Pop-Culture | Posted by Becka W on 09/21/2011

Hold On. Are The Kardashians Feminists?

The Kardashians

The Kardashians

I’m the first to admit it: I’ve got a soft spot for Keeping up with the Kardashians and all their spinoffs. Who can resist them? That’s right, you can’t. They’re irresistible. I was chatting on the phone earlier today with one of my best friends about who our favorite sister was (hint: Khloé), and as we were discussing recent nuptials it hit me: I think these ladies might be an interesting example of modern-day feminism.

Stick with me for a second. I know what you all are going to say: they’ve made all their money off of showing off their bodies and being sex symbols, they’re famous just for being famous and it often feels as though they feed completely into the shallow world of appearance as being the most important thing ever. But is that entirely their fault? It takes quite a force of willpower to be immune to all the messages society is throwing at us on a daily basis not only as human beings but also as women.

Kim is a little bit naïve, sure, but she doesn’t (from what we see on the show) beat herself up over her appearance very often. When Khloé and Kourtney have their doubts about how natural Kim’s behind is, she goes in for a butt x-ray and, once proven that it’s 100% real, rubs it up against her sisters in celebration. She’s self-conscious about herself like the rest of us – when she is diagnosed with psoriasis, she has no interest in going on photo shoots – but she isn’t afraid to have it put out there on television or for all of us to know her body and skin issues and insecurities. She doesn’t seem to care about keeping up some perfect façade. She also suggests moving in and buying a house together in New York with her now-fianceé, Kris Humphries (I know. So many K names.) before they were engaged. Her experience with her sex tape had no effect on how her family viewed her or loved her – they didn’t see her as a slut, but simply saw it as an unfortunate incident. She owns her sexuality and her past and tries to show us that there’s more to her than a sex tape.

Khloé is happily married to Lamar, who is a loving and caring husband that encourages her love of radio and her career when she goes to Miami, and doesn’t get jealous or mad when she flies between LA and Miami to take care of her business and do her radio show. Khloé openly discusses sex and love, and had her sister wax her bikini area on national television. She’s also been open about her body issues – discussing her struggle with her weight and size compared to her tiny and perfectly proportioned sisters. She’s tackling the body issues that all of us deal with and finding a way to be comfortable with herself without plastic surgery or extreme dieting.

Kourtney has had a long-lasting (although difficult at times) relationship with her partner Scott over the years, but she didn’t rush into marriage despite becoming pregnant and having her son Mason, despite her mother’s relentless requests. She is secure in her relationship and doesn’t feel the need to be defined by the social construct of marriage — indeed, sometimes it seems like theirs is one of the most normal relationships (although sometimes it’s the opposite). But Kourtney is a great mom to Mason, and has said that she’s going to do whatever is best for him. She’s a savvy business woman and is just as open with her sexuality as Khloé is. The episode where we see her and Scott try to go to CVS to buy lube? Hilarious.

Kris, the matriarch of the clan, is the manager for all of her kids’ careers and is very clearly the business woman of the family, leaving primary caretaker duties to her husband, Bruce. Bruce often rolls his eyes in a house full of girls, but he loves his family and is a great dad to Kendall and Kylie (and the rest of the Kardashian clan). Kris has her issues with growing older – like most women do – but she’s not afraid to show them on television (as Executive Producer, she decides what does and doesn’t go on the air – and she’s not afraid to air out her insecurities).

Look, I am definitely not saying that we should recruit the Kardashians to speak at the next feminist gathering or become experts on feminist topics. But what I am saying is we should point out the aspects of feminism that are apparent in icons that everyone is familiar with. So many people take these things for granted and see them as societal givens. But 50 years ago, the Kardashians could never live the way they do. It’s all thanks to the Feminist movement that they are who they are – and they embrace every benefit from it fully. The Kardashians are feminists, even if they’ll never let themselves say it. And isn’t that kind of interesting to think about?

Becka writes for her own blog, Becka Tells All, and is the creator of Couch Potatoes with a Cause: A Feminist TV Club

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  • Emma E @ at 3:41 pm, September 21st, 2011

    Hmm. Interesting perspective, but I can’t say I agree with it. I mean, your main point behind the Kardashians being feminists is that they’re not afraid to discuss sex or have their sexuality shown on national TV. But what about that is feminist? It’s kind of like saying that Snooki is helping feminism because she wears tight dresses and isn’t ashamed of it.

    However, I agree with your last point–the Kardashians could never act like that 50 years ago, and it’s a GOOD thing that that’s changed. Still, getting a bikini wax on television or building your empire on a sex tape isn’t being a feminist–it’s being trashy. I wouldn’t say the Kardashians are feminists–but I would say that they’re benefitting from the freedoms that women now have. The only problem is, are they taking it too far?

  • Kristen A @ at 5:03 pm, September 21st, 2011

    Emma, I would disagree with your analysis of Becka’s post. She also made excellent points about how each sister has faced struggles in their individual lives and come out stronger than before. Embracing their sexuality is certainly one of those things, but so are dealing with health issues, running a business and essentially being a single mother (not a fan of Scott!).

    Granted, we also cannot ignore the obvious invisible knapsack of fame, socioeconomic status and “whiteness” if you will (even though they are mixed ethnicity). Without their societal status overcoming obstacles would be much more difficult, and it’s important for us to remember that we need to observe examples of feminism in all walks of life.

  • Alexa @ at 10:39 pm, September 21st, 2011

    Very interesting point! I’m not totally sure if they’re feminists, but they definitely benefitted tremendously from the movement, especially Second-Wave. They wouldn’t be able to have their careers or their lifestyles without it.

  • K @ at 8:37 am, September 24th, 2011

    This just sounds like you’re trying to justify why you watch this kind of trash-tv. Reality tv is not real. These people are selling themselves, and you’re buying. There’s absolutely nothing feminist about that!
    Yes, they’ve benefitted from Feminism. But they’re not feminists, what they’re doing is just exercising the choices that have now become available to them.

  • Laura C. @ at 5:19 pm, September 24th, 2011

    WHAT?!?!?! are you serious??? the Kardashians as feminists? I dont think so

  • Vanessa M @ at 9:10 am, September 26th, 2011

    Agreed. I’m glad that the Kardashians aren’t… Well, “typical” girls, and that they’re not afraid of being called names when they discuss their sexuality.

    I don’t think that they’d be my perfect role model, though :P

  • Jenna @ at 10:49 am, October 10th, 2011

    I like the stretch on this.. but I cannot agree. The Kardashian women are very open and forward about what they think and have to say. Like mentioned earlier, they aren’t afraid to talk about their sex lives and relationships on television. But I do think they give in to the way the world is way too much. They are all over television, magazines, and the news for the stupidest things and get every penny they can. People want to watch what they are putting out there, and what they are putting out there is not feminist acts, its trashy, sexual, and inappropriate for television to be honest.

  • Patty @ at 12:36 am, October 11th, 2011

    Keeping up with the Kardashians is definitely not inappropriate for television. It was a really smart way for a family, which knew they were going to be in the spotlight for anything and everything, to tell their own story and not leave it in the hands of tabloids and magazines. I mostly agree with the fact that have created their own success and worked hard for a lot of it and generally have not been dependent on men. In their immediate family the women are the successful ones with jobs and houses and their brother Rob is the one who has to live with his sister and doesn’t have a job. In so many episodes their significant others talk about how the women of the family are in charge and that makes them feminists in that they are not playing out gender scripts that say men are in charge.

  • SpongebobBloggerpants @ at 1:07 am, February 24th, 2014

    Becka W: I appreciate your post for a number of reasons. The first being that you offer a different perspective of a group of women universally known as reality television stars that are “famous for being famous.” The Kardashians, however, use their fame to implicitly challenge society’s understanding of gender roles, body image, sex, and marriage. I am not sure if I would consider any of the Kardashians “feminist,” but then again, the word means something different to everyone and I really despise labels in the first place. I think they are remarkably brave, smart, and entertaining. Thanks for questioning the widely accepted view that these women are brainless, appearance-obsessed, reality TV stars. Because, they can be viewed as so much more than that if people just dig a bit deeper.

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