Why the Kardashians deserve our respect

respect the kardashians

Kim Kardashian has broken the Internet again. On Monday, the reality star posted a totally nude picture of herself with the offhand caption “When you’re like I have nothing to wear LOL”. Predictably, the world responded with a collective eye roll and the synchronised shout of “You’re a mother, Kim”.

But I disagree. Ignoring for a moment the fact that telling mothers they can’t be sexual plays a little too strongly into the “Madonna/whore” dichotomy that we really should be done with by now, I was already in Kim’s corner. I think Kim (and her whole family) deserves a little more respect.

The Kardashians are the family that everybody loves to hate. The words “trash”, “nobodies”, “worthless” are the ones I most often hear in relation to these women — which doesn’t quite explain the hundreds of millions of dollars we’ve poured into their bank accounts. In the eyes of many people I know, they’re famous for “doing nothing”. But I see it a little differently. What if these women are famous for revolutionising the relationship between female bodies and the public gaze? That’s no minor task.

The only people who hate the Kardashians more than the women I know are the men I know — and this is proof enough for me. My male friends scoff at Kim and her clan for showcasing their bodies, but these same men loved the ‘Blurred Lines’ music video, in which naked women were paraded around as background decoration. These same men declare that Kanye West degraded himself by marrying Kim, and then go back to listening to West’s music, in which women are “bitches” who owe him sex. These same men most likely watch or have watched porn, and that porn most likely depicted non-consensual sex, as the vast majority of porn is thought to show. (It’s hard to find exact statistics on porn, as there’s just so damned much of it.)

So we know they have no problem looking at nude, sexualised women. They just prefer it if men put them there. Everybody’s big problem with the Kardashians is that they’ve put themselves front and centre in the male gaze — and made a ton of money from it.

In 2014, hackers obtained and released almost 500 private celebrity pictures — mainly of women, and mostly containing nudity. The pictures, which were splashed all over the Internet, had been taken by women such as Jennifer Lawrence, Kate Upton, and Kaley Cuoco, for their own private use. And yet this horrible invasion of privacy was rationalised by so many people with one damning statement: “They should never have taken them”. No matter whether the pictures were taken for romantic partners or for a private confidence boost of their own, these women, who spend much of their lives dodging the invasive eye of the paparazzi, were judged for having the nerve to frame themselves in a picture. They shouldn’t have taken them — but we’re allowed to look at them.

So when, on Tuesday morning, Kim Kardashian responded to the backlash with a simple picture of a love heart containing the words “send nudes” — it felt pretty empowering to me. Because sending nudes isn’t about being objectified by a public gaze; it’s about taking control of your body, and choosing how and when you present it.

There’s an art project I’ve seen cropping up a few times around the Internet in which iPhones are Photoshopped into the hands of famous paintings and statues. The joke, of course, is that it makes these women look vain; it makes them look like selfie-taking celebrities. It makes them look, in other words, like the Kardashians.

But why is that so funny? Those paintings and statues were created by men. The women were merely objects of a public gaze — and the male artists walked off with the cheque. Hundreds of years of art show us that this was the case, until one day a few women stood up, asked themselves, “Hang on, if our bodies really are so beautiful and worth so much money, why don’t we use them ourselves?” — and then snapped a quick selfie. We call those women the Kardashians.

So are the Kardashians good role models? Well, I’m not a huge fan of their flashy celebrity lifestyles. I’d like to see them spend some of their millions on charity rather than yet another expensive house. And of course, they’re never going to single-handedly fight the patriarchy. But why are we asking them to? I want to see women kicking ass in every area. We know that we need more women in STEM roles. We need to see more female CEOs; we need to see female athletes being taken more seriously. We need to see female role models in every field before we can ever honestly tell our daughters there’s no glass ceiling. But we also need to see women in control of their own bodies and sexualities.

And are the Kardashians good role models for that? Hell yes.