From Sophia Loren to Cardi B, being a female sex object in our culture is both a blessing and a curse. You may be a babe, but it likely follows you’re a bit of a bimbo.
By now, you’ve probably seen the New York Post cover about Kim Kardashian’s meeting with President Trump to discuss prison reform. The cover mentioned Kim’s derrière not one, not two, but three times in big bold fonts: “TRUMP MEETS RUMP,” “THE OTHER BIG ASS SUMMIT,” and the slightly more imaginative, “Kim Thong Un pitches prez on prison reform.”
A little box to the lower left told readers a bit more about the actual purpose of the meeting: “Reality start meets reality president in the Oval Office Yesterday when Kim Kardashian lobbied president Trump to pardon a 63-year-old first-time drug offender.”
Some people were quick to call out the objectively sexist coverage – others not-so-quick: “The New York Post covers for those were probably just as brutal. :),” commented a friend of mine when I posted about the hypocritical sexist coverage of Kim’s celebrity advocacy versus that of past (male) celebs.
Other comments online ranged from the subtly sexist:
To the blatant:
And lest we think it was just “dudebros” coming for Kim, plenty of women stepped up to cut her down via some pretty gross sexism:
The sentiment reflected in those last two comments is probably why Kim decided to show up in a somber black neck-to-forearms outfit. As the New Yorker put it, “If clothes could speak, hers would have surely said, “Do NOT look at me; do NOT touch me.” But I digress …
Point is, there are some really legit critiques out there of Kim Kardashian’s meeting with Trump. Why her? What’s her expertise? I mean, the woman is a reality TV star best known for her body. I get it.
But I don’t.
As this New Yorker piece points out, celebs have been honored-guest-ing since Truman put Lauren Bacall atop a piano. Marylin and Kennedy, Elvis and Nixon, Bill and Arsenio (OK, that one’s a switcheroo). The White House has a long history of fraternizing with what conservatives like to refer to as “Hollywood elites” – number 44’s presidency being no exception (dude broke records).
Normally, celebrity advocacy is met with resounding applause – I mean, how cool for someone so rich and famous to care about poor children in Africa? Bono wasn’t personally affected by the AIDS crisis, yet he’s been called “one of the world’s greatest leaders” for his advocacy work. Matt Damon of course isn’t personally affected by clean water shortages, but we respect his efforts all the same (unlike his tired white-savior films). And lest we think the accolades gendered, there’s a whole list of females celebs – from Beyoncé to Angelina Jolie – who we collectively praise for their selflessness in shedding light on worthy causes.
So what makes Kim’s advocacy so different? According to Mic, Kim got involved in prison reform when she read about Alice Johnson’s story on twitter: “I don’t have a personal experience with prison myself, but I believe in family, and her family was torn apart by choices that she made 21 and a half years ago.”
Kim also got her personal lawyer involved last year in Cyntoia Brown’s case – a young woman spending life behind bars for killing a man she was “pimped out to” (to be raped) when she was only 16.
Given all this, I can’t help but to feel the critiques of Kim are informed in no small part by our ideas of how a respectable woman should look and behave.
Let’s be real, Kim’s known for her ass. She’s known for her body. For being a sex symbol – perhaps THEE sex symbol of our time. But what does that have to do with her humanity or her intelligence? It’s like women can’t have brains and butt. Like the advice Will Smith reportedly gave to his daughter Willow: “He was so happy that, you know, I wasn’t curvy, because guys look at girls,” Willow explained in a recent segment of her and her mom’s Red Table Talk: “He said that dudes look at the mind of a skinny girl before they look at their body.”
Shit breaks my heart.
The more feminine a woman is, the less strong she is seen as. The more sexy a woman is, the less intelligent she is seen as. From Sophia Loren to Cardi B, being a female sex object in our culture is both a blessing and a curse. You may be a babe, but it likely follows you’re a bit of a bimbo.
Kim is allowed to care about prison reform. She’s allowed to use her immense power and privilege as, yes, a reality TV star with a big arse to advocate for those caught up in the cycle of poverty and predatory racism. We can speculate all day as to why Kim is doing what she is doing but, at the end of the day, what she is doing is good. It’s important. And it may change things.
Jessica Schreindl is a nonprofit manager and freelance writer in Seattle, Washington. Her work has been featured by The Establishment, Medium, Mic, Ravishly, HuffPost, and Feministing. She graduated with her M.A. from Syracuse University where she studied film history and documentary filmmaking.