not in Primary anymore

kim k and respectability politics

Guest post by Janan Graham

prego kim

A lot of people don’t like Kim Kardashian. Really don’t like Kim Kardashian. I myself don’t claim to be her biggest cheerleader but there is something about her latest predicament that leads me to pause.

Ms. Kardashian, ever the target for popular tabloid fodder, has recently been seen in the newsstands not for a sex tape or for her very public divorce but rather, her change in size and appearance as she goes through the stages of pregnancy. The discussion on her and her body puts a very distinct face on an experience that many of us have or one day may encounter, that is, being pregnant. Science and the seemingly endless experiences of women prove that many physical, psychological and arguably spiritual changes occur during the 3 trimesters. Kim Kardashian, with her justice league of stylists and personal assistants is no exception. Yet many of the tabloids report on an array of “news stories” on her pregnancy that serve no purpose in public discourse. So why aren’t feminists drawing more attention to the public shaming of Kim Kardashian?

It should be noted that last month, in an interview with Us Weekly, Gloria Steinem defended Kim Kardashian stating:

“Our bodies are never public property under any circumstance. It’s wrong, and people in the street who feel the right to touch a pregnant woman’s belly ought to be arrested for harassment. Our bodies belong to us, and if we don’t invite touching, we shouldn’t tolerate it.”

Why do we tolerate it? At least, why does mainstream feminism seem to tolerate the public shaming of Kim Kardashian and others like herself who may not necessarily fit into what could be considered a worthwhile talking point for feminist circles? I believe a certain kind of respectability politics comes into play in discussions on why the outrage has been so muted.

When speaking on respectability politics, I’m referring to an unspoken “code of conduct” that must be followed in order to be accepted by a community or group. If such standards are not met, then said person or persons are separated from the majority of members remaining in “good standing.” The term, popularized by such academics as Tulane professor and political commentator Melissa Harris-Perry and Harvard professor and author Evelyn Brooks-Higginbotham, is often used in discussions on social relations within minority communities. Particularly African-American communities.

It can be argued that within the African-American community, an educated, well-spoken, high-achieving member of the community is held in high esteem, while on the opposite end of the spectrum, a member who shows attributes that are contradictory to that “standard” is referred to as “ghetto,” “ratchet” or a “hoodrat” by members in the same community. The same can also be said about African-Americans who do not embody the characteristics of what is considered to be “Black.” They too become victims of respectability politics. An example of this is former ESPN Sports Commentator Rob Parker’s comments on Washington Redskins Quarterback Robert Griffin III being, “kind of black.” Statements like these are one of the many examples of how damaging it is to place restrictions on socially accepted behaviors within members in any given space. Especially when those restrictions stem from the same oppression that is directed towards a particular group from outside actors.

People have often turned to assimilation and “othering” in order to survive in oppressive societies. Women (and other marginalized groups) who experience oppression often times internalize that oppression. I mean, think about it. How many times have you been in an internet forum and have viewed others being called out for saying and doing things that one would not consider to be “feminist”? Now, while there are certainly statements and actions that can be considered to be anti-feminist, we should always consider where we are basing our arguments from. Are they from a place of logic? Or can they attributed to the same misogynistic rhetoric that feminists are attempting to remove from the conversation?

The same lines that are used to “other” individuals who do not stay within the bounds of expected cultural and societal norms are seeming to be applied to the choices Kim Kardashian has made over the past couple of years. Kim Kardashian makes money and is famous despite a perceived lack of talent, she divorced her husband after 72 days AND she’s not married to the father of their child? Stop the presses. She’s not one of us. Let the shaming proceed. Perhaps that line of reasoning is too simplistic however on the long list of female celebrities who have been pregnant in recent memory, how many can you name that have been publically compared to Shamu the Whale?

Who Wore It Better? Kim Kardashian vs Shamu.

Kim Kardashian is not a traditional role model in the traditional sense of the phrase. But her public shaming should be a call for feminists everywhere that we can not pick and choose who we want to advocate for based on the lifestyle choices they make. It is a reminder that ignoring the oppressed only invokes the same voice of the oppressor.

5 Responses to “kim k and respectability politics”

  1. Sarah

    This definitely needed to be said. The things being said about Kim Kardashian are horrible. Whether or not she is a feminist, it’s an issue for all women who don’t want their bodies to be treated that way. Thanks for drawing attention to this disgraceful body shaming.

    • Janan

      Exactly. I think Gloria Steinem said it best when she said: “Our bodies are never public property under any circumstance. ” Celebrity or not, no one deserves that sort of treatment.

  2. Roseanna

    Thank you, this is great. I think a discussion about “othering” people who are trying to enter the feminist world and discussion spaces is also warranted.

  3. Rueben

    Excellent web site. Plenty of helpful information here.
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