Your Source for Feminist Discourse

Kim Kardashian & the Patriarchal Bargain

Once again, Kim Kardashian has made headlines for yet another magazine cover. This time she poses in an editorial spread for the Spring/Summer 2015 edition of LOVE magazine. The spread is centered on Prada’s most recent shoe collection but has instead gained its attention because, aside from wearing the latest designer heels, Kim is nude throughout the shoot. Now, Kim’s nudity is nothing new to the world. Let’s be honest, it’s how she became the Kim Kardashian. However, my opinions on Kim and the image that she projects to the world shifted a little bit when I heard about a concept called “the patriarchal bargain”.

This is an idea that can be used to explain the actions of a lot of female celebrities and may even prove that they have more agency in what they are doing than we might think. The patriarchal bargain is “a tactic where a woman in a misogynistic culture reinforces the notion of men’s superiority in order to get ahead, or sometimes just to survive”. It is “a decision to accept gender roles that disadvantage women in exchange for whatever power one can wrest from the system, without changing the system itself.” In some way or another, this is something that all women are encouraged to partake in. However, women of celebrity status have the unique experience of participating in the patriarchal bargain in a way that most other women cannot. They can shock the world with bold actions and they can profit from it on a much larger scale. They can even become famous from it.

We see this occur with female celebrities all the time. From Madonna to Miley, and every Kim Kardashian in between. They manipulate the system to their advantage and benefit from their own objectification. It’s the price they pay, but they know what they are doing and I think it would be foolish to assume otherwise. Does that make it more okay for them to actively participate in their own oppression? No. But I don’t think they are mindless robots taking orders from agents or doing these things solely for attention seeking purposes, either.

By our 2015 standards of beauty, Kim Kardashian won the genetic lottery and uses this to her advantage because she is aware of the reactions she will receive and the fact that she can cash in on the system. In my opinion, she has made conscious choices to make the patriarchy work for her that have led her to where she is today. This is not at all to say that she is a beacon of feminism or a role model by any means. By definition, participation in the patriarchal bargain requires one to compromise one’s own basic humanity to gain whatever power they can wield out of the system. Kim has succeeded in making an entire career off of the bargain she made.

So, is it better to pass her off as a mindless drone or a woman who has made conscious choices to participate in her own dehumanization and reap the benefits? Let me know which you think is the lesser of the two evils.

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