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Katy Perry and Taylor Swift feud rumours reignited – but why? Let’s talk about female exclusion

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Kayleigh Dray
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Katy Perry and Taylor Swift

Katy Perry’s latest comments about Taylor Swift have made one thing abundantly clear: we need to address the way we talk about women in the public eye.

Theirs was the Hollywood feud that captured the imagination of the world. In 2019, however, Taylor Swift and Katy Perry finally buried their much-reported hatchet with a very public reconciliation.

As reported by Stylist at the time, Swift baked a plate of cookies for Perry complete with the message “Peace at Last”. Perry put in an appearance in Swift’s music video for You Need To Calm Down as a burger to Swift’s fries. And both took a moment to reflect on how their feud played out in the public eye, not to mention the impact it may have had upon younger generations. 

This week, however, some tabloids have rushed to suggest that all remains… well, that all remains distinctly uneasy between the two musicians.

“Is there still some ‘bad blood’ between Taylor Swift and Katy Perry?” asked one celebrity news outlet – a frankly terrible pun which was, nevertheless, echoed by gossip sites throughout the internet. The insinuation? That, despite Swift and Perry’s claims as to otherwise, the feud allegedly rages on. 

So what gives?

After six years of public feuding, Taylor Swift and Katy Perry finally reconciled their friendship in 2019.

First, some context: Perry did say she and Swift don’t have a “very close relationship” in a recent interview with Stellar (the duo have understandably “busy” schedules, but stay in contact through “text” messages).

However, this throwaway line did not sum up the mood of the interview. At all.

Speaking about her appearance in Swift’s music video with the Australian publication, Perry said: “It was important to make that appearance in the music video because people want people to look up to.

“We wanted to be an example of unity. [Because] forgiveness is important. It’s so powerful. If you can forgive your enemy, that’s amazing. As difficult as it is!”

Perry went on to praise Swift for being extremely candid and honest in her Netflix documentary, Miss Americana, saying: “I was really excited for her to be able to show that to the world – that things aren’t perfect, they don’t have to be and it’s more beautiful when they aren’t.”

We can see why tabloids might choose to ignore these quotes, of course. After all, a headline laden with scandal and insinuation is infinitely more clickable than, say, one about the importance of female unity.

And, of course, certain media outlets have form when it comes to spinning tales about women in the public eye being unable to get along. The cast of the all-female Ghostbusters reboot were dogged by catfight reports. Emily Blunt and Charlize Theron were, likewise, accused of being bitchy on the set of Snow White & The Huntsman – so much so that Blunt felt compelled to address the rumours head-on. And Sarah Paulson, when asked about her relationship with the all-female Ocean’s 11 cast, rolled her eyes heavenwards as she dismissed sexist tabloid stories of women feuding on set as “sad”.

“I promise you it would not be like that if a bunch of boys would get together – ‘bro fights,’” she said.

“I hate to support that narrative or that idea and it certainly couldn’t be further from the truth.”

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Stories about female feuds and catfights aren’t just obnoxious throwbacks to a time when women were pitted against one another in order to prevent them reaching their full potential, however.

A new survey of 19,000 adolescents – conducted by UCD School of Psychology and the Jigsaw charity – recently revealed that the number of teenagers reporting severe anxiety has doubled since 2012. It also revealed that there is a gender gap between the sexes, with teenage girls scoring significantly lower than boys in crucial areas such as self-esteem and personal competence.

And, analysing the findings, Dr Gillian O’Brien – chief clinical officer at Jigsaw – suggested that the issues could stem from female friendships.

“A lot of the young women we see coming to Jigsaw have issues related to school and peers,” O’Brien said, as reported by The Irish Independent. “There are lots of unwritten, unspoken rules that govern female friendship, and this makes it particularly confusing. Male peer groups tend to operate differently.

“The many swift changes in female friendship underscore feelings of not being safe and secure in school. We see a lot of young women who are upset by being excluded, isolated. You can imagine how that would influence your self-esteem.”

It’s worth noting here that the same is not true of adult women. Indeed, a study published recently in The Leadership Quarterly journal showed that in environments where senior leaders are granted significant power and discretion, female leaders treat more junior female colleagues kindly and respectfully. They also appoint more subordinate women to managerial positions, which has the effect of reducing pay inequality relative to men in similar roles.

Unfortunately, though, these shining examples do not necessarily get much attention. Instead, young women and girls are fed the ‘Queen Bee’ myth – either by fictional characters (Mean Girls’ Regina George has made female exclusion look “fetch” for some time) or stories about real-life celebrity women clawing at one another behind the scenes. Is it any wonder that it’s having such a damaging effect?

As Perry herself said in 2019: “I think that both [Taylor] and I, we are an influence to young people and especially young girls who are in this type of situation day in and day out at school.

“It’s amazing that we’ve had this opportunity to change, and I hope that other people can learn from it, too.”

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We’ve no doubt that Perry is 100% right about this. So what can be done?

Well, the answer is simple: we need to put an end to this toxic and pervasive myth which claims women cannot get along. That the best way to get ahead is to exclude others. That catfights are the rule, and trustworthy female friends “the exception”.

As Sheryl Sandberg put it: “Women aren’t any meaner to women than men are to one another. Women are just expected to be nicer. We stereotype men as aggressive and women as kind. When women violate those stereotypes, we judge them harshly.”

The best way to put these rumours to bed, she adds, is for the world to promote equality between the sexes.

“A talented woman presents a threat if there’s only one seat for a woman at the table,” she says.

Hear, hear.

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Main image: screenshot from Taylor Swift’s music video, You Need To Calm Down

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Kayleigh Dray

Kayleigh Dray is Stylist’s digital editor-at-large. Her specialist topics include comic books, films, TV and feminism. On a weekend, you can usually find her drinking copious amounts of tea and playing boardgames with her friends.

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