The Inalienable Rights of Skanks
|April 3, 2012||Posted by Jess under Celebrities|
My mom’s old college friend Carol is one of those Boomers who never moved past the whole Flower Child thing. She wears her undyed hair down to her waist, decorates her apartment with tasteful nude photographs of herself, and every Christmas season hosts a cookie decorating party at which all of the eclectic people she knows from various walks of life wander in and out of her home, frosting and eating cookies, drinking strong punch, and talking about the old days.
I’ve attended with my mom the past two years. (Come on, cookie decorating party? You know I’m there.) At the most recent one, my mom introduced me to a couple of women her age who she’d just met. Somehow the conversation had drifted to blogs, and my mom wanted me to explain my online presence.“Well, I have a book review blog,” I said. “And I run a feminist non-profit…”
“Oh, a feminist!” one of the women said. “It’s so nice to hear a woman your age call herself that.”
What do you say to that? “Well, it’s something I feel very strongly about,” I finally answered.
“You know, I see women on TV like that Kim Kardashian and I just despair. I mean, that’s not feminism. Don’t you agree?”
“Well,” I said, feeling uncomfortable, “you know, I think feminism is about choices, and she’s chosen to exercise her freedom in ways that I wouldn’t choose for myself, but…and you know, I think a lot of women still feel like they need to be on display to men to…”
“Bullshit,” she interrupted. “I didn’t march in Washington so that she could be a skank.”
If she had been my age or a friend or a coworker or my little sister’s friend or a teenager, I would have known how to answer her. Like, “I don’t use that word,” or, “I thought you marched in Washington so that women wouldn’t have to do what other people told them to do.” But I wasn’t about to start the battle between second- and third-wave feminism at my mom’s friend’s cookie party, so I awkwardly excused myself from the conversation and avoided her for the rest of the afternoon.
I remembered that conversation when I stumbled across this post. It asks, in essence, what Roseanne, that 90s bastion of progressive working class feminism, would think of the current Republican war on women. I never really watched Roseanne as a kid, but from everything I’ve heard and read about the show as an adult, I have a lot of respect for it, and so I was with the article up to a point.
Don’t get me wrong. I don’t look to television as a ‘beacon of morality’. But it might not be a coincidence that the TV ‘women of the moment’ today stand in stark contrast to the working-class shit disturber hero that was Roseanne. In fact, you also don’t have to look far to see the Republican ideal of the virginal, unemployed, simple woman reaffirmed on our TV screens today: House Wives of Atlanta/New York/New Jersey, and the Kardashians anyone? In these (sur)reality shows women really do seem to have sex for money, they don’t have jobs (do they?), and they certainly aren’t interested in politics.
What do we make of the shift in the representation of women both within political commentary and within our entertainment programs? How can we start to see the Republican war on women as something being waged within the episodes on vaginoplasty and Kim’s wedding preparations? How, in 2012, do the Kardashians of the TV waves allow the space for a reversal of debates (not just about birth control, but also about class, race, and sexuality) that we had more space to talk about in the early 1990s?
Those sure are a lot of nasty accusations being flung at Kim Kardashian! (From here on out, let’s agree that “Kim Kardashian” is shorthand for all the Kardashians, the Real Housewives, the Jersey Shoreians, and similar reality TV ladies.) Let’s see, in these three short paragraphs the writer has:
- called Kim stupid,
- attacked a woman who makes millions of dollars every year for not having a job,
- simultaneously accused her of being virginal (This is an insult now? What is this, Clueless?1) and, literally, a prostitute,
- obliquely criticized her reproductive parts,
- and, stunningly, concluded by blaming her for the current waves of aggressively anti-choice legislation.
In other words, this blogger didn’t march in Washington so that Kim Kardashian could be a skank.
I don’t watch Keeping Up with the Kardashians or similar shows because I’ve just never been all that interested in reality TV, so I have no particularly strong opinions on Kim except that she should probably stop pilfering the lion’s share of the profits from her ostensible charity. She may be a great person. She may be a terrible person. I don’t know her life.
But I do know this: I would march in Washington for her right to wear as many or as few articles of clothing as she likes. I would march in Washington for her right to sleep with every man she meets or no men at all. I would march in Washington for her right to make money by selling perfume and endorsements and invitations to camera crews to her wedding, and I would march for her right to spout as much nonsense as she wants. I would march for her right to marry and divorce a new man every three months, and I would march for her right to get vaginoplasty as much as I would march for her right to get an abortion, or not get an abortion, or get a boob job, or not get a boob job, or any other medical procedure, lifesaving or cosmetic or somewhere in between, because it is her body.
I would march for Kim Kardashian’s right to be a skank. And I would march to remind women, even those my mother’s age or with PhDs in Political Science, that “skank,” like every other anti-woman slur, is a word used by the patriarchy to dehumanize women.
I wish this wasn’t a world where women felt they had to get ahead by performing a narrow vision of femininity for the benefit of the male gaze. But I also wish this wasn’t a world where women wasted their energies comparing women, as if we can only have one on TV at any given time.2 No, I don’t think Kim is modeling role model behavior for young girls, but I also think she has the right not to. The solution to a woman on TV whose life philosophy you disagree with is more women on TV, not fewer. After all this time, how can we still be falling into the patriarchy’s “divide and conquer” trap?
Oh, and make no mistake – that anti-choice legislation is not being introduced by the Kim Kardashians of the world.
Women’s rights aren’t contingent on good behavior – otherwise they’d be called women’s privileges. We should have the right to make our own decisions about our bodies because we are human beings, not because we adhere to some arbitrary moral standard. Otherwise we’ve just traded one set of shackles for another. There will always be some gatekeeper saying, “No, you haven’t behaved well enough to earn this right,” whether it’s some lady at a cookie party calling Kim Kardashian a skank for wearing skimpy clothes or Rush Limbaugh calling Sandra Fluke a slut for championing a friend. The answer is to hold fast to our rights – to all women’s rights – regardless of how we choose to exercise them.
And if you’re not marching for that, what the hell are you marching for?