The Kardashians — for years they’ve provided North America and beyond with an outlet for our seething hatred of women. The mantra we hear over and over again is that the Kardashians are women who are “famous for nothing” except “making a sex tape.”
Representative of the superficial, vain “attention whore,” the Kardashian women serve an important function as a stress release valve through which the masses can vent their disgust at society’s obsession with trivial tabloid stories about the rich and famous. Even some feminists participate in the Kardashian pile on, in a desire to respond to the depravity of our reality TV era, brimming over with sexually objectified female social media stars.
A recent viral meme exemplifies the kind of acceptable misogyny directed at the women of the Kardashian family:
While many women were rightly critical of the image, a friend of mine defended it, arguing that hatred of individual women does not always constitute misogyny, and that, because the Kardashians are “talentless hacks who are famous for nothing,” it is acceptable to hate them in this manner.
While I agree that disliking individual women doesn’t always constitute misogyny (there are perfectly valid reasons one might dislike a woman — they can be terrible human beings just like anyone else), the Kardashians are not just individuals. They are public figures who hold a prominent place in popular culture. Even if they are totally garbage people, it doesn’t mean hating them is not related to misogyny.
The Kardashians embody all the negative feminine stereotypes: they’re vain, vapid, spoiled, shameless, and offer nothing of value beyond their sexually attractive bodies. They are viewed as nothing more than pretty sexual objects who should be treated accordingly.
Kim Kardashian is the quintessential female celebrity sacrifice. She is the woman who we sexually degrade, but need not feel bad about it, because she is (supposedly) intellectually worthless — incapable of having a complex inner life. She deserves to be derided and mocked because she is asking for it — she is an “attention seeker,” a “fame whore.” She is viewed as a worthless human being, devoid of talent or attributes worthy of respect, only famous because she made a sex tape. (I have no idea what the justification is for this conclusion, when thousands of sex tapes are constantly being made of women; yet none of those women become famous from these tapes. Actually, there’s this thing that makes up one third of the Internet, which features women having sex on film who aren’t famous… It’s called “porn.”).
Sometimes Kim’s reality TV series, Keeping Up with the Kardashians, is also recognized as relevant to her fame. In an interview with Elle Magazine, actor Jon Hamm said, of the Kardashians, “Being a fucking idiot is a valuable commodity in this culture because you’re rewarded significantly.” Daniel Craig echoed a similar sentiment in GQ, saying, “What, you mean all I have to do is behave like a fucking idiot on television and then you’ll pay me millions?”
Although the Kardashian women are certainly financially rewarded through their media empire, they’re not rewarded with esteem. Instead, they’re a national joke – a target that’s been declared fair game. In 2011, singer Michael Bublé joked onstage that he was bringing out Kim Kardashian. Met with confused silence from the audience, he clarified, “Nah, just fucking with you! That bitch isn’t coming on my stage,” to much applause. Cher shared her Kardashian hate in a series of tweets: “Is it true Kardashian did Porno! I’m so Fkn outa it!” “I don’t watch reality! Never saw a Kardashian but these bitches should be Drop kicked down a freeway! Not kidding!”
I don't watch reality ! Never saw a Kardashian but these Bitches should b Drop kicked down a freeway !Not kidding! Nos I no r this Fkn nuts
— Cher (@cher) October 3, 2011
The Kardashians seem to exist in order to provide the public with female figures we are allowed to hate. Ironically, for many years, the Kardashian’s home network, E!, hosted the TV show most effusive in insults for the women. Kardashian disses became a regular fixture on The Soup, a comedy show hosted by Joel McHale, who incessantly belittled the women’s intellects and sexually degraded them as “fame-seeking harlots” who love “shoving chocolate into their mouths” (a racist reference to Kim’s sex-tape).
Reality TV has long produced shows that center around a plot that says, “Look at how terrible and disgusting these people are! These women are such dumb, trashy whores!” From Paris Hilton’s breakout role as a running dumb blonde joke in The Simple Life, to Jersey Shore’s trashy tableau, to the spoiled screeching Real Housewives, it seems we have developed a tradition of exercising justified misogyny for entertainment. (And let’s not forget the sadistic public shaming of Anna Nicole Smith, which ended in real-life tragedy).
When feminists echo the misogynistic characterization of Kim Kardashian and her younger sister Kylie Jenner, it’s often defended on the basis that putting down these particular celebrity figures equates to a critique of celebrity culture itself or is an endorsement of other more wholesome, worthwhile pursuits. But slinging the same insults that male-dominated media does — calling women like the Kardashians brainless, slutty, attention-whores — plays right into the hands of male supremacy.
The practice of justifying misogyny extends past the screen. In our culture, just being female is enough to be derided. Dress nicely, and you’re accused of “attention-seeking.” Excel in your profession, and you’re accused of being a whore who was only promoted because the boss wants to get in your pants. If you let your guard down and say something silly, you’re accused of being dumb. Even Frida Kahlo was accused of only being successful because of her sexual relationship with Diego Rivera. It doesn’t matter how great you objectively are, it’s always easy to reduce women to these stereotypes that make us worthy of contempt.
The hatred of female celebrities/public figures often seems connected to the fact that our sins are treated as being more egregious. While women are told to “die in a fire” for being a “dumb slut,” it seems men need to be literal criminals or child rapists before they are objects of public scorn. (And even then, Kobe Bryant continues to be a basketball superstar and Woody Allen makes successful movies). Charlie Sheen becomes a legendary party animal, while Lindsay Lohan is viewed as a cracked-out crazy with no career to speak of. Justin Timberlake is allowed to evolve into a respected and multi-faceted performer, while Britney Spears is forever branded as a trashy, talentless dumb blonde who fell from grace.
For feminists, there is nothing noble in defending or reproducing this kind of misogynistic treatment. Tearing down the Kardashian women does not tear down the negative feminine stereotypes through which their degradation is justified — it just legitimizes that process of justification for all women.
Feminists wouldn’t insult women who work in porn by calling them idiotic, attention-seeking bimbos… Why? Well, aside from being unnecessarily cruel and decontextualized (who knows what personal grooming/coercion the particular woman underwent), it’s a totally unproductive analysis. It doesn’t contribute to a critique of the industry nor does it confront power where it lies.
Feminists, especially those with a radical political analysis, acknowledge the structural context in which female subordination occurs and reject an individualistic analysis of women’s status. But, when it comes to celebrity culture, we seem to get distracted by the cult of personality and attack the individual instead of the system.
In the end, Kim Kardashian actually does have a job, which I imagine is extremely difficult and taxing. (I’m exhausted just thinking about her job!) She is a professional bullseye, absorbing the misogynistic hatred of millions as an embodiment of hyperfemininity in all its subhuman, objectified glory. Considering this, it’s little wonder that, when asked how she feels about being “dethroned” by her 18-year-old sister, Kylie Jenner (who was groomed since childhood to do so), Kim replied, “I love it. Like, I love it.”