Kim Kardashian dares to reflect the male gaze, and revel in her own power

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Natalie Reilly
A little over a week ago, Kim Kardashian West was tied up and robbed at gunpoint in her apartment in Paris. According to reports, the reality TV star feared she could be raped during the burglary – a not entirely bizarre assumption to make when you’re a woman being violently burglarised by five men in balaclavas.

The reactions on social media ranged from a sort of hackneyed cynicism ‘it was all a publicity stunt’ to a trilling, mob-led schadenfreude, to straightforward victim blaming. The latter, of course, encompassed every dark, misogynist fantasy you could think of.

Kardashian West has now bowed out of social engagements indefinitely and has been silent on social media. I doubt she will stay down for long but the breathless headlines ‘is this the end?!’ speak to a broader cultural wish of women being punished into silence.

The response on social media, (you know the place where women are habitually harassed and violently threatened) has been explained by the Washington Post. According to the writer of the piece, (republished by this website), Kim’s celebrity is calculated and attention-seeking, a “hollow brand’ so people don’t see her humanity.

This sentiment was echoed by Vox, albeit in more sensitive terms – the argument instead focused on her over-exposure.

The justification for all of it came down to the notion that Kardashian West lacks soul. I’d argue that what she really lacks is shame. Kardashian West has never really cared about her detractors.

‘Haters’ don’t carry the same currency as they do for other celebrities, (ahem, Taylor Swift). She just shrugs and takes another selfie. This in part explains the invective – how dare she! She’s immodest, tacky woman and representative of all that’s wrong in the world and yet she doesn’t care? Someone ought to forcibly make her ashamed, right? Take her down a peg?

It’s true that Kardashian West has turned her body and most of her life into profit, but she’s hardly the first celebrity to do so. She is just the first one to be brazen about it.

But even if you consider her obnoxious, you should first consider how she came to be in the first place. We elevate women like Kardashian West and Lena Dunham and Amy Schumer for the frank ease with which they express their sexuality, but the moment they become aware of this and seek to capitalise on it we try to humiliate them for it.

Models can pose without clothes, plus-size models in their underwear, older female celebrities pull on swimsuits – all good. Just as long as you absorb the aggressive, patriarchal gaze aimed at you – absorb and do not reflect, do not reveal your awareness of your power, or you will be punished.

Every famous woman who dares to look the patriarchy in the eye is, in this sense, fair game. Beyonce is too political, too self-aggrandizing; Amy Schumer too loose, too crude; Lena Dunham too fat and proud. Angelina is a pariah who “stole” Brad and then went crazy and divorced him. And Kim? She’s all of these with no discernible capital apart from herself.

Why, she’s famous for nothing, (as if acting or modelling were noble pursuits). How quickly people forget that the culture that promotes a woman to TV because of a sex tape and then elevates her for her appearance is the exact same culture that endorses violently punishing women should they ever step out of line. To celebrate Kim Kardashian West’s trauma or silence doesn’t validate your moral superiority; all it shows is that you’re part of the same sexist machine that shone a light on her in the first place.

The problem, of course, is that in a society where women are frequently reduced to voiceless, disembodied objects, whether they appear in a reality television show or not, ‘stepping out of line’ all too often means simply existing. This is why a man running for leader of the free world can discuss sexually assaulting a woman and dismiss it as “locker room talk”. This is why rapists are sold as men with “bright futures”. This is why men murder women. This is not a Kardashian West problem. This is a women-hating problem and Kim is a convenient cultural piñata.

 

 

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