In Defence Of ‘Divas’: Why Mariah Carey Deserves Better Treatment From The Media

To speak from the gospel of Beyonce, "diva is a female version of a hustler".

“Mariah sent packing,” claims a two-page spread in today’s Daily Telegraph. “IT’S OVER: James Packer dumps Mariah,” Woman’s Day gleefully proclaims. “Billionaire James Packer ‘dumps’ fiancee Mariah Carey over ‘excessive spending’… but she’ll keep $10m engagement ring,” The Daily Mail reads. This morning, news outlets all began scrambling to throw out phrases like “diva” and “high maintenance” quicker than you could say “why you so obsessed with me”. The tabloids collectively allege that Packer — worth $US3.4 billion dollars — unceremoniously kicked his fiancée to the curb due to her “excessive spending”.

What has actually happened is not so clear. The spending claims comes via Woman’s Day from an alleged (and unnamed) “close friend” of Packer. “James is very generous, but Mariah takes it to the next level,” they say. This has been directly refuted by Carey’s publicist. In a statement given to BuzzFeed, the rep confirms the couple have had a big fight but denies the reasoning been used in the press. They claim the couple are currently trying to work out their differences.

Whatever’s actually happening, why is everyone so eager to cast blame on Carey?

Mariah Carey Has Her Own Damn Money

Firstly, dumping Mariah Carey for ‘excessive spending’ is like being mad at water because it’s wet. She’s Mariah fucking Carey. She broke into the music industry at the age of 18 handing around demo tapes to record executives until they eventually fell into the hands of the right person — Colombia Records head Tommy Mottola.

Mariah has been a millionaire since she was 20 years old and now — at 46 — she’s worth an estimated $US520 million dollars. That’s the kind of money you don’t make by sleeping on success, that’s the kind of money you make by having a 30-year career with 14 albums to your name, more No.1 songs than any solo artist in history (18, for those of you playing at home), over a dozen film and TV credits and a business empire that includes perfume, jewellery and clothing.

Mariah Carey has earned the right to “excessively spend” her own goddamn money if she goddamn wants to. Now excuse me while I make fart noises forever over the concept of a fella dumping his fiancé for ‘extravagant taste’ after he used a $US10 million dollar, 35 carat diamond ring to propose.

But what’s more infuriating about this whole sweet, sweet fantasy is the deeply misogynistic undercurrent running through every piece of coverage. This idea that ‘she deserved it’ and ‘that’s what you get for being a diva’ is not dissimilar to the sentiment following Kim Kardashian’s assault in Paris — the one that took pleasure at a woman they saw as undesirable receiving some kind of pain.

‘Divas’ vs ‘Hustlers’

To speak from the Gospel Of Beyoncé, Psalms 51:5: “diva is a female version of a hustler”.

The term ‘diva’ has long been used in a way that subtly shames women for their success, it’s talks down to them for having agency and strength in knowing what they want from life and how to get it. If you took a shot for every time you read the phrase ‘diva antics’ or ‘diva behaviour’ in an article about a female celebrity, you’d have alcohol poisoning by now.

When profiles on Mark Zuckerberg are written, the phrase certainly doesn’t come up — it’s replaced with words like ‘ambitious’ and ‘visionary’. And this all starts from a young age, this toxic patriarchal concept that women should be ashamed for having authority and *sharp intake of breathe* money. Sheryl Sandberg wrote about it in the now seminal (though otherwise problematic) book Lean In: “When a little boy asserts himself, he’s called a ‘leader’. Yet when a little girl does the same, she risks being branded ‘bossy’. Words like bossy send a message: don’t raise your hand or speak up.”

Mariah Carey is a diva, but that shouldn’t be treated like a bad thing. Beyoncé? Diva. Ava DuVernay? Diva. Hillary Clinton? Diva. Mary Shelley? Diva. Mulan? Diva. Katherine Johnson? Diva. Joan Of Arc? In her way, also a diva.

Diva is not a dirty word. But simply because it’s associated with women and — most importantly — women of power it’s supposed to be the opposite of something you strive towards. Shrink yourself, talk down your achievements, don’t boast how much you make or how hard you work, be humble, blah blippity blah. Diva should be something women feel proud to call themselves, just like ‘bad bitch’ or ‘nasty woman’ or ‘feminist’.

And Mariah Carey? Regardless of what’s going on with her personal relationship and whether her ~vision of love~ has been shaken, Mariah Carey is more than a loud lady whose favourite movie is Mean Girls, treats Christmas like her own personal holiday, and has a penchant for butterfly ornaments encrusted in diamonds and pearls. She’s a motherfucking diva who has earned her right to expensive taste.

Feature image via Mariah Carey/Instagram.

Maria Lewis is a journalist on The Feed SBS and author of the Who’s Afraid? novel series available worldwide. She’s also the co-host and producer of the Eff Yeah Film & Feminism podcast.