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How Olivia Rodrigo’s ‘Sour’ Disrupts the “Other Woman” Trope

Olivia Rodrigo has been all the buzz lately, and if you haven’t heard of her, where have you been?! Her debut album, Sour, dives into the rollercoaster of emotions that is teenage heartbreak, accompanied by stunning vocals and raw lyrics — but Rodrigo’s disruption of the “other woman” trope, which is commonly seen in popular media, makes Sour a fitting soundtrack for the next feminist generation. 

So, what is the “other woman” trope? You probably see and hear it all the time in your favorite TV shows, movies, and music but don’t even realize it. The “other woman” trope can be described as the societal perpetuation of jealousy, envy, and hatred towards the “other woman.” She’s typically the new girl that the guy moves onto, the one you might blame for the breakup. Or she could just be a girl that inspires jealousy in the protagonist, fueling the persistence of the classic female rivalry that is so deeply baked into our society.

I’m sure many of us have fallen into this trap before — Gen Z has grown up with this trope, since it was almost inescapable in 2000s media. Although I love Taylor Swift (Swifties, please don’t come at me), her 2008 hit song “You Belong With Me” is a prime example of the harmful “other woman” trope. In her song, Swift calls out the “other girl,” singing, “You’re on the phone with your girlfriend, she’s upset / She’s going off about something that you said / She doesn’t get your humor like I do” and “Hey, whatcha doing with a girl like that?”

Avril Lavigne’s catchy song “Girlfriend” from 2007 also follows the same trope, with lyrics like “Hey, hey, you, you, I don’t like your girlfriend / No way, no way, I think you need a new one” and “She’s like so whatever / You could do so much better.”

Gen Z has grown up with the “other woman” trope, since it was almost inescapable in 2000s media.

The trope isn’t just limited to music, however. Take the cult-favorite movie Mean Girls, for instance: one of the key premises of the film is pitting girls against each other. Cady and Regina fight over the affection of a boy (who, frankly, is not worth it) and go to the most evil extremes to hurt one another and get their way. The Plastics, the group of popular mean girls, go around carrying a hot pink “burn book” that says terrible things about other girls, and especially other girls who have perhaps hurt or offended them in the past.

And the media plays off of this female rivalry trope even off-screen among celebrities. With the release of her debut single “driver’s license,” Rodrigo found herself caught in the middle of her own media-fueled female rivalry against Sabrina Carpenter. A quick breakdown of the drama: Rodrigo allegedly wrote “driver’s license” about her ex-boyfriend and High School Musical The Musical: The Series costar Joshua Bassett leaving her for “that blonde girl,” A.K.A. Carpenter. Following Rodrigo’s release of “driver’s license,” Carpenter came out with her own song “Skin,” which many fans believed was about Rodrigo. The supposed drama between Rodrigo and Carpenter (and over a male love interest, nonetheless) is a prime example of the media’s typical attempt at fueling female rivalry — and in turn, gaining heightened audience attention and views.

However, instead of placing blame on the “other girl” in her lyrics, Rodrigo calls on her ex’s shortcomings and even unpacks her own insecurities. Pitchfork explains that in her song “happier,” Rodrigo “grapples with the faulty narrative of female rivalry” through heartbreaking lyrics such as: “And now I’m pickin’ her apart / Like cuttin’ her down will make you miss my wretched heart / But she’s beautiful, she looks kind.” Rodrigo insightfully analyzes her own flaws, admitting in the track that she can even be “selfish” at times. In her gut-wrenching song “traitor,” Rodrigo focuses her attention on her ex, not on the new girl he is with. She passionately sings, “You betrayed me” numerous times, placing the blame on him and not on the “other woman.” 

The supposed drama between Rodrigo and Carpenter is a prime example of the media’s typical attempt at fueling female rivalry — and in turn, gaining heightened audience attention and views.

Although the media loves a good feud, Rodrigo is over it.

The problem goes deeper than just unnecessary celebrity drama and romantic relationships, though. Female rivalry and the “other woman” trope is not just about competition — it’s also an enabler of patriarchal, misogynistic, and sexist ideals. Internalized sexism, which is the idea that women “internalize patriarchal messages that women are not as strong, competent, and capable as men” is very much real and plays a huge role in perpetuating the female rivalry trope. These societal norms and stereotypes lead women to judge each other, become jealous of one another, and try to tear each other down, whether that be due to jealousy surrounding a lover or for another reason entirely. Psychologist Noosha Anzab spoke with Marie Claire magazine about the harmfulness of the trope, saying, “Any actions where we compete and undermine each other is never a positive thing. … Women should be able to share their accomplishments with each other and encourage other women to succeed and really embrace each other’s capabilities.” 

Women are so hard on themselves (and yup, Rodrigo talks about this in her track “enough for you”) and on other women because of internalized sexism and patriarchal values. Susan Shapiro Barash, a gender studies professor at Marymount Manhattan College, conducted a study with 500 women about female rivalry. Of the women interviewed, “more than 70 percent of interviewees were familiar with the concept of women stealing a friend’s husband, lover, boyfriend, or job,” meaning that this trope and concept of female rivalry exists even in people’s real and daily lives, bleeding its way into real romantic relationships. Although the media plays a huge role in normalizing this trope, girls being pitted against other girls doesn’t only exist in TV shows and movies — it’s real life stuff.

Although it may seem trivial to discuss female rivalry in the context of Rodrigo’s debut album, popular culture and music are extremely influential in today’s society.

But what Sour makes clear is that the “other woman” trope is simply anti-feminist. Cutting other women down doesn’t do anything — instead, it merely perpetuates preexisting patriarchal norms that the intersectional feminist movement has been trying to dismantle for decades. Although it may seem trivial to discuss female rivalry in the context of Rodrigo’s debut album, popular culture and music are extremely influential in today’s society. The tropes we see onscreen or hear on the radio make a statement about actual things that are going on in society, including female rivalry and the damaging perpetuation of the “other girl” trope. And people follow these tropes in their real lives and relationships.

Yet, there is a glimmer of hope at the end of the tunnel, and especially for the next generation of young women who consciously consume female artists’ music like Rodrigo’s. Young girls and women who actively listen to Rodrigo’s music and fall in love with the lyrics will grow to learn that it is okay for women to stand in solidarity with one another and to not tear each other down, especially over something as miniscule as a potential love interest. But for now, with the “other woman” trope still running rampant, it truly is “brutal out here.” 
 

Zoë is a national contributing writer and was formerly a summer 2021 editorial intern at Her Campus. She is also a senior at Loyola Marymount University where she studies English and public relations. In her free time, Zoë can be found taking photos, reading, and going to cute (but overpriced) coffee shops.
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