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”.

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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.

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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.

2 thoughts on “Kim Kardashian & the Patriarchal Bargain

  1. 1.) “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”.
    This statement alone is both inaccurate and extremely problematic in the context of discussing women’s decisions to make any sexually immodest choices with their bodies (keeping in mind that you referred to not just Kim Kardashian, but Madonna and Miley Cyrus as well, and another woman was being discussed on the other site). It reinforces the myth that a woman’s decision to pose nude, wear revealing clothes, or anything else that’s considered ‘sexy’ makes her inferior to a man. This myth is tied to the same violent misogyny that men all over the world have used to justify themselves or other men ‘disrespecting’ (to put it lightly) any women considered to be the sluts of their society. Sex and nudity in and of themselves are not inherently bad things- no amount of either of those things make you ‘inferior’ to anyone, just as abstaining from them or reserving them for a private relationship don’t make you ‘superior’ to anyone else. If any man tries to tell you that your decisions around sex and feminine modesty make you- or another woman- inferior to him or others, you are dealing with an abusive misogynist with a virgin/whore complex. It doesn’t matter if he’s a male public figure you admire, a male with some kind of authority in a religious organization you’re a part of, an employer, a co-worker, friend, doctor, pharmacist, spouse, boyfriend, sibling, father, grandfather, or other male relative. It does not matter if he seems like a nice guy. He is complicit in patriarchal abuse to some degree.

    2.) ‘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.” ‘ Ironically, this is exactly what women are doing when they choose to emulate conservative men in spreading the message that women are lowering/objectifying/dehumanizing themselves by openly living sexually immodest lifestyles. This position requires a woman- regardless of her own political or religious background- to yield to ‘morality’ and ‘respectability’ as the victim-blaming patriarchy defines those attributes for a woman, in exchange for safety and equality. This doesn’t change the system- it’s the same ‘get treated better by proving you aren’t whores, sluts, and temptresses’ drivel that girls and women have been force-fed by the system for generations. This is how girls and women are trained to be abusers as well.

    3.) ‘Does that make it more okay for them to actively participate in their own oppression? No.’ Hold on there, moralist. When a woman is forced, deceived, or coerced into being MORE OR LESS conservative about sex and her body than she wants to be, that’s oppression. When a woman is disrespected, excluded, or otherwise abused for being more or less conservative about sex and her body than she wants to be, that’s oppression. When women are discouraged or scared off from standing up for other women’s right to not be treated in either of those ways, that’s oppression. But individual women establishing and living in accord with their own boundaries when it comes to their bodies and sex is not a valid example of oppression. When the subject is reproductive rights, we can be reasonable enough to understand that some women being forced or coerced into doing something does not make every woman’s choice to make that decision oppression and degradation. So why is this difficult to understand when the subjects are sex and modesty?

    4.) “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.”-This is the part where feminists have to take a side. We can’t argue that women compromise their own humanity by showing ‘too much of’ their bodies, having sex some of us think they shouldn’t, singing or dancing in ways they shouldn’t, etc. one moment, and then criticize others for victim-blaming the next. It’s one or the other.

    5.) “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?” Both are almost equally bad and demeaning. The former undermines female agency by implying that the only consensual, ‘feminist’ choices we can make are the ones that make us look classy and don’t make feminine ‘beauty’ too much of a distraction or temptation. The latter promotes abuse through the idea that by abandoning sexual modesty, women compromise their humanity.
    All this article has really managed to do is highlight part of the reason why a distinction is made between ‘feminists’ and sex-positive feminists to begin with.

    Like

  2. otherwise abused for being more or less conservative about sex and her body than she wants to be, that’s oppression. When women are discouraged or scared off from standing up for other women’s right to not be treated in either of those ways, that’s oppression. But individual women establishing and living in accord with their own boundaries when it comes to their bodies and sex is not a valid example of oppression. When the subject is reproductive rights, we can be reasonable enough to understand that some women being forced or coerced into doing something does not make every woman’s choice to make that decision oppression and degradation. So why is this difficult to understand when the subjects are sex and modesty?

    4.) “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.”-This is the part where feminists have to take a side. We can’t argue that women compromise their own humanity by showing ‘too much of’ their bodies, having sex some of us think they shouldn’t, singing or dancing in ways they shouldn’t, etc. one moment, and then criticize others for victim-blaming the next. It’s one or the other.

    5.) “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?” Both are almost equally bad and demeaning. The former undermines female agency by implying that the only consensual, ‘feminist’ choices we can make are the ones that make us look classy and don’t make feminine ‘beauty’ too much of a distraction or temptation. The latter promotes abuse through the idea that by abandoning sexual modesty, women compromise their humanity.
    All this article has really managed to do is highlight the reason why a distinction is made between ‘feminists’ and sex-positive feminists.

    Like

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