Sister vs. Sister.
[She] will forever be remembered for her style and relation to her older sister," writes USA Today, in the obituary of a woman who should be remembered for so much more.
"Born Caroline Lee Bouvier in 1933, Radziwill was the sister--younger by four years--of the former first lady Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis. She was also, at various points, an author, an interior designer, a public relations executive for Giorgio Armani and an actress," writes Alice NewellHanson of The New York Times. The "also," emphasized in italics in the original quote, seems to reduce the importance of all the other roles she has held. They are listed indiscriminately as if secondary to her position as the younger sister of the well-loved and better known, Jackie O.
Newell-Hanson goes on to discuss Lee Radziwill's iconic status in the world of fashion and art, and that her greatest achievement, in Lee's own words, was the creative relationships she fostered. She danced with Truman Capote, spent summers with Andy Warhol, partied with the Rolling Stones as they toured, living a life anybody would envy.
And yet, tribute article after tribute article to this woman started to same way and, for quite a few, stuck to that angle throughout--framing her merely in reference to her older sister.
In an article in People, they comment on Lee's death as "renew[ing] curiosity in [her and Jackie's] complicated relationship." The article goes on to discuss the notorious rivalry between the sisters, from the fact that Jackie left nothing for Lee in her will, to Lee's affair and Jackie's marriage to Aristotle Onassis (ala Mary and Anne Boleyn, the former better known as the "other" Boleyn girl, a title that ensures she is framed merely in reference to her sister).
This story followed Lee all her life, upt--and evidently even past -- her death last week. Not only was she desc ribed and referred to in connection with her sister, but there is also the constant narrative of their sisterly rivalry.
Lee ' s affair to Onassis is compared to her sister's marriage to him; Lee's marriage to a Prince was compared to her sister's marriage to a President.
Although we like stories of women standing behind other women, a lot of what we see makes it look like we love stories of women bringing other women down.
The recent release of Mary, Queen of Scots shows one of the most famous female rivalries in history on the big screen. The film stars Saoirse Ronan as Mary, and Margot Robbie as Queen Elizabeth I. Robbie finds herself in another drama focused on a complicated female relationship, after her Academy Award-nominated role as Tonya Harding in I, Tonya, known for her rivalry with Nancy Kerrigan, extensively covered (and fueled) by the media.
The first season of the hit 2017 show Feud chronicles the fraught relationship between Bette Davis and Joan Crawford during the production of the 1962 film What Ever Happened to Baby Jane? The film itself is about a sisterly rivalry produced as a psychological thriller that presents Davis' "Baby Jane" as mentally unstable and, in a twist that I will attempt not to spoil, even Crawford's Blanche Hudson is revealed to have her serious flaws.
(This feud, grounded in fact, gives us one of the best/worst disses of all time. Davis, on hearing about Crawford's death, was quoted as saying: "You should never say bad things about the dead, only good. Joan Crawford is dead. Good.")
Even more recently, the tabloid headlines I have been bombarded with in the past few months suggest a feud (also arguably created from thin air) between sisters-in-law Kate Middleton and Meghan Markle.
Every relationship is complicated, yet when it involves a woman it is somehow stressed as more complicated, and even more so if it is between two women. If the events of last week have shown me anything, even in death this, sadly, cannot be escaped.
We have gone a long way in recognizing women, we are unashamed to put women on a pedestal, but as a society, we still struggle to let several women stand there at the same time.
Psychologist Noam Shpancer writes in Psychology Today: "Feminist psychology argues that competition among females is driven primarily not by biological imperatives but rather by social mechanisms. According to this argument, cutthroat female competition is due mainly to the fact that women, born and raised in male-dominated society, internalize the male perspective (the "male gaze") and adopt it as their own. The male view of women as primarily sexual objects becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy. As women come to consider being prized by men their ultimate source of strength, worth, achievement, and identity, they are compelled to battle other women for the prize."
There is a constant comparison by the viewer from the point of the view of the male sex, that comparison is projected onto the subjects and misinterpreted as competition, which then feeds into the idea that one woman must be on top and so another woman must be below.
Lee's life is not only framed in reference to her better-known sister but also framed through the "male gaze," even when written about by women due to a male-dominated society.
Lee's death does renew curiosity in her complicated relationship with her sister, but these articles focused on it renew my own curiosity in the complicated relationship women have with other women and the role of society in creating that potentially self-fulfilling narrative
BONDED BY BLOOD When Caroline (left) and Jacqueline were younger | Photo courtesy of lee.radziwill / Instagram