Wednesday, October 24, 2012
So here’s the scenario a few weeks ago: I’m reading a smart, interesting, articulate and well-researched article by a female journalist about a significant topic to women. I wonder why this article doesn’t have many hits or comments, and I realise it will quickly be forgotten the next day. And then I click on the front page of a major news outlet and see Kim Kardashian slapped on a front-page article, exclaiming her gratitude at being called a ‘bitch’ by her boyfriend. This story receives many hits and comments, and is featured on the evening news for days and weeks. Not to mention the fact that a short time later, Kim Kardashian visits Australia to plug her wares and sell diet crap on our daily news shows. I then conclude: the culture of stupidity has taken over, when this woman, and others like her, are considered newsworthy.
But then, the guilt comes. I often feel a conflicted sense of outrage: I want to critically address what Kim Kardashian represents, but I also feel that in doing so, I’m participating in a hypocritical sexist culture that likes to blame women for living up to the superficial and limited ideals it sets up for them as definitions of ‘success’. So how do I talk about this in a constructive manner? This is what I’m about to attempt with this post.
Every time I get annoyed when I see Kim Kardashian on the news or in magazines, I try to remind myself that what really annoys me about her as a celebrity actually has to do with something beyond her as an individual. There’s a reason why the media loves her, why magazines love her and why consumer culture loves her: she represents a general trend offered to women on a mass scale in place of sustained critique and change. She represents the status quo, and a misleading idea of feminine ‘success’. To get annoyed with her as an individual person seems silly therefore, when there are bigger fish to fry.
Here’s why the media loves her. You’d have to be blind not to notice that magazines and the mass media like to cash in on the idea that feminism has been ‘surpassed’ and is no longer necessary or relevant. And to ‘confirm’ this idea of feminine success, every once in a while they throw a female celebrity in our face as an example of a woman who has ‘made it’. So her success is turned into our success; her ability to turn herself into a brand and an industry is held up as feminism’s modern irrelevance. It’s specious reasoning, yet it often works. It’s the equivalent of saying to a farmer in a drought season: ‘look, it rained today, we’re no longer in a drought!’ One measly rainy day in a season of drought does not mean the farmer is out of trouble.
Similarly, one example of a rich woman’s ‘success’ does not confirm a single thing other than the fact that capitalism and consumerism work for certain individuals. It has absolutely nothing to do with feminism or gender equality – it’s simply capitalism at work. To suggest that the financial success of an individual female celebrity is a realistic mirror to society and to the modern state of gender equality is quite frankly, stupid. Yet, we’re buying this myth on a grand scale. Just as I shouldn’t be annoyed with Kim Kardashian as an individual, we shouldn’t accept individual female celebrities’ stories as evidence of gender equality.
There’s also another side to this. Female celebrities’ success is often defined in conservative and sexist terms. They are conventionally beautiful, they often exploit the persona of the ‘dumb’ and harmless girl, and they represent a traditional idea of femininity. If they dare move beyond the parameters of conventional femininity, they are quickly punished by the mass media and public alike. They are either good girls or sluts, virgins or whores. They are not allowed to be psychologically complex human beings very often. So how on earth is this held up as feminism supposed ‘success’?
Yesterday, after reading a bunch of articles online about whether feminism is still ‘relevant’ to modern women, I tweeted in frustration: “All those ‘is feminism still relevant?’ articles on the net are cheap tricks. They need to be relegated to the crap pile of journalism. As long as we haven’t got equality, feminism is necessary. Full stop. Wasting time arguing whether it’s ‘relevant’ is derailing tactics.” We need to stop buying into this shit. And I need to keep reminding myself that Kim Kardashian as an individual isn’t the problem (even if I may not like her), it’s the stupid sexist culture that allows her brand of celebrity to flourish and exist that’s the problem. Writing out posts like this one helps me do so, and I hope others feel the same.
Above image is my own response to Who Needs Feminism.