Why Do We Care If Kim Kardashian Is a Feminist?
You heard it here first: Kim Kardashian West — the woman who said her biggest fears in life were stretch marks and women who don't use the right shade of foundation — does not consider herself a feminist.
In a blog post on her website Monday, Kardashian West wrote that while she identifies with the central tenets of feminism, such as gender equality and equal rights for all, she doesn't believe in putting "labels on things."
"It's not about he, she, gay, straight, black, white," she wrote. "The fight for equality is about ALL human beings being treated equally — regardless of gender, sexuality or ethnicity."
This isn't the first time Kardashian West has openly eschewed the feminist label. She conceded to Rolling Stone in July 2015 that while "I think you would call me a feminist," she's "never really been one on labels, and I don't like to push my view." And earlier this month, at the BlogHer conference in Los Angeles, Kardashian West reaffirmed her aversion to the term:
"Everyone always says, are you a feminist? And I don't think that I am. I don't like labels. I do what makes me happy and I want women to be confident and I'm so supportive of women. . . . But I'm not the 'free the nipple'-type girl."
For someone who says the word "Balmain" probably more than you've uttered your own name, Kardashian West's aversion to "labels" is somewhat surprising, to say the least. Yet the endless fixation with whether Kardashian West self-identifies as a feminist — a fixation that applies to a number of other prominent women who have also rejected the label, from Sarah Jessica Parker to Shailene Woodley — prompts two questions:
Even in 2016, why are women who so readily embrace the central tenets of feminism in their everyday lives (and have benefited from feminism professionally) so quick to reject the label when it's applied to them? Perhaps more interestingly: Why the fuck does it matter?
The first question is easier to answer: Women are reluctant to publicly self-identify as feminists because there's still a stigma attached to the term. Even in an era of sleek, uber-commodified pop feminism — where Beyoncé can proudly shimmy in front of a gleaming "feminist" sign, we still can't overcome tired stereotypes about ball-busting feminism.
Of course, the fact that the term "feminist" still conjures up an image of a lustrously arm-pitted woman taking a weed-whacker to some terrified man's penis says more about the patriarchy than it does about the state of contemporary feminism itself. Despite how far we've come in 2016, we have yet to dismantle a system that still prioritizes men's values over women's — regardless of how many cameos Hillary Clinton makes on Broad City.
As a result, women who embrace every aspect of gender equality in their daily lives are reluctant to put a name to their beliefs — even, in some cases, women who are ostensibly synonymous with modern-day feminism.
Take, for instance, Sex and the City's Parker. Arguably the godmother of a specific brand of hookup-happy millennial feminism, Parker insisted she doesn't view herself as a feminist in a recent interview with Marie Claire.
"I am not a feminist," she said. I don't think I qualify. I believe in women and I believe in equality, but I think there is so much that needs to be done that I don't even want to separate it anymore. I'm so tired of separation. I just want people to be treated equally."
Of course, Parker preceded this point of view by explicitly saying she supports the fight for equal pay and equal treatment — the cornerstones of the feminist movement if not the defining qualities of feminism itself. Parker believes having feminist ideals is different from actually being a feminist, a distinction that has sparked the ire of feminists on the web.
While Parker is of a generation that was more hesitant to embrace the feminist label, other young women, such as actresses Woodley and Kaley Cuoco, are not. As products of an era of Taylor Swift #SquadGoals and Beyoncé feminism as its own academic discipline, young millennial women have come of age during a time when being a feminist is considered, if not cool, at least ostensibly socially acceptable — and yet, both Woodley and Cuoco have openly eschewed the label, for the same reasons cited by Kardashian West and Parker.
"I do not want to be defined by one thing," Woodley said in March 2015 in an interview with Nylon. "Why do we have to have that label to divide us?"
It's that issue of "divisiveness" — of the idea that feminism serves as a barrier rather than a bridge — that stubbornly keeps popping up when famous women say they don't self-identify as feminists. The urge to distance oneself from a movement that's been labeled "divisive" stems from the same essential impulse as not wanting a guy you like to think you're "unchill": better to be a unifier than a divider, or to pretend there isn't even a division between the sexes in the first place.
And yet, even though we might be tempted to label women who don't consider themselves feminists as victims of "chill" culture — or, worse, traitors to our gender — it's crucial that we resist that urge. If feminism is about freedom of choice — and most of us can agree that to a certain extent, it is — then that freedom can come in many colors, shapes and forms. And one of the forms it comes in is not self-identifying as a feminist at all.
In some ways, this is a perverse type of progress — after all, the freedom to self-identify as a feminist or not is better than not having the freedom to identify as a feminist at all. Further, one of the wins of modern feminism is that women can now live explicitly feminist lives — make their own money, raise their own families, buy their own Plan B after a one-night stand — without having to wear their beliefs on their sleeves.
In a perfect world, all women who believe in equal pay and gender egalitarianism would self-identify as feminists, regardless of how frightening or "divisive" the term might be. In a perfect world, no one would be scared of pissing people off or alienating their fan base by calling themselves feminists at all.
But we don't live in a perfect world. We live in the midst of a gender equality revolution, and in any revolution, there are inevitably stragglers, people who are on the wrong side of history, or people who opt not to take a side at all. In retrospect, we may very well view Kardashian West and Parker in this light. But just because a few prominent players have opted to sit on the sidelines of battle doesn't mean the war is lost, or that they won't hop back on the field at some point and get a few blows in at the opposition.
To overthrow the patriarchy in 2016, we need to come to the realization that we don't necessarily need everyone to get into formation. All we need is a few brave women leading the charge. While we might not like their politics or their thoughts on choosing the perfect foundation or their unwillingness to slap on "labels," all things considered Kardashian West and Parker aren't awful leaders to begin with.