis and Jessica Lange as Joan Crawford in Feud: Bette and Joan

Female feuds have a tendency to simmer before they reach boiling point.

Just look at Kim Cattrall, whose decade-long feud with Sex and the City co-star Sarah Jessica Parker recently came to a head with an ebullient social media tirade.

There were always whispers of an ongoing battle between the two actresses. Those whispers turned into shouts on Saturday when Cattrall took to Instagram to accuse her co-star of exploiting the death of her brother.

Cattrall's brother, Chris, was found dead last week on his farm in Alberta, Canada. The actress announced his death on social media and was soon inundated with messages of support, including one from Parker.

Susan Sarandon as Bette Davis and Jessica Lange as Joan Crawford in Feud: Bette and Joan
Susan Sarandon as Bette Davis and Jessica Lange as Joan Crawford in Feud: Bette and Joan

"Dearest Kim," she wrote in an Instagram comment. "My love and condolences to you and yours and Godspeed to your beloved brother."

Cattrall responded with a furious outburst. "My Mom asked me today: 'When will that @sarahjessicaparker, that hypocrite, leave you alone?'" she wrote.

"Your continuous reaching out is a painful reminder of how cruel you really were then and now.

"Let me make this VERY clear (if I haven't already). You are not my family. You are not my friend. So I'm writing to tell you one last time to stop exploiting our tragedy in order to restore your 'nice girl' persona."

The post was linked to a 2017 newspaper story headlined: 'Inside the mean-girls culture that destroyed Sex and the City' - just in case Parker was left wondering if it was something she might have said...

The feud between the pair has officially been re-ignited, and so too has the public interest in this ongoing war of words. Famous feuds are interesting; famous female feuds are fascinating.

Gwyneth Paltrow and Madonna. Photo: Kevin Mazur/WireImage
Gwyneth Paltrow and Madonna. Photo: Kevin Mazur/WireImage

But why do they capture the public's imagination? Why do we have an enduring fascination with catfights? Men fall out too, so why are we more inclined to remember the feud between Courtney Love and Madonna than, say, the rivalry between Tupac Shakur and Biggie Smalls?

Terry Prone, founder of The Communications Clinic, shares an interesting take on it. "The sad history of the witch trials of the 15th century has left a major mistrust between women," she says.

"If you were a woman prettier, younger, better at herbals than the next woman, you could end up dead. Women, to save their own asses from the witch hunters, sold each other down the river."

Fast forward to the modern age and we have a culture of 'leaning in' and women helping other women. It's a huge cultural shift, so why then do the media continue to pit women against one another?

There is no evidence of Kate Middleton and Meghan Markle having anything other than an amiable relationship. Nonetheless, body language experts have been asked to analyse the dynamic between the pair while photographers are desperately trying to capture another Sophia Loren-Jayne Mansfield moment.

Could it be that we're intrigued by what's implied but never said? Is the idea of a woman air-kissing in public, and back-stabbing in private, the reason we find female feuds so compelling?

Or is it in fact what is said? Do we find verbal aggression more captivating than physical aggression?

Prone points to documented evidence which shows that men and women have different styles of handling conflict. "Physical brutality we associate with men; verbal brutality with women," she explains. "Of course, men fall out with each other and are verbally vicious - look at Hemingway, Churchill and Wellington - but because women are expected to be 'nice' and because many of us suffer from l'esprit de l'escalier - working out the killer riposte 10 minutes after the original insult - we're fascinated by effective verbal venom."

This makes sense. The pen is mightier than the sword, after all, so while the physical altercation between Orlando Bloom and Justin Bieber was memorable, the verbal blows traded between Bette Davis and Joan Crawford are unforgettable.

Best of enemies: Joan Crawford and Bette Davis
Best of enemies: Joan Crawford and Bette Davis

Davis famously quipped that Crawford had "slept with every male star at MGM except Lassie". The piercing one-liner had considerably more impact than a boozy bar-room brawl so it's little wonder that the pair's famous feud recently became the subject of an eight-part TV drama.

More recently, the whose-ego-is-bigger feud between Aretha Franklin and Tina Turner had fans dividing themselves into factions.

"Her ego must be so big," said Turner of the soul star, to which Franklin responded: "With respect to her statement concerning my ego, clearly she was talking about herself."

Then there's the feud between Mariah Carey and Jennifer Lopez. We've all heard of rivals purposely mispronouncing one another's names. Carey took it a step further when she was asked if she'd ever collaborate with Lopez. "I don't know her," came her meme-friendly reply.

And let's not forget Gwyneth Paltrow's infamous GOOP post, which was rumoured to be directed at Madonna (left). "What do you do when you realise that although you may have years of history, and found real value in each other in times past, that you kind of don't like a friend anymore?" she asked. "That, after time spent with this person, you feel drained, empty, belittled or insulted?"

The post, entitled 'Old Friends, True Friends and Friendship Divorce', resonated with many of the women who read it. They too had 'toxic friends' and 'frenemies' that they were struggling to extricate themselves from. Like Paltrow, they knew they were handling a ticking time bomb that would be as explosive as Cattrall's diatribe should it detonate.

Female feuds are captivating for all sorts of reasons, but what makes them especially tantalising is the knowledge that men engage in conflict impulsively, whereas women only lash out when they've finally reached their threshold.

How to mend a fall-out before it gets toxic

I don't believe that rows can be won or lost. That sort of adolescent approach to conversation is futile and always ends up with hurt feelings and bruised egos. In my experience, when rows go wrong, it's usually because one or more of the parties is going out of their way to make themselves feel better, to be right and the winner. We look for flaws in other people (and their arguments) as a way to feel better about ourselves. 

To prevent rows from escalating or diffusing awkward conversations, always try to show empathy and a genuine interest in the other person. Often, women just want to be heard and understood (all people do). Make it your mission to understand her perspective and bear in mind you don't have to agree, but you don't have to be BFFs either.

Some of my favourite one-liners include, "I hear what you are saying", "I get it", "I have felt the same way", "I understood that must have made you feel x". Oh, and always remember offence is never given, it's taken!

  • Life coach Sarah Doyle is the founder of The Better Life Project. For more, see thebetterlifeproject.ie

Irish Independent

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