There exists a television show so vile, so misogynistic, and so utterly cringe-worthy that I’m not entirely sure why it has been allowed to air. This show quakes from the deepest recesses of sexist, conservative, slut-shaming hell, and generally stands against all I stand for. I watch this show every single week without fail, and yes, I won’t lie to you, sometimes I yell at the screen like it’s a horror movie and I’m that cliché sitting next to you at the IMAX theater begging the blonde not to go in that abandoned house. This show, of course, is The Bachelor. And I’m sorry I’m not sorry I love it.
The thing is, this show is lying to us. It’s not about marriage, and it’s not about love, and it’s not about butterflies in your stomach. It’s an out-and-out lady brawl. The Bachelor is a human experiment in female competition, and even the very bachelor himself admits it. When he sends a woman home (#implications), he never says he didn’t like her enough, or that there was something wrong with her, or their connection wasn’t there. Oh, no. He says, usually rather calmly, that he just saw himself with the other women more; he loved another woman more; he saw his other relationships going further. The women on The Bachelor aren’t hoping he’ll fall in love with them, they’re just hoping he’ll fall in love with them first.
This is hardly a new concept. Women have competed for, like, ever, y’know? After all, they always say a woman dresses not for men but for other women (especially those lesbians). There are two pretty stellar examples of the perils of female competition in the world of popular music, so I’m interested in looking at them to see what actually happens when women engage in battle. I’m also debating referring to this as interuterine combat, but that just feels like too much.
The two songs in question here are “Better Than Her” by Matisse and “Girlfriend” by Avril Lavigne. To be perfectly honest, they’re both horrible representations of women, but I think even the title of Matisse’s song captures what I really want to drive home here. When a woman competes for male attention, it’s never about her. A woman doesn’t even have to be a good person, or impress anybody, or have any kind of redeeming qualities. All you have to do is be better than that other chick. Female competition leads girls, and I say girls because this starts so young, to devalue not only fellow females but themselves as well. Everyone who identifies as a woman is defamed by this shit. You guys… seriously? What guy could possibly be worth calling every other person who thinks it’s cool to be a ladypants “bitch”? Maybe I’ve been watching too much trashy TV, but I don’t really see the draw.
In “Better Than Her,” Matisse spends a solid majority of the song calling its male addressee out for looking at her during a party, saying that she “showed up at the party for all the wrong reasons,” which, basically, amount to taking advantage of his attraction to her and pissing off his girlfriend. In the entire three and a half minutes of the song, Matisse only refers to positive aspects of herself three times, and they’re still in reference to what she can do for the male addressee: “I can settle down for the things you like” is the first, then “I’m a girl who can take the lead but I’m still the fall back type” and finally “I’ll give you the things you need.” There is absolutely no mention of Matisse herself benefitting from being with the guy she’s singing to. Why would there be? It’s just assumed that her ‘winning’ a man is all the reward a woman needs, regardless of who the man actually is.
Avril Lavigne does almost the same thing; she only toots her own little Canadian horn twice, once saying she’s “damn precious”, and the other reminding her gentleman friend that she is, in fact, “the motherfucking princess.” Which, I mean, I gotta admit is a pretty compelling argument. This song focuses more on everything that sucks about the other girl, as opposed to Matisse who just says over and over and holy crap over again that she’s the better choice. Lavigne flat out tells the guy she’s singing to that she “don’t like your girlfriend” and “think[s] you need a new one”, namely herself. How convenient! The video is literally competitive, as Lavigne’s character continually sabotages and steals dates between the guy she likes and his girlfriend.
It literally never matters once in either “Girlfriend” or “Better Than Her” what the singer’s personality has to offer, or why it would make everyone happy if they got together with the one they want. These songs lead girls to believe that they don’t have to amount to anything, that they don’t need to cultivate talents, or interests, or even personalities. All they have to do is be better than any random skank who dares like a boy they know. The argument presented in these songs, and thereby in girl fights across our nation’s playgrounds, is “I may not be that special, but at least I’m not so-and-so.” We spend so much time telling girls they can be anything they want, but all songs like this and all female competition does is instruct them who not to be.
And what happens when a girl is asked what makes her better? If she’s not listing off all the downsides to that other girl, chances are, she’ll go ahead and use the only tool women are simultaneously desired and shamed for: sexuality. In “Better Than Her”, Matisse never exactly explains it, but we all know what she’s talking about when she repeats endlessly “I’ll do it better than her.” If we take “do it” to mean “have sex”, which, let’s face it, everyone has been doing since fourth grade, then Matisse is forcing us to imagine her in bed, and to believe she’s a better lay than the girl her subject is screwing now. Lavigne does it too, saying that her guy will “be wrapper around my finger… cause I can do it better,” which, duh, also refers to her sexual prowess. She may be a homewrecker but at least the sex will be worth it, right? So what we’re getting now is two songs that tell women the following things: first, don’t be complex, because that’s a waste of your time. Second, all other women are the enemy, and you need to stop trusting or liking them because they’re your competition. Third, your only tool to win men is sex. And four, really repetitive choruses will make you lots and lots of money. That last one isn’t really explicit, but Jesus is it evident.
Honestly, these songs make me fear the end of feminism. When I was growing up, I wanted to be the best me I could be. I wanted to be better than me, not better than some undefined, possibly fictional her. But why would I ever need to bother with that when I’m being told by top 40 radio that all I need to be is the least of all evils? And under that construct, why would I ever try to improve myself when it literally sets me up to self-identify as an evil?! Female competition reduces women to chess pieces, and not even the good ones, just pawns and the occasional rook. That’s not what I want for my gender.