American feminist and cultural critic Susan J. Douglas stated in her book Where the Girls Are: Growing Up Female with the Mass Media that the purest form of a catfight was between a blonde and a brunette.
American feminist and cultural critic Susan J. Douglas stated in her book Where the Girls Are: Growing Up Female with the Mass Media that the purest form of a catfight was between a blonde and a brunette.

Catfight (also girl fight) is a term for an altercation between two females, often characterized as involving scratching, shoving, slapping, choking, punching, kicking, biting, spitting, hair-pulling, and shirt-shredding.[1] It can also be used to describe women insulting each other verbally or engaged in an intense competition for men, power, or occupational success.[2] The catfight has been a staple of American news media and popular culture since the 1940s, and use of the term is often considered derogatory or belittling.[3][4][5][6][7] Some observers argue that in its purest form, the word refers to two women, one blonde and the other a brunette, fighting each other.[8] However, the term is not exclusively used to indicate a fight between women, and many formal definitions do not invoke gender.[9]


The term catfight was recorded by the Oxford English Dictionary as the title and subject of an 1824 mock heroic poem by Ebenezer Mack. In the United States, it was first recorded as being used to describe a fight between women in an 1854 book written by Benjamin G. Ferris who wrote about Mormon women fighting over their shared husband. Their houses, according to Ferris, were designed to keep women "as much as possible, apart, and prevent those terrible catfights which sometimes occur, with all the accompaniments of billingsgate [vulgar and coarse language], torn caps, and broken broomsticks."[10][1] The word cat was originally a contemptuous term for either sex, but eventually came to refer to a woman considered loose or sexually promiscuous, or one regarded as spiteful, backbiting, and malicious.[11]



Catfights are often described as titillating for heterosexual men.[12][13] Portrayals of catfights in cartoons, movies and advertising often display participants as attractive, with "supermodel physiques",[14] dishevelled and missing articles of clothing, and catfights are often described by media aimed primarily at men as sexy.[15]

Culturally, we think of the catfight as bikini-clad bimbos slapping each other around and wrestling. They're sexualized and devalued.

Onur Tukel, Director, Catfight[2]


Women have often been critical of the term catfight, particularly when it is used in ways that may seem to inappropriately sexualize, neutralize, or trivialize disagreements among women on serious topics.[4][5][6][7]

Feminist historians say use of the term catfight to label female opponents goes back to 1940, when American newspapers characterized as a catfight a dispute between Clare Boothe Luce and journalist Dorothy Thompson over which candidate to support in the 1940 presidential campaign. One newspaper called it "a confrontation between two blonde Valkryies", and journalist Walter Winchell, upon running into Luce and Thompson at a nightclub, reportedly urged them to refrain from fighting, saying, "Ladies, ladies, remember there are gentlemen present."

In the 1970s the American news media began to use the term catfight to describe women's disagreements about issues related to women's rights, such as the Equal Rights Amendment.[3]

A University of British Columbia's Sauder School of Business survey found that both female and male observers judged female vs. female conflicts to have more negative impacts on the workplace environment than conflicts that involved men.[16]

Usage in popular culture

In the post-war years, photographers began marketing pictures of women in catfights.
In the post-war years, photographers began marketing pictures of women in catfights.

Catfights first began appearing in American popular culture in the 1950s when postwar pioneers of pornography such as Irving Klaw produced film clips of women engaged in catfighting and wrestling. Klaw used many models and actresses in his works, including Bettie Page.[17] The popularity of watching women fight increased in the postwar years and eventually moved into the mainstream of society.[1] In the 1960s, catfights became popular in B movies such as Russ Meyer's Faster, Pussycat! Kill! Kill! and the 1969 animated Boris Karloff movie Mad Monster Party.[18] In the 1970s and 1980s, catfights began to make appearances in women in prison films, in roller derby, and in nighttime soap operas such as Dallas and Dynasty.[3]

Dynasty starred John Forsythe as an oil tycoon and patriarch of a wealthy family that lived in Denver. The show co-starred blonde Linda Evans and brunette Joan Collins. The two women had a number of fights, both verbal and physical, during the show's 9-year run on ABC. Designed to compete with Dallas, a highly popular evening drama on CBS, Dynasty's first-year ratings were unremarkable. For the second season, the producers introduced the dark-haired Collins as a foil to the blonde Evans and hoped that her "bitchy persona" would enhance the show's ratings, which it did.[19] Wanting the ratings to go even higher, Douglas S. Cramer, Dynasty's producer suggested that the two women have a "knockdown, drag out fight". Cramer, in a 2008 interview, claimed that everybody loved the catfights except Joan Collins because "Linda was so much stronger than she was."[20]

Dynasty upped the ante ... On one side was the blonde stay at home Krystal Carrington ... in the other corner was the most delicious bitch ever seen on television, the dark haired, scheming, career vixen, Alexis Carrington Colby ... Krystal just wanted to make her husband happy; Alexis wanted to control the world. How could you not love a catfight between these two?[21]

According to Evans, the Dynasty director's blueprint for the first fight was an "outrageous catfight"[22] that she had almost a decade earlier with Stefanie Powers in the detective series McCloud, starring Dennis Weaver. The fight occurs during an argument they are having in Evans' apartment when Powers, on her way out, grabs a bottle of seltzer water and sprays down Evans. Before she reaches the door, Evans grabs Powers and the two women engage in spirited catfight, wrecking the apartment in the process. During the fight, Powers' blouse is partially torn off, exposing her black bra, a surprising level of undress for network television in that era. Evans eventually overpowers her brunette opponent and is holding her head down in a water-filled aquarium when Weaver walks in and ends the fight.[22]

Catfights, both real and staged, are a staple of daytime television talk shows and reality television shows such as The Jerry Springer Show, The Bachelor, For Love or Money, and The Real Housewives series,[23] where women are frequently presented as being in continual competition with each other for love and professional success. In 2009, ABC-TV promoted The Bachelor with the voiceover narration "Let the catfights begin", and reality television shows have frequently overlaid sound effects of hissing cats onto scenes featuring women arguing or competing with each other.[24]

Catfight imagery, as Rachel Reinke points out, is often found in media that caters to a male audience and, as Susan Douglas has noted, frequently involves a blonde and a brunette.
Catfight imagery, as Rachel Reinke points out, is often found in media that caters to a male audience and, as Susan Douglas has noted, frequently involves a blonde and a brunette.

In 2002, an SABMiller television commercial called "Catfight" featured two young beautiful women[25] drinking a beer in an outside cafe. Their polite conversation quickly turned into an argument about whether Miller Lite beer's best aspect was its taste or the fact that it was less filling than other beers. The argument led to a fight where one of the girls knocked the other into an adjacent pool. The women quickly lost most of their clothes and continued the fight clad in only in their underwear. Before the fight came to a conclusion, the scene faded out and the viewers saw that it was a fantasy dreamed up by two men in a bar discussing what would make a great commercial. The scene would later cut to the girls, stripped down to their underwear, wrestling in a mud pit. An uncensored version was also filmed that included an alternate ending where the mud-covered girls fall in love and kiss. Predictably, one critic noted, the fight was blonde vs. brunette.[1] The campaign generated considerable controversy, but sales of Miller Lite subsequently declined by 3%.[26]

More than any other aspect of the catfight in today's culture, the catfight's sexually arousing potential is exploited for numerous purposes. The phenomenon of catfighting as erotic entertainment for straight men is widely documented throughout the Internet, television, film, and even pornography. On numerous websites ... web users are overwhelmingly presented with catfighting as highly sexual, even pornographic. So many websites act as sources of catfights as pornography that it would be hard to believe the catfight can be interpreted in any other way. Venturing onto ... these pages will lead a viewer to an abundance of videos and images of objectified women fighting with each other by pulling hair, scratching, and even biting each other. The interpretation of the catfight as sexy and gratifying for men is hardly uncommon on the Internet.
—Rachel Reinke: "Catfight: A Feminist Analysis"[1]

A 2019 article in The New York Times titled "Me-OW! It's the End of the Catfight", pointed how the term has been slowly falling out of favor in light of the #MeToo movement, "calling any conflict between women a catfight is understood to be sexist, and enthusiasm has generally dampened for women fighting". Notwithstanding, the author pointed out, remnants remained and cited the tabloid created feud between Kate Middleton and Meghan Markle as an example.[10]

In the TV and film industry

The entertainment industry has produced many films that include catfights. Below is a selection of notable films, many of them featuring major movie stars engaged in fighting.

The Dietrich-Merkel match-up, a riotous tooth-and-nail catfight lasting over two minutes, took five days to film. Dietrich was adamant about doing as much of her own fighting as was possible on the screen. Co-star Merkel realized that Dietrich wasn't pulling any punches and opted to do her own fighting as well. Both actresses became carried away in the moment in front of the Hal Mohr's camera and came away with scrapes, bruises and splinters. A first aid station was set up off the soundstage for injuries. Pioneering stuntwoman Helen Thurston filled in for Dietrich when the action became too heavy ... but the publicity claimed the stars did all their own stunts in one continuous take and were presented with champagne toasts and applause from the cast and crew.[37] -- Gene Freese, Classic Movie Fight Scenes: 75 Years of Bare Knuckle Brawls, 1914-1989

I was a very nice girl but Aliza was a cow. We had terrible clashes and I was disgusted with her. I had a lot of anger inside of me so that [fight] scene was a perfect way to work it out. We rehearsed the fight for three weeks but when we shot it, Aliza was really fighting. Everyone encouraged me to fight back, so I did. We got into a real scrapping match.
— Martine Beswick[42]

Prison inmates Adele Jergens and Joan Taylor fight each other in the 1956 American International Pictures movie Girls in Prison
Prison inmates Adele Jergens and Joan Taylor fight each other in the 1956 American International Pictures movie Girls in Prison
Teen age criminals, played by Eve Brent and Eleise Cameron fight in the 1957 crime film Gun Girls
Teen age criminals, played by Eve Brent and Eleise Cameron fight in the 1957 crime film Gun Girls
Actress Mary Hill wrestles Jackie Coogan's laboratory assistant in the 1953 "B movie" Mesa of Lost Women
Actress Mary Hill wrestles Jackie Coogan's laboratory assistant in the 1953 "B movie" Mesa of Lost Women

Marc Daniels brings professional polish and brisk pacing to the telefilm and the action sequences are very nicely-staged ... there's a very well-done catfight between Muldaur and Margolin where it's clear that the two actresses are doing much of the stuntwork themselves.[65]

Prior to that encounter, Smythe fights actress Sally Kemp[66] in the role of an Amazon housemistress named Treece. The confrontation was interrupted by Treece's children who were clearly distraught at the site of their mother fighting another woman.

This mirrors a scene in Genesis II in which the shock wave from a nuclear explosion Hunt has triggered strikes on a Pax lookout just as a mother has brought her young children out to see the stars. There and in the Planet Earth scene, the heroes witness the effect of their own violence on children, forcing them to rethink the use of force—a very effective and intelligent pacifistic touch from Roddenberry.[67]

Belle Starr fights off blonde detective Frankie Adams in the TV show Stories of the Century.
Belle Starr fights off blonde detective Frankie Adams in the TV show Stories of the Century.
Janet Leigh tries to stop Letitia Roman from escaping in an episode of The Man from U.N.C.L.E.
Janet Leigh tries to stop Letitia Roman from escaping in an episode of The Man from U.N.C.L.E.
Blond heroine Jennifer Holt fights scheming rancher Mady Correll in the 1941 western The Old Chisholm Trail.
Blond heroine Jennifer Holt fights scheming rancher Mady Correll in the 1941 western The Old Chisholm Trail.


Catfight is also the collective term for a fetish-like inclination, which has its erotic attraction in the competitive as well as the playful test of strength between women. This inclination is primarily voyeuristic and includes among other sports wrestling, arm wrestling and boxing.[115]

Homosexual and bisexual women sometimes also use wrestling for physical contact, as it offers itself as an opportunity to meet other women in a lustful manner. This aspect is supported by the fact that very intimate wrestling matches sometimes lead to orgasmic entanglements and open tribadism. In some cases, sexual arousal and climax are the mutual goals of a female wrestling match. The main rule of such a "sex fight" is usually: Whoever has an orgasm first, loses. Nonetheless, multiple orgasms are possible. Therefore, tribadic scenes and erotic fights cannot always be distinguished. So-called sexfights, pussyfights or tribfights form separate categories among commercially produced videos.[116]

From the 1990s to the mid-2000s, Napali Video and California Wildcats were groundbreaking for the production and publication of such videos in the Anglo-American region.[117][118] Depending on the film, the depicted focus was on different types of duels, including wrestling, boxing, sexfighting or titfighting, the aggressive squeezing or rubbing of the breasts. However, clearly lesbian acts were almost always part of the scenes presented. Actresses for Napali Video and California Wildcats included Puma Swede, Vanessa Blue, Kim Chambers, Penny Flame and Jessica Jaymes. In particular, Tanya Danielle and Devon Michaels repeatedly appeared together in multiple videos, which gave the impression of an actual rivalry and both actresses became icons of the scene.

Eventually, the first European productions appeared around the same time. The Austrian production company Danube Women Wrestling (DWW), which had previously primarily specialized in erotic wrestling matches,[119] also marketed sexfighting videos until 2011 under the "Tribgirls" label. The wrestlers were initially mainly of Hungarian and later Czech nationality. The production of videos was continued from 2012 on by Fighting Dolls and Trib-Dolls from Brno, who followed in the footsteps of DWW and Tribgirls.[120] However, some of the women switched to the Foxy Combat studio, which is operated by former DWW wrestler Hana Klima since 2007 and which has also been producing videos of erotic wrestling and sexfighting ever since. Foxy Combat is also based in Brno, which means that two competing production companies are based in the second largest city in the Czech Republic.[121] Meanwhile, commercially produced videos of lesbian sexfights are no longer uncommon and come from the United States as well as Europe and East Asia.


See also


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