author – activist – faculty – mom
When Kim Kardashian-West was robbed in Paris at gunpoint, I did what I always do with Kim Kardashian: I ignored her. But then I came across Jill Filipovic’s Bazaar article, Why Every Woman Should Be Mad That People Are Treating Kim Kardashian’s Holdup Like a Joke. Filipovic’s article was the first time I learned that Kardashian was abducted, bound, gagged, and terrified during the ordeal with five men posing as police officers, where “she reportedly begged for her life.” Further, Filipovic makes some great arguments about the casual acceptance of violence against women, as well as the problematic responses of support that identify Kardashian as worthy of concern because (quoting someone on Twitter) “she’s a mother,a daughter, a wife, a friend.” This is the heart of Filipovic’s argument: “This view of women—that our value is relational, that our bodies are public—is the undercurrent of so many of the more terrible things we endure.” Kardashian is a human being, and not a sex object or an appendage to others. Filipovic breaks it down further: “we think of famous women as walking, talking Barbie dolls, not as whole people who breathe, eat, and get really scared when you point a gun in their face.” Filipovic also connects this incident to other incidents of less terrifying but more sexualized violence that Kardashian has experienced, along with other celebrities.
I heartily agree with Filipovic’s point here, but there’s something missing from the argument that I would like to add, giving it another layer of intersectional feminist dimension. Filipovic doesn’t engage the issue of class. The jewelry stolen is reportedly worth $11 million. Some media outlets argue that it’s worth maybe half that much. Filipovic argues that “Kardashian is famous for being famous,” but that misses the implicit class issue embedded in Kardashian’s fame. She’s famous for being rich and famous. Without the rich, there would be no famous. The public’s initial interest and curiosity about her was tied to the classism of our society that identifies wealthy people as inherently interesting, worthy of notice and attention. Kardashian’s fame could only have blossomed in the context of this cultural fascination with the wealthy. Kardashian is connected to famous athletes, attorneys, and she came to notice as the friend and stylist of heiress Paris Hilton, the original young woman who is famous for being rich and famous.
I would never excuse or justify the terrorizing of a woman. I do not condone the actions of the thieves. However, I write heist fiction, and the protagonists of my novels are women who rob rich and unscrupulous men. The gender dynamic is completely flipped, and quite intentionally so. My protagonist is a safecracker who mostly burgles her victims–robs their houses when they’re not home. Only in the big heists do they contemplate using guns, and they only use violence in self-defense. As a novelist, it’s easy to make everything far more morally tidy than real life. But my motivations are based in real life: I justify my characters’ criminal behavior overall with my sense of outrage at income inequality and the ways in which the excesses of the wealthy are totally out of control.
Kardashian, gender notwithstanding, is part of that excess. I don’t want her or any woman to be mistreated. But this dimension of class is a definite barrier to my ability to empathize with her. $11 million in jewelry she just happens to be wearing? Maybe it’s only worth half of that? I can’t empathize with that experience at either price. So when Filipovic tells me “Every Woman Should Be Mad That People Are Treating Kim Kardashian’s Holdup Like a Joke,” I must admit that the class dynamics act as a barrier to empathy for me. Because less privileged women are brutalized every day, without the least bit of media attention. Because wealthy women expect to be exempt from that brutal treatment. Because wealthy women often support and benefit from in the violence their class imposes on most women in the world.
In contrast, the other type of mistreatment that Filipovic mentioned–sexual harassment/assault–was much easier for me to empathize with. I’ve been targeted for both because I’m female. But I can’t empathize with being targeted because I’m wearing what appears to be $11 million in jewelry. That is to say, I have mixed feelings when I hear about her ordeal. Woman to woman I feel empathy for her feelings of terror and helplessness. But ordinary person to person who is rich and famous for being rich and famous, I feel rage, envy, and contempt. These feelings aren’t really about Kardashian herself, but rather the classist, sexist, objectifying media that she has learned to work to her advantage. Which means that I need to make a decision to empathize with Kardashian on the basis of gender. And I do. Filipovic is right that all women, regardless of class, dismiss Kardashian’s ordeal to our own detriment. But I have to acknowledge that the class dimension as an obstacle to empathy, even as I’m committed to getting there. For me, being a feminist, means that I am committed to solidarity with all women, particularly in our vulnerabilities around gender. And being an intersectional feminist means that I also acknowledge the identities and oppressions other than gender that are also operating, thereby complicating any simple feminist moment. Including this one.