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Feminspire | April 21, 2014

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Kim K: Overlooked Face of Feminism?

Kim K: Overlooked Face of Feminism?

| On 25, Jul 2013

Throughout history, women have been regarded as housekeepers, sex symbols, and more recently as equals in intellect and appearance. From Helen of Troy to Kim Kardashian, women have been constantly defining their roles and powers in a patriarchal society. Yet what exactly has given them the power? What exactly has given Helen and Kim the power to decide or make decisions for themselves? My answer: the Gaultier concept.

Two years ago, Gaultier came to our city to exhibit his runway collections at our local museum. Rather than remembering his journey from the “Sidewalk to the Catwalk,” what I remember was written in small cursive print hidden from the stark white lights behind the models. Although I cannot remember the exact words, I can still recall he defined the corset as a device for freedom from oppression. Liberation. A device that was envisioned by many as a symbol of a constricted past, he viewed as a contraption that freed the boundaries and limitations of a prior era.

This concept has bothered me continuously. How can a device that hurt women be seen as a sign of liberation? It seemed to be a paradox, a contradiction that continuously reminded us of inequality and repression. And then I saw this picture:

Kim Kardashian

At the Glamour Women of the Year Awards, Kim Kardashian was strutting her voluptuous curves in an effort to make an impact on the audience. And she did make an impact. In fact, she has impressed and confounded us. Sex symbol. Feminist. What exactly has she become in our eyes? Glorifying sex and scandals, Kim Kardashian has not been one to shy away from the camera. We laugh and insult her. Insult her for her camera readiness, her overly done face, her propensity to fall under the public’s eye, and her sexiness.

Her dedication to marketing her body and gaining thousands of endorsements confuse our interpretation of equality in America. How can a woman that uses her “stupidity” and a negatively perceived show earn one of the highest salaries of the year? How can our culture and media be addicted to following her every move, laughing at her trivial concerns? We blame America’s lack of interest in intelligent media these days, but I think it is more complicated than that. She has become our modern day Helen. Our modern day retelling of the “face that launched a thousand” cameras


Before I can discuss her power in greater detail, let us look at Helen. The Greek sex symbol. She was the daughter of Zeus and Leda, a demi-god in the world of the Greeks. The name itself brings a sense of disdain for those who have read The Odyssey and The Illiad. In The Trojan Women by Euripides, she was seen as the desperate woman who Menelaus eventually does not kill despite the protests of the angered populace.Through her begging for mercy and promises of sexual favors, she convinced Menelaus she was worth the trouble she had apparently brought through the Trojan War. In The Odyssey, she is remarked on for being lofty and apathetic towards the troubles of others. When Telemachus, the son of the revered voyageur, visits Sparta, he comments about the blissful selfish life that Helen leads, and her superficial regret toward her involvement in the Trojan War.

Before you ask me the relevance of Helen and her supposed inferiority toward the men who rule her life, I ask you two questions: First, who are the authors of these plays? And second, is she not powerful indeed? The first question can be answered very simply. Men. Euripides and Homer have been depicted through various historical records and statues as men. Thus, their interpretation of a woman who has the capability to direct their lives is highly biased. In Greek society, women were meant to stabilize the household rather than disrupt it. Yet that does not mean their opinions are not valid. If we dig deeper, we can understand the power that Helen truly held.

If power was determined by survival, is she not powerful? Although she falls under the mercy of a man at all times (her father, Menelaus, Paris), her power to constantly control the situation truly shows how much strength she possessed. She created an illusion of weakness as a method to make her own decisions, or lead others to the same conclusions. It is the ultimate deception and she is the perfect example of the Gaultier concept – the corset. Seen as constantly weak, Helen’s beauty ultimately led her to command the environment and patriarchal society she lived in. Who exactly is in power in this situation? Is it the man who outwardly voices his decisions, or the woman who secretly makes the decision for him? Would that not be considered feminism?

In our eyes, Kim Kardashian has become Helen. From her choice to publicize a sex scandal to her display as a sex symbol, she has exemplified the Gaultier corset. Her intellect, similar to Helen’s, is exemplified through the multitudes of endorsements and the success of her reality television show. Although we constantly disregard her intelligence and blame the American consumer society as reason for her rise to fame, she does play a role in this scenario. She marketed herself to fit the needs of the consumer society.


She made the decisions to endorse herself in such a way that we do insult her, yet also read about her newest “fiasco.” Her need to be in the spotlight is not just a one way street. It is a complex relationship, in which she has used the constricting yards of cable television to free herself and survive.

Snooki arguably did not achieve the same viability that Kim achieved in the past four years. Why? It is because of her ability to survive and mold to the environment she lives in. By portraying herself as the bedside fantasy haunting the sleep of mankind, she exemplified the liberties that she can take in this society to achieve her goals and survive. She chose to wear these corsets rather than be forced to wear it. It is the ultimate contradiction and the fundamental example of the Gaultier concept.

Although some might argue Kim is a thwarter to the feminist movement, I believe that she has exemplified a different mode of feminism. A feminism that is not criticized as being an overzealous method of attack by battalions, but rather a feminism that is defined by physical and intellectual presence. It has reinvented feminism to be a complex kaleidoscope rather than the movement brought on by Pankhurst and other militant feminists. Due to the society that has changed its norm of seeing women as symbols as human beings, we are allowed to view these individuals as having different perspectives of feminism. Even though all might not agree with each other, I believe that these differing outlooks have provided a broader context and individuality that feminism in earlier years did not strike.

Without a doubt, Kim Kardashian and Helen of Troy have changed societal perceptions of what power is and what it means to the beholder. Helen saw it as her ability to entice the men of her life, and Kim, the cameras that shined upon her. They used Gaultier’s concept as a modicum of feminism and invented a new ideal. By redefining the meaning of power, they have greyed the meaning of the word feminism. Rather than constraining themselves to the word, I believe they have truly liberated it. An irony that might be more evident in the upcoming future filled with ratings-based television and garish displays of communication.

Written by Suchi Sundaram

  • Maria

    I noticed how you said “Who exactly is in power in this situation? Is it the man who outwardly voices his decisions or the woman who secretly makes the decision for him? Would that not be considered feminism?” but isn’t the whole point of Feminism that women shouldn’t have to “secretly make decisions” for the man? That her opinion doesn’t need to be spoken by a man to be taken seriously? I overall agree with your article though and really like it :) x

  • no.


  • Dulce

    That’s not feminism…..its capitalism!

  • E.

    I get what you are trying to say…but I don’t think Kim is the modern face of feminism.

  • Layla

    “She made the decisions to endorse herself in such a way that we do insult her”–Yeah I don’t know what self respecting women would choose to do that.
    I don’t agree with anything written in this post, it’s quite absurd really. Escorts also earn high salaries by taking control of their sexuality–not feminist. Same with kim, capitalising on women’s insecurities and men’s sexual desires–not feminist.

  • camilla

    This article was a great read! I’m a young woman who has come to adore Kim Kardashian and to really respect the empire that she has created for herself, with the help of her mother and her family. Women don’t realize that by condemning this woman for having sex with her boyfriend (which most women do), for having this tape leaked and exposed, and for doing her best to survive that embarrassment and make the best of a bad situation, they are enforcing the status quo and the double standard and also PUTTING that judgement on themselves. It’s like a modern version of The Scarlet Letter. Instead of ridiculing her and calling her degrading names and using sexist terms like “slut” or “whore” (which abuses ALL women and affects ALL women whether you like it or not), and instead of letting our own insecurities, jealousy and envy to cloud our thoughts and minds when it comes to other more successful women, how about respecting this strong woman’s hustle? She’s come a long way, and if she can do it, we all can. It is inspiring to me to see how she made lemonade out of lemons. Women can be attractive, feminine, sexual, crazy, selfish, giving, plain, beautiful, glamorous, and a lot of other things and still represent an aspect of feminism.

    • luvskitties

      Intellectual presence? Kim? That’s the funniest thing I’ve ever heard! Putting the word “intellectual” and “Kim Kardashian” in the same sentence is an oxymoron!

    • Sophie Kuiper

      If she wants to release a sex tape, that’s her choice, and I’m not one of those sex-negative idiots who are calling her names for it. But I don’t believe she does anything at all to support the idea that women can become powerful through their own agency, rather than through having men give us things because they think we’re beautiful.

  • femi.del.

    This post makes me extremely sad and worried for the future of the world’s young women. This is just so wrong. Such a distorted idea of feminism. About 5 years ago I was a senior in high school. I was in my government class and a girl sitting next to me (who had recently changed her voice to be the same nasally, high-pitched, ‘aloof’ sounding voice we hear on every reality show – especially the Kardashians) claimed “Kim Kardashian is my hero.” Before letting my 18-year-old angst-y self get too heated, I calmly asked her ‘why?’ She answered, “I don’t know. I think she’s the most beautiful girl ever. And her butt is perfect.” I asked, “She’s your hero because she’s pretty?” After that question, this student thought for a moment, then answered, “She’s so rich just from being beautiful and not like… doing anything.” … So. Yeah. Please, Feminspire (which I have now quit following), PLEASE don’t keep telling young girls that bitching out your sisters on a reality show and filming yourself dorking a C-list celebrity means that you’re contributing to women’s empowerment. It’s just not true. Not matter how you try to spin it. Next time, just admit on your Twitter feed that ‘Keeping Up With the Kardashians’ is a guilty pleasure of yours. Don’t try to turn it into anything more than that. Please. PLEASE. Just don’t.

  • Sophie Kuiper

    This is the kind of “feminism” that my grandmother believes in. She thinks the entire feminist movement was a waste, because by trying to “be like men” and make our own decisions, we have wasted our “feminine power” of trying to influence men to make the decisions we want, of teaching children in the home, of controlling through emotional manipulation.

    She has successfully convinced me that yes, some women weilded the little power they were allowed with such finesse and brilliant skill that they were often able to effect the end results that they wanted. She — and you — have failed, however, in convincing me that having to go through men to get what we need is actually the better path.

    Whatever you think of Kim Kardashian as a person, whatever you think of her reasons for doing so, she is working within a system wherein power is gained only by appealing to the males who actually own the active power. By not challenging that system, she is being rewarded, but she is also supporting it and perpetuating it.

    Somehow I think you’d totally agree with my 86-year-old grandmother when she says — direct quote — “Being able to DO things isn’t the only power! Being able to make others FEEL things, now, that’s power.”

  • Amy

    Is this some kind of joke?

  • hornacek

    She is the modern face of whoring yourself out to make money without doing contributing anything to society.

    • Indymom

      Why is there a requirement that she give back to society? There are plenty of men who rake in the bucks without contributing to society. I can name 100 corporations off the top of my head that give exactly nothing back. I don’t think that makes you a bad person.

  • Indymom

    It looks like I’m fairly alone in this viewpoint, but I have to say, I give mad props to any women who have the talent to create a multimillion dollar business empire from the ground up and have their company become a household name (if having their company be a household name is their goal, that is). The criticism they face makes me sad. Sure, they’ve capitalized on their looks and their sexuality in a large way, but the way that I look at it, for eons, women have been held down by these things and I can’t say I blame a woman for using that system to her advantage. Maybe you could make an argument that seeing women in bikinis on the cover of tabloids sets a negative example and reinforces negative values, and for a woman to encourage that…but still, you can hardly blame a woman for taking advantage of the system that is already in place. Calling her a feminist role model? I’m not sure, but I’m open to the argument. But seriously, no one is dissing Zuckerberg for his business, which he basically stole. Or Gates, for doing the exact same thing. These women built a business honestly and have been crazy successful at it. I feel like we can give em a break.