On Sunday night, while staying in a rented apartment in Paris during Paris Fashion Week, Kim Kardashian West was robbed by two armed men who bound and gagged her before placing her in the bathtub and stealing $10 million worth of jewellery. As is to be expected in the case of a celebrity whose fame revolves so much around social media, there has been a huge level of reaction to the incident on Twitter and other platforms.
Disturbingly, a significant amount of this has been overwhelmingly directed against Kardashian West, with comments ranging from aggressive displays of indifference, to rape jokes, to hope that such an attack would be repeated. The consensus from a number of internet commentators, journalists and other celebrities was that, for one reason or another, she is to blame for what happened to her. Rather than condemning the individuals who actually committed the crime, it seems there are all too many people who are content to use the attack as ammunition against one of today’s most polarising public figures.
“the reaction both on social media and in traditional media outlets smacks of undeniable, disgusting sexism”
More than anything else, the reaction both on social media and in traditional media outlets smacks of undeniable, disgusting sexism. Tweets directed at Kardashian West told her that she deserved to be robbed, because she’s a “slutty cunt” who needs to cover up. Others told her that the fact that she and her family are corrupt, and the fact that she wasn’t raped is both surprising and disappointing. She was told that what happened to her was her fault, that because she initially rose to fame through a leaked sex tape she deserves to be raped and killed. In the wake of being held up at gunpoint, Kim Kardashian West was told that she should have been shot.
Where is the progress?
I’m not naïve enough to think that sexism is fading away as fast as we’d like to think it is, and this whole event clearly shows that it’s not. It’s painfully evident that insatiable slut-shaming is something that is still incredibly widespread. Long since a controversial figure for the sex tape that led to her initial rise to fame, Kardashian West has continued to attract abuse from internet trolls and journalists alike who think that her naked selfies and low-cut dresses actually make her a lesser person. The past few days have shown quite clearly that women still cannot take ownership over their own bodies without being shamed or threatened for it. Kardashian West has been labelled a whore and a slut for her lifestyle, which apparently means that she deserves to have her basic human rights violated.
At what point is society finally going to move past the stage where women are devalued for their dress and their sexual conduct? How many more times will we be told to cover up, that we’re bringing shame on ourselves, that we won’t be respected if we keep sleeping around? All of these threats tweeted at Kim are the product of a society that continues to equate women’s value with our “respectability,” with the extent to which we obey the norms that the patriarchy has set out for us. Once we stray away from that, anything that happens to us is on our own heads. Our choice is to settle for sexist behavioural restrictions, to limit the way we live our lives, or renounce any right to feel safe and deserving of respect. That is what lies behind all of these calls for Kardashian West to be raped or killed – the sense that a woman who has been known to be sexually promiscuous or prone to dressing immodestly deserves to be degraded and punished.
The difference between liking and respecting someone
Another force that seems to be at work here is the idea that a woman that you don’t like is not deserving of respect. Up until this week I have expended very little time thinking about Kim Kardashian West, but I am aware of a lot of the reasons that she is so heavily criticised. I’m totally open to hearing criticism of her, be it for the nature of her career, her ostentatious displays of wealth, or the ways in which she promotes feminism.
What I’m failing to understand is why, just because people disagree with Kardashian West, they feel justified in telling her that she deserves to die. She has never directly harmed anyone in doing what she does, and yet because of how she earns her living she is seemingly fair game for heinous threats and insults. I will never be accepting of the idea that someone who is harmlessly living their life deserves to be violated in the manner that so many people are now wishing that she had been.
Moreover, given the gendered nature of so many of these threats, I’m struggling to believe that had a man been in her position, there would have been quite so many references to sexual violence in those tweets. Again, it all points to a horrific trend of normalising violence against women, and justifying it on the basis that we don’t like how they conduct themselves.
“Even if you accept none of the arguments about a wider culture of sexism and victim blaming, on a very fundamental level all of this backlash is quite simply a horrible way to treat another person”
Apart from simple sexism, the other underlying theme that links all of these criticisms together is a staggering tendency for victim blaming that continues to be such a huge part of our culture. It’s the same logic that asks rape victims what they were wearing, and that tells women in short skirts that they deserve to be catcalled. Rather than blaming the people with the guns in their hands, the internet and the media are looking to the victim for an explanation of why this happened.
According to so many commentators, it was not the two men breaking the law that caused anything that happened that night, but a sex tape and some side-boob. When we look at crimes in this way, not only do we augment the suffering of the victim by putting them under unfair scrutiny, but we totally ignore the real problems that led to them happening in the first place. Instead of telling the Kardashians to quit social media, why are we not challenging the idea that a woman who displays her body and her life in public is no longer entitled to any ownership over them?
Everything that has been said here so far has painted this attack as part of a bigger picture, as a symptom of persistent societal misogyny. It’s important to remember though, that at the centre of this was a woman who was violently robbed while fearing for her life. In the wake of this massive trauma, she was told that she was at fault, that she deserved everything that had happened to her and more. Even if you accept none of the arguments about a wider culture of sexism and victim blaming, on a very fundamental level all of this backlash is quite simply a horrible way to treat another person. It is completely vile and infuriating that there are so many people who are willing to talk so viciously and degradingly about anyone, regardless of whether or not they are a wife, a sister, or a mother. At the end of the day, Kim Kardashian West is a person who has the right to not be attacked.
In the midst of seemingly every other news site asking whether or not this is going to prompt a massive change in the way she lives her life, at what point do we stop and ask if we are the ones who should be changing?