As the furore about naked selfies dies down, a cynical Carolyn Moore says the tenets of modern feminism need to remain in the foreground
STRIPPING the power from empowerment Feminism is a funny old thing. A bit like being an artist, it’s not a club you’re invited to join or expelled from if you break the rules. If someone declares themselves an artist, we accept them as an artist. We can dislike what they create, we can disagree with their definition of art, but if they self-identify as an artist we cannot tell them they’re not.
It’s kind of the same with feminism, but when it comes to art, the rule is: there are no rules. With feminism though, the rule is: there are so many rules; they change all the time; and trying to be a thoughtful participant in online feminist discourse can feel like navigating a minefield of accusations, contradictions, and the ubiquitous modern phenomenon of shame.
In an era where our online activity increasingly makes the news, you would struggle to cite a recent viral news story that doesn’t have shaming at its core.
This mum was “shamed” for her post-baby body, that dog was “shamed” for eating someone’s birthday cake, and Kim Kardashian was “shamed” for her naked selfie. But for shame to be a force of oppression, the victim has to feel ashamed, and the thing about Kim Kardashian is that she’s actually shameless.
From the sham marriage that netted her millions, to the sham infertility struggles that made a compelling story arc for her TV show, she has built an empire on it. And more power to her. Her ability and willingness to commodify every aspect of her being have propelled her to fame and fortune, and she has attained a level of social influence that is unparalleled in modern times, and would have been inconceivable in times past.
She might be a feminist, but as someone who is shaping our culture, the fact that Kim uses her influence for nothing worthier than her own self-promotion makes her, to me, deeply objectionable. So it was jarring to wake up one day and find the internet had anointed her a feminist icon.
On International Women’s Day — the day after she made headlines with a naked selfie (and the day after a 15-year-old Indian girl was raped and set on fire) — Kim dominated the news cycle by declaring in an open letter on her site: “I am allowed to be sexy.” A cursory glance at the pop culture landscape of the last decade would suggest nobody has been curtailing Kim Kardashian’s right to be sexy, but she explained:
“I am empowered by my body. I am empowered by my sexuality. I am empowered by feeling comfortable in my skin. I am empowered by showing the world my flaws,” she added, and despite every image on her Instagram feed showing a vision of contoured, preened, plastic perfection unattainable to most, the implication was that Kim’s naked body could be empowering to all women.
And to some it will be, but for many others the path to empowerment does not lie in a sexy selfie. Studies show the opposite in fact, that girls are not empowered by the hours they spend trying to achieve Instagram-worthy perfection, they are debilitated by it. And those girls aren’t profiting from their online presence the way Kim is.
With top tier Instagram users like Kim commanding up to $200k per post, it’s no wonder every celebrity with a camera phone is seeking to reposition themselves as a social influencer. And they know the more traction their posts get, the more they stand to gain from it, so in a saturated market, what gets traction for a sexy selfie? It’s simple… shame.
This is why Hilaria Baldwin doesn’t post a sexy pregnancy pic and caption it “I am one hot pregnant lady!” (which she is, and there’s nothing wrong with using Instagram to boost your self esteem by fishing for compliments); instead she says she’s showing “that we don’t need to be ashamed or hide the pregnant figure.” And suddenly it’s news.
When Kim Kardashian, who has never shown any interest in empowering any woman but herself, states that sexy selfies are empowering, and enough is enough with “the body-shaming and slut-shaming”, suddenly it’s news. And this cynical feminist is calling fowl.
I’m all for women loving and celebrating their bodies; maybe a sexy selfie would be empowering for you, try it and see! But I’m not for allowing attention-hungry celebrities to co-opt a core tenet of feminism and use it as a tool for self-promotion; to promote a simplistic, photogenic version of empowerment, and — like shame before it — strip the word of its nuance and, ironically, its power; to turn it into just another meaningless, overused hashtag.
Not everyone is Kim Kardashian. Not everyone looks that way, acts that way, or lives that way, and her version of empowerment is just that, HER version. If we allow her to commodify empowerment and sell her version of it back to us, that’s exactly what she’ll do, and too many women around the world await a more meaningful version of empowerment for us to let that happen.
It was jarring to wake up one day and find the internet had anointed Kim Kardashian a feminist icon
© Irish Examiner Ltd. All rights reserved