I love Keeping Up With the Kardashians. And I don’t mean just the show. I follow all of the Kardashian/Jenner-owned and related social media accounts, including those of their friends (shout out to Malika, Jonathan, and Joyce), their love interests (welcome to my instagram feed, Blac Chyna!), and paparazzi accounts. Now, I know the Kardashians get a lot of shit for being “stupid” and “not doing anything.” But rather than focusing on the critiques of the family, I think we should instead focus more on some of the issues behind our critiques of the Kardashians: our culture’s obsession with social media, celebrities, and women’s bodies. This is not to say that the family is entirely unproblematic. There are still a lot of valid things to critique about them, like Kylie’s cornrows or the time Kim decided she wanted to adopt a girl she met in Thailand. Still, I’d argue that the Kardashians do exemplify some feminist ideas. At the very least, they are not stupid, and they definitely don’t do nothing.
First and foremost, every episode of Keeping Up With The Kardashians (KUWTK) passes the Bechdel Test. (If you don’t know what the Bechdel Test, go here.) It’s refreshing to watch a show that features women, mostly women of color, prominently and unapologetically. This is still far too uncommon. On KUWTK we get to see women interacting with women and talking like women. Women get so much shit for the way we talk—that we should stop apologizing, we should stop saying “like”, we should stop with the uptalk, etc etc. Sure, maybe. But maybe we should stop worrying about how women are talking and focus more on what they’re actually saying. The Kardashians in particular are constantly criticized for how they talk. If you Google vocal fry, the Kardashians are likely used as the prime example in any article you find. But they don’t give a fuck. They keep talking and saying what they have to say, however they want. And I like to hear that.
But the Kardashians aren’t just all talk. On the show, we see how truly successful they are as businessladies. It’s clear that the Kardashians work hard and have a lot to show for it. They started with Dash, a clothing store in originally in Calabasas (relocated to West Hollywood) that now has locations in two other cities and its own spinoff reality show. They have their own clothing lines, cosmetics, nail polishes, perfumes, apps, and books. They constantly travel around the world, and we get to watch them kill it the entire time.
They don’t just kill it separately–we get to see them kill it together. They exemplify female friendship, supporting each other through business and personal endeavors. They’re each other’s best friends, and I think the world can benefit from seeing these kinds of strong, supportive female friendships. Of course we see them fight, but most of all we see them come through for each other. They go to each other’s photo shoots, they surprise each other on their birthdays, and they go to the spa together when they’re feeling down.
We also see them feeling down a lot, which I think is important because it shows how dynamic these women are: they’re not edited into being these perfect, bubbly characters. These ladies have been through some shit. I especially liked seeing how Kris, Khloe, Kim, and Kourtney have all gotten out of serious, long term relationships with powerful men, because they just weren’t working for them and have shared that experience with all of us. They’ve shown us time and time again their independence, which is more than we get to see from a lot of women on TV.
Though she’s not a Kardashian by name, I also want to mention Caitlyn Jenner. I think it’s easy, from a liberal feminist, college student perspective, to criticize her or point to “better” trans role models. It’s important to realize, though, that her coming forward and being so public about her journey has opened a lot of conversations for generations above us. For many older people, hearing the story of the revered Olympian Bruce Jenner they once watched on TV as a kid coming out as a trans woman prompted a whole new way of thinking about identity that they previously hadn’t needed to confront. And Caitlyn’s keeping the conversation going: she easily could have stopped after the Diane Sawyer interview, or after the Kardashians special episodes. But she went on to make her own show (I am Cait), in typical family fashion, and she continues to appear on episodes of KUWTK. In addition to Caitlyn’s story and exposure, we see how Kris and the rest of the family adapts to her transition. Their experiences add to our culture’s understanding of trans identity and offer family members of trans people a narrative that may in some ways reflect their own.
You don’t have to keep up with them (but, if you want to, start with @updatekuwtk on Instagram), but I think we should focus less on criticizing these women as people, and focus more on looking deeply into the social structures at hand, and reconsider some of the good things the Kardashians are doing. And, if you want to debrief Sunday’s episode, you know where to find me.
What the F Magazine Social Media Coordinator