Humans have fawned over celebrities and the outlandish things they do for centuries. The celebrity lifestyle has become a fantasy for everyday people, so why is anyone surprised when female celebrities make unreasonable demands to uplift themselves?
The word “diva,” derived from the Italian word “goddess,” first became used in English in the late 1800s, describing an opera company’s principal female singer. These women were treated with utmost respect, such as the renowned soprano Adelina Patti, who in her peak was paid upwards of $5000 in gold per night, while never being obligated to come to rehearsal.
Starting in the 60s and 70s, female singers were all over the mainstream entertainment industry. Stars like Dolly Parton, Barbra Streisand, and Aretha Franklin were just a few of the women who defined the era. However, by this time, the term “diva” had gone from “goddess” to what Google defines as a “self-important person who is temperamental and difficult to please (typically used of a woman).”
News outlets and the public have laughed at Streisand for only allowing photos to be taken of her “good side”, Mariah Carey for playing her song “Fantasy” while giving birth, Madonna for banning air conditioning at her show venues, Rihanna for requesting a private dance floor “wherever she goes”, and countless other women for acting similarly.
The media began criticizing and labeling all famous women as divas simply because they were confident in themselves when really, that confidence is what made audiences adore them.
For example, Franklin’s hit song “Respect” told women that they deserved better than their male partners were giving them and to respect themselves and each other. In a motivational speech in collaboration with Netflix, Parton directly told the audience “You are enough, and anyone who tells you otherwise isn’t worth your time.” Simply having hit songs and interviews with Netflix speaks for itself. These women wouldn’t be where they are today without demanding that they get there, and the constant criticism of their demands disregards that fact.
Even if the things these women do seem bizarre to the non-rich and famous, they are just as comparable to the extravagant acts of similar male stars, who would be called “divos” in 1800s opera life. Tom Cruise has been said to demand cupcakes on golden platters in the middle of the night, and Frank Ocean had hundreds of ice skaters prepare a routine for months, only to lay them off the day of their Coachella 2023 performance. But, men are getting just a fraction of the hate and criticism. Cruise is celebrated for achieving fame and fortune after facing adversity in his childhood. Even after being cut from the Coachella show, Olympic hockey player Chris Powers continued to praise Ocean, assuring the audience that “… He had a very clear vision, and even though that vision changed a lot, he was always on (the skaters), helping us…”
“Diva is a female version of a hustler,” Beyonce said in her song “I Am… Sasha Fierce,” clapping back at this double standard and proving that the word “divo” will never have the same power over men that “diva” has over women.
Regardless of its origins in the entertainment industry, the term “diva” has been weaponized against all women. Any woman in power that knows what they want can be labeled a “diva”, while men are praised for taking control. The foreign world of celebrities can perfectly mirror our everyday life, and in order to dismantle this double standard, we must rethink how we view those celebrities and the standards we hold them to.