Culture

The Reaction To Kim Kardashian’s Robbery Reveals Some Of Our Most Insidious Problems With Women

A woman was threatened; her life was in danger. What the fuck is funny about that?

Yesterday news broke that Kim Kardashian West was robbed and held at gunpoint in Paris. At the time of the incident she was in a private residence where she had been staying while attending Paris Fashion Week. Though she is physically unharmed, she was reportedly tied up and locked in a bathroom while the five assailants, who were dressed as police officers, made off with over $14 million worth of jewellery.

The assailants are still at large and, though the dust is beginning to settle, one rather nasty outcome has emerged in the aftermath of the robbery. As the news of the ordeal spread across the internet, many social media users had an unsavoury (but not totally unsurprising) reaction to the event.

Just Another Day Being Kim K

There’s no doubt that Kim Kardashian is a polarising figure. People are often bent out of shape about her, about her family, about her marriage, about her body, about her rise to fame… about everything and anything, really. And fine: not everyone has to like everyone. But to mock and sneer at someone who was just robbed at gunpoint, just because you don’t like the TV show Keeping Up with The Kardashians or what it ostensibly stands for, is borderline sociopathic.

To me, the issue of laughing at Kardashian West’s misfortune goes well beyond public opinion of her, or the fact that she is a rich and famous celebrity and is therefore somehow less worthy of sympathy after having a large number of expensive jewels stolen by criminals. This is about how society views women, and how much we “value” and “reward” women who behave in a certain way: the “right” way.

In many ways, Kardashian West is not what society considers to be the ideal woman: she is openly sexual (so much so that her fame was launched off the back of her sexuality, in the form of a leaked sex tape); she is ambitious and seeks out fame, fortune and success. She has the gall to think she can take up space in a way that she chooses, on her terms — and many openly resent her for it.

Whether it’s deliberate or not, some punish her for it. To laugh when she’s put in harm’s way is to support the idea that she ‘deserves’ it; that this crime is in some way okay because she’s being taken down a peg or two.

The “Right” Kind Of Woman

When I saw the jokes flood Twitter as news broke online, I recalled the popular Kardashian meme that circulated earlier this year. It read: “In a world of Kardashians, be a [BLANK]” – blank being the name of any perceived “worthier” female celebrity, like Audrey Hepburn, Lucille Ball, Helena Bonham Carter or Princess Diana.

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However you feel about the Kardashians, the idea of women measuring themselves against each other in order to gain approval from a broader public is truly sick. The meme seizes the way the media reflects ourselves back to us and amplifies it by 1000. It translates a violent form of internalised misogyny that encourages women to look at each other, and themselves, as men do: to view ourselves with a gaze that judges us “worthy” or “unworthy”.

Where is the meme that reads: “In a world of Chris Browns/Sean Penns/Johnny Depps/Wayne Careys/Bill Cosbys, be a man who doesn’t abuse and rape women”? It doesn’t exist, because there is no common metric for measuring men against each other, as there is for women. (It’s also worth noting that the perceived “sin” of being a celebrity without having “earned” it is seemingly nowhere near the actual sin of being a man who beats and/or rapes women.)

It’s memes like this one that encourage the kind of stagnant, deplorable environment that breeds vitriolic responses to a woman’s terror and misfortune. It doesn’t matter if that woman is Kim Kardashian West or any other everyday woman from anywhere else in the world. A woman was threatened; her life was in danger. What the fuck is funny about that?

The Wife/Mother/Daughter Defence

Of course, the internet is not completely 100 percent bonkers. There were many who took to social media yesterday to defend Kardashian West and to point out that a woman in harm’s way is not a laughing matter.

Still, so many of these defences revolved around the idea that Kardashian West is a “wife” or a “mother” or a “daughter”. Everywhere is the notion that her death would make family members sad and leave behind small, motherless children; that this is what makes laughing at her misfortune so wrong.

As well-intentioned as it is, we’re again measuring a woman by her perceived value. She is a mother; she is a wife; therefore, we should feel sympathy for her. A woman — any woman — is more than the roles she fills because she is a woman. She’s also a person who, like any person, deserves to be safe.

If anything, this incident reminds us that Kim Kardashian West is just like so many other women: judged, threatened, unsafe and unprotected by a world that thinks she is worth less because she is female, or a certain kind of female.

It’s time for a bit more empathy, and a lot more solidarity.

Matilda Dixon-Smith is a freelance writer, editor and theatre-maker, and a card-carrying feminist. She also tweets intermittently and with very little skill from @mdixonsmith.