When it comes to a celebrity feud we are, perhaps, all compelled one way or another: to gasp on the sidelines, pass judgement, mock, sigh and condemn or, as was the case with this weekend’s very public fall-out between Kim Cattrall and Sarah Jessica Parker, grab a popcorn cone and, with wide-eyed disbelief, gleefully take a side.
“Who knows who's right in the Sex In the City feud?” a Telegraph columnist rhetorically shrugged, after Kim Cattrall Instagrammed a very public rejection of “cruel” Sarah Jessica Parker’s condolences over the death of her brother at the weekend. “Who cares! I'm taking a side and sticking to it,” the columnist, Jane Shilling, wrote. Suffice to say, Jane Shilling and I take opposing views on this topic, but there was actually one small exception to the rule. We both seem to agree that alongside any public “feud” between two women exists another dynamic altogether: the “irresistible compulsion” some of us indulge in – and many more wrestle against – to actually join the drama and participate in it.
And when I say “some”, I include myself, too. When I spotted Kim Cattrall’s Instagram post – the one that declared “I don’t need your love or support at this tragic time @sarahjessicaparker” – on Sunday morning, I immediately texted my friend before I realised what I was actually engaging in. And it didn’t feel good. Faced with a stranger’s raw grief on my iPhone screen – and thousands of strangers’ comments expressing either support or condemnation – I actually felt conflicted and sad.
The facts of the feud are unknowable from my standpoint, from Jane Shilling’s – and yours. What we think we know is that, according to years of salacious reporting, the two former Sex And The City stars have been “feuding” for some time now. Thanks to E! News we even have a timeline of their “cat fights”, “bickers” and “disputes”, and it’s provided much off-set entertainment over the years for many of us in between all of the will-they-won’t-they movie rumours.
It hasn’t just hampered Sex And The City. It’s been stalking women since the dawn of time
Last week, a bereavement dragged the drama off the pages of E! and on to Kim Cattrall’s personal Instagram account for everyone to engage with. Scrolling through followers branding a grieving Cattrall either drunk or insane, I thought about the role social media now plays between those “on-stage” and off it, and the way it feeds our fascination with celebrity women – how they engage, not just with us, but with each other, too. Kim Cattrall calling Sarah Jessica Parker a “cruel hypocrite” fuels a narrative we’ve been lapping up thirstily for many years now – the one that bolsters the sexist myth that, despite appearances and PR-approved assurances, women just don’t – or, maybe, can’t – get along.
And it hasn’t just hampered Sex And The City. It’s been stalking women since the dawn of time. Maybe that’s why Joan Crawford and Bette Davis proved to be such a hit beyond the grave last year, with a TV drama that documented their industry-endorsed rivalry. Their infamous quarrels and scraps didn’t seem quite so funny in the months that followed #MeToo – the audience stopped laughing. As Feud creator Ryan Murphy put it to The Hollywood Reporter last year, “What they did still happens today with women… this sort of woman-against-woman reporting is really a device used many times by the media as click bait or back then to sell papers.”
Murphy’s words reverberated as I logged out of Instagram yesterday. And I wondered to what extent the E! timelines and Daily Mail splashes ultimately contributed to Kim Cattrall’s bid for assertion at a time of intense grief – a post that was ultimately drowned out by the coliseum yells of “right” or “wrong” or “crazy.” To quote another Hollywood A-lister, Jessica Chastain, “This myth that women don’t get along well – who does that serve? It doesn’t serve women.”
It hasn’t served Cattrall. My only hope is that this one exception won’t be used to reinstate an outdated rule – however mythical. The one that perpetuates the misnomer that, ultimately, ambitious women can’t get along.