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Lately it seems that every female celebrity is being asked to show her feminist credentials. Kim Kardashian joined those ranks this week. As the cover girl for this month's issue of Rolling Stone, the 34-year-old reality TV star and businesswoman answered whether she considers herself a feminist.
"I've never really been one on labels, and I don't like to push my view. If I feel something, it's how I feel. I never say, 'I feel this way, so you should feel that way.' Not that there's anything wrong with it, but I just am who I am. But, yeah." She smiles. "I think you would call me a feminist."
Shortly after the excerpt from the interview was published, Jezebel published a summary under the headline, " Kim Kardashian: I Think You Would Call Me a Feminist."
There was an immediate uproar from those in arguing that she cannot be a feminist and from those arguing that feminism cannot be defined by narrow standards. Many argue that Kim Kardashian cannot be a feminist on the basis that she made a sex tape and sells her body for money.
Judging a woman based on her sex life, and the fact that her views on morality and sex may not be in accordance with yours, is slut-shaming, which is anti-feminist. We must also recognize that feminism cannot be a one-stop shop for all issues. For a long time, the "mainstream" feminist movement had seemingly all but ignored issues that pertain to women of color, LGBTQ communities and women and families who were low-income.
If you examine her life, I would argue she does exhibit "feminist"-like behaviors. Stay with me here. (A) She refused to stay in a marriage that was not suited for her without fear of the repercussions; (B) she has leveraged her image into a multi-million dollar empire and, when it comes to income, she wields enormous influence and power. (C) She defies gender norms by often dressing her child in gender-neutral clothes and she even gave her daughter a gender-neutral name. Say what you will about her (and there's lots to be said), but she lives life on her own terms. The people who adore her find that empowering, as manifested by the millions of people watching her show, purchasing her products and following her on Instagram.
In her book, Bad Feminist, Roxanne Gay, argues that "essentialist feminism" perpetuates the notion that there are "right and wrong ways to be a feminist and that there are consequences for doing feminism wrong." When one of the most famous women of her generation expresses (albeit, with slight ambivalence) that she is a feminist, then it does raise the visibility of the movement. As my friend brilliantly pointed out, it's one thing to debate if she is a feminist but another to debate the impact she has on setting standards of beauty and the image of women in the media. Beyoncé made headlines when she declared herself a proud feminist, and we could argue that she also makes millions by selling a standard of beauty and sexiness that is harmful to women. Yet many applauded Beyoncé because she made feminism "sexy."
Many feminist celebrities exist in a spectrum of contradictions. Roxane Gay also expresses the many ways that celebrities are put on "feminist" pedestals. When we do this, we inevitably hold these feminists up to impossibly high standards. I know those of us who were feminists before the word went mainstream worry because we don't want the label of feminist to become meaningless at a time when women and men are still in dire need of a movement that creates equality and parity among the sexes.
Mrs. West evokes strong feelings both in favor and against her on a daily basis. But I think it might be because Kim Kardashian is a reflection of the many contradictions American culture presents to women. We should be sexy—but not too sexy, because then we are labeled ugly names like "slut." We should be smart and empowered but still take our husband's last name. Kim Kardashian walks the line everyday, while making a huge profit. While she may not like labels, she is labeled every day and could definitely use more information on the topic. It is important she recognizes that, whether we like it or not, young women look up to her and her celebrity could definitely bring attention to the cause. (What I know for sure is that Kim Kardashian's rise to fame and wealth was possible thanks to the strides made by the feminist movement.)
The problem is that we are constantly looking for feminist heroes in the wrong places, Why should Kim Kardashian be a feminist scholar? Since I'm an optimist, I am hopeful that this is just the start of Kim Kardashian's feminist journey. It's one thing to call yourself a feminist, and it is another to be an advocate. I suggest that Kim Kardashian is need of further education of what exactly it means to be a feminist. Feminist consciousness-raising is a process that requires constantly examining how we embody these values in our public and personal lives.
While I spent many years dissecting these issues in college, the way my feminism manifests itself has evolved. I constantly grapple with my own contradictions and understand that Roxanne Gay was right and that in a way we are all "bad feminists." What we need to accept is that not all feminism will manifest itself in ways that we are in favor of, as we are all in different stages of consciousness and our personal experiences inform how we relate to the movement. We all live and act in ways that contradict the values we claim to possess at one point or another.
Feminism isn't just about the label but about understanding the role we each play in creating a better world for everyone. While we could argue that Kim Kardashian represents everything that is wrong with America, we should take a look at the role we all played in putting her at the top as she meets the definition of what, by every metric of the society we live in, we consider a successful person."
In the meantime, if celebrities need cues on how to answer the seemingly popular, "Are you a feminist?" question, I suggest they follow the example of another member of the Kardashian/Jenner clan, Kendall Jenner. When asked if she was a feminist, she simply stated:
"I don't know much about it, so I can't really speak on it… I'm not gonna say much because I'd like to be more educated."
I think that is a great place to start the conversation, admitting that those of us who are feminists are not always perfect feminists, and those of who are not as familiar with feminism should admit we need more education on the topic.