In the age of sexual freedom, girls supporting girls, and #MeToo, are the Kardashians still the feminist’s nightmare that they once were? When the show began back in 2007, they were seen as patriarchal pawns who worked against the progression of women’s liberation, but in 2020, we are all about women’s ownership of their bodies. And I wonder if we’re now allowed to be fans of Keeping Up With the Kardashians and feminists all at once.
Let’s begin at the beginning: the sex tape. When it leaked in 2007, the world came together to leer at Kim, and feminists brandished her a slut – Easy A style. Back then, feminist agenda meant ostracising anyone who played into the sexual hand of the patriarchy, and Kim Kardashian became public enemy number one. Nobody seemed to support the abuse of sexual freedom and privacy; she was the victim of a patriarchal attack, and deserved the support of other women, but she was spurned instead. Enter Kris Jenner. Kim’s sex tape was leaked in March, and by October, Kris had secured a reality TV show on E! following not only Kim, but her entire family. This incredible stroke of business savvy saw Kris Jenner single-handedly secured the billion-dollar Kar-Jenner empire. Taking back control, Kris turned a gossip story into a money-printing machine that would catapult the Kardashian sisters’ boutique DASH to national success, launch the modelling career of Kendall Jenner, and chart the rise of Kylie Jenner to Forbes’ youngest ever billionaire. This show, now in its 18th season, turned 6 women into household names with millions of social media followers. Kris Jenner is a business icon for the ages, and should be celebrated amongst women accordingly.
The biggest issue some women still have with the Kardashian clan is the example they set for young people, especially girls. Is it healthy to show the next generation that beauty comes first, and that simply with beauty alone (hardly a universal commodity, given the thousands of dollars they spend on beauty treatments and world-famous stylists) anybody can become a billionaire? The privilege that the Kardashians, and especially the Jenners, who grew up in the wealthy household of Kardashian success, have always enjoyed leaves them in an extremely advantaged position, and it is a fair criticism to make that this privilege is rarely acknowledged. Watching the show, it is so easy to get lost in their world of Mugler and Balmain, and of Kylie Cosmetics and KKW Beauty. These women have always been financially privileged, and their social media following means that whatever the quality of the products they release (which comes under fire at almost every product launch), they will sell, and they will sell by the thousands. When young people watch KUWTK, it may seem like all we need is a dream to become a billionaire, but what we’re missing is the million-dollar starting fund and the 10 million Instagram followers.
Additionally, let’s not forget the teachings of Jameela Jamil. Even I, a staunch defender of the Kardashians, can’t defend their peddling weight-loss and quick-fix beauty products on Instagram. These detox teas are glammed-up laxatives that the Kardashians wouldn’t touch themselves, but they are happy to sell them to their masses of Instagram followers. Surely, in all of their own business projects and magazine covers, they don’t need the money that badly. They are all multi-millionaires, with multiple businesses and jobs; they do not need the same pay cheque as washed up Love Islanders, and I find it distasteful at best that they happily lie to millions of young followers that beauty can be found in a milkshake kit, just for an extra bit of money in their pockets.
That being said, in terms of a positive example, I don’t think the Kardashians are always bad. In recent years, they’ve used their show as a platform for raiding awareness of important issues, such as the defunding of Planned Parenthood, the overuse of harmful chemicals in everyday productions, gun control, the cancer-causing nuclear site of Santa Susana Field Lab, and the homelessness crisis in the US. In amongst the vapid details of photoshoots and enormous salads, we see the Kardashians and Jenners explaining key crises, and taking tours of locations and interviews with experts, by which they, through the ever-present cameras, educate their viewership. And let’s not forget Caitlyn Jenner’s transition: they dedicated two episodes of KUWTK to exploring what it means to be transgender, and what it means to transition. The show gave credence to both Caitlyn and her family, each with feelings to process. Their relationship is far from perfect, but the high-profile family set a supportive example of trans acceptance and love that the world sorely needed. They have become increasingly aware of the power of their platform, and have begun to use it to educate the masses on important causes that they stand behind.
This is especially clear in Kim’s move towards humanitarian law. When Kourtney said ‘Kim there’s people that are dying’, none of us expected her to take it to heart quite like this! Since 2018, Kim has been studying law, and has, at the same time, been working with a high-profile law firm to help wrongfully convicted or sentenced convicts. In a recent episode of KUWTK, we have seen Kim save a wrongly convicted man from execution by a matter of days. That is a positive influence unlike any other in Hollywood. Not many reality stars can say that they are in the business of saving lives, but Kim has dedicated herself to those who deserve a second chance. What I find especially inspiring is that, in this turn towards seriousness, Kim has never abandoned her femininity. She might take a meeting about KKW Beauty in the morning, and visit a prison or meet with the US President in the afternoon. Kim has shown beyond all doubt that you can be feminine and beautiful whilst simultaneously being a serious humanitarian. She has shown the world that femininity and success are not mutually exclusive.
Nobody is arguing that the Kardashians are the perfect model for feminism. They need to choose their pay cheques more responsibly, or they taint their strong image as business-savvy humanitarians, but I do believe that there are positives that we can all take away from the family. The devil works hard, but Kris Jenner works harder, and what Kris Jenner does best is raise successful, intelligent woman who are ready to run the world.