Opinion: Celebrity female rivalries: It’s not all about “a boy”


photoillustration by Lichen Fischer

On July 15, 2022, former Disney Channel sensation Sabrina Carpenter released “Because I Liked a Boy” and its accompanying music video.

“I’m a homewrecker, I’m a sl**,” croons viral Disney sensation Sabrina Carpenter on her latest single, “Because I Liked a Boy.” 

A self aware Carpenter reprises and plays up her “bad girl” role in the second act of “because i liked a boy”, changing to tight red dress as she proclaims herself a  “homewrecker and sl**.” She drapes herself in a bedazzled glass beaded bodysuit with a fringe of diamonds over her forehead. 

The message is clear: Carpenter wants to take control of her identity as the “bad girl.” 

By now, the controversy around Carpenter has entered Gen Z lingo. Carpenter, 23, is embroiled in a love triangle with her “rival,” fellow Disney pop star Olivia Rodrigo, 19, and Rodrigo’s onscreen and previously rumored off-screen love interest, 22-year-old Joshua Bassett. 

The social media feeding frenzy was sparked by Rodrigo in her not-so-ambiguous “Drivers License,” where she sings: “You’re probably with that blonde girl.”

It’s this “blonde girl,” further described as “so much older” than Rodrigo and “everything (Rodrigo is) insecure about,” that’s theorized to be Carpenter And it’s these incendiary accusations that Carpenter sings bring her enough “death threats (to) fill up semi-trucks.”

I admit that any rivalry, including female rivalry and all of its creative comebacks, can be entertaining; however, the issue is drawing the lines between entertainment and reality for impressionable young audiences. 

It would be ignorant to ignore the gap between who gets to do the riffing, who is doing the running and who is the boyish bystander. As a teen girl and avid listener of both Rodrigo’s and Carpenter’s music, Carpenter reclaiming herself in society’s eyes is undoubtedly powerful to me. 

Yet as much as Carpenter can define her own identity, vulture-like commenters’ definition of her is the “blonde girl,” a figure framed in shallowness and notably always in association with the other starring roles in this triangle, Rodrigo and Bassett. 

“Tell me who I am because I don’t have a choice,” she declares. “All because I liked-” 

Here Carpenter’s hesitation is in anticipation of the common denominator of most female rivalries. 

Congratulations, you guessed it: it’s “a boy.” 

The enormity of death threats and other hateful comments directed at Carpenter highlight the need for a more internal investigation of the way we perceive and interact in female competition. 

According to an article from Harvard Business Review, female competition is still centered around the “one seat at the table” idea; female rivalry “happens when a woman uses her power to keep another woman down, whether it’s by mistreating her or unfairly competing with her.” 

Female rivalry both encompasses and encourages internalized sexism. Clearly, being the “blonde girl” has more implications than one would presume.

“Maybe you didn’t mean it, maybe blonde was the only rhyme,” Carpenter quips in “Skin,” a song she released less than a month after Rodrigo’s “Drivers License.”

Leveraging the drama, Rodrigo’s “Drivers License” debuted at number one on the Billboard Hot 200; Carpenter’s “Skin” debuted at number 48 as “Drivers License” reigned the charts for a third week.

The constant clarification over Carpenter’s role in this whole mess needles and belittles Carpenter. After all, she was the girl who sparked indignation at her supposed breakage of “girl-code” by, as the public alleges, “stealing” Rodrigo’s boyfriend. Though neither Carpenter nor Rodrigo ever confirmed a romantic relationship with Bassett, Carpenter emphasizes all of this went down when “they (presumably Rodrigo and Bassett) were already broken up.”  

Rodrigo and Bassett may have “broken up” before, but Carpenter and Rodrigo are “breaking” the cycle of female rivalries.

Carpenter and Rodrigo’s rivalry feels like less of a tense interpersonal connection than a stream of successive, sarcastic exchanges for the sake of publicity and record sales. It feels as if they’ve recognized they’re two female artists with similar brands, so the uneven weight distribution of sales and societal perception is inevitable. Armed with this knowledge, at least through pandering for the public’s attention, Carpenter and Rodrigo can accumulate a new perspective: eventual appreciation of their artistry.

Rodrigo and Carpenter’s situation exaggerates the fallacies of a supposedly feminist audience; their rivalry matters because they in many ways are setting the precedent for the public interactions of future female entertainers: interactions that can be as poignant as they are playful, interactions that aren’t immediately scrutinized, characterized. 

“I just remember [everyone being] so weird and speculative about stuff they had no idea about,” Rodrigo said in a 2021 profile interview with Variety. “I don’t really subscribe to hating other women because of boys… I really resent that narrative that was being tossed around.”

Carpenter addressed the situation herself in an Instagram post that has since been taken down, notably saying Rodrigo’s “Drivers License” is a “magnificent song” and that she wrote “a diss track (“Skin”) about it.”

Female competition does not have to mean unbalanced outcomes for those involved; if anything, Rodrigo and Carpenter have proven that female “rivalry” can be fabricated and manipulated without malicious intent.

However, the ravenous response to Rodrigo and Carpenter’s concert are indicative of the progress society still needs to make-both in the way we respond to female artists 

In this trifecta of men, media and music, a quick perusal of  the comment sections under Carpenter (and her Instagram address of the two’s relationship) and Rodrigo’s work reveals society’s pending question.

Who is the ringleader in this circus?

I answer that society should let the artists decide.