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“Women – not always at each other’s throats”

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"The grown-up equivalent of the playground chant ‘Fight, fight, fight, fight!’ has gone up.

Rumours began that Jessica Chastain (star of Zero Dark Thirty and the one I keep getting mixed up with Cate Blanchett because they both look like fluted glasses of champagne) ‘hated’ Jennifer Lawrence (Katniss in The Hunger Games and the one I get mixed up with Kristen Stewart on the grounds that they are both appear in young-adult book-based franchises and I am 106 years old).

Chastain responded to the rumours with a Facebook post I’m going to quote at length because it made me cheer so hard: ‘I find it very sad that the media makes up bogus stories about women fighting in this industry… Why do we support the myth that women are competitive and cannot get along? Please don’t allow the media to perpetuate the myth that women aren’t supportive of each other. Every time an actress is celebrated for her great work, I cheer. For the more brilliant their performance, the more the audience demands stories about women. With support and encouragement, we help to inspire this industry to create opportunities for women. And as we all know: a great year for women in film, is just a great year for film.’

It was one of those Wizard Of Oz moments, when someone pulls back the curtain and reveals – or at least reminds us of – the workings behind the scenes. Chastain’s post reminds us of two things: the first and more general one, is that what we see and hear does not necessarily have any bearing on the truth. We do, of course, all know this, but the problem is that the onslaught of lies, untruths and obfuscations is so unrelenting that there is not always time to step back, clear our minds of the roar of nonsense and let common sense and reality reassert themselves. And often, there is no clear spot of ‘reality’ to allow us to anchor ourselves. Sometimes the best we can do in a maelstrom of ‘quotes’ from ‘close friends’ and ‘unnamed sources’ is rank the stories within our purview from most likely to least likely to be true.

The female catfight is an easy way to sell papers

Secondly, and more specifically, it reminds us that entire constructs can be made up and become so widespread, so enduring and go so unchallenged that we cease even to see them as constructs any more. The female catfight is a prime example. As soon as there are two women in contention for anything – no, wait, you can make that ‘simply involved in anything together’ – it is first presumed then quickly talked into ‘fact’ that they are at each other’s throats. The Desperate Housewives’ cast were continually trying to oust one another from the spotlight. The Sex And The City women were said to alternate between four-way no-speaks and vicious vocal bitchery; Tina Fey and Amy Poehler (the pair who presented the Emmys so brilliantly this year) were meant to have fallen out forever because Fey didn’t cast her in 30 Rock – and on and on it goes.

Why? Partly because it’s an easy way to sell papers or bait clicks. But also partly because it’s a very effective way of dividing and conquering. Whenever women create a friendship, or partnership, respect each other’s work, support one another – especially in public – they are a little bit stronger, they have that little bit more power and they are just that little bit more of a threat to the status quo than they are on their own. It’s why what would otherwise have been just discussions – perhaps even heated ones – among feminists over the years about the movement were not presented as the discussions any passionate political movement would and should have, but as risible infighting and proof that women can’t get along by themselves and shouldn’t be allowed to try.

Chastain’s post is a rare and heartening instance of someone not only putting a stop to a rumour for her own sake but resisting an entire dynamic providing a public display of sisterhood as she does it. I forget too often to bear in mind whose agenda a story might be cleaving to – whether it’s in the news or in my own personal or professional life – but it would strengthen us all, individually and collectively, to remember to look for the little man behind the curtain. He’s always there and working furiously away.”

Email Lucy at lucy.mangan@stylist. co.uk or tweet her @LucyMangan

What do you think? Is the media responsible for maligning the portrayal of relationships between women and if so, what can we do to resist it? Let us know in the comments below or on Twitter

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