The Celebrity of Feminism or the Feminism of Celebrity?
New ways to silence women
Numerous celebrities have joined in on the feminist discourse over the past few years, such as Beyoncé, Miley Cyrus, and Ellen Page. While there are those who view celebrity endorsements of feminism as nothing but spectacle and opportunism, others find such an adoption of the discourse to be genuine. In Tina Chanter’s Gender: Key Concepts in Philosophy, Chanter presents the history of mainstream feminism as being predominantly white and non-inclusive of other races, classes and sexualities. This critique of feminism survives to this day, and in no way has the problem of non-inclusiveness been resolved, only made more visible and open for discussion. Celebrity women see both an inclusion and an exclusion in the discourse, depending on the non-celebrity citizen’s judgment of their worthiness. This judgment of women and discriminant bestowal of power or visibility is nothing new; with our culture’s intense focus on celebrity lives, which often thrusts women in to the position of spokesperson or we see old patterns in stark relief., While some men and women of celebrity, and especially those with minority backgrounds, have been able to use their power and popularity to spread conversation and ideas at the intersection of feminism, oppression, non-traditional sexualities and gender identities, others we see torn to shreds by the public for daring to take themselves seriously. Chanter writes: “Once the idea that women are innately incapable of reasoning well, or naturally unsuited to the rigors of public life, is put to rest, it quickly becomes clear that what stands in the way of women’s progress is convention, tradition or opinion, rather than nature, biology, or physiology.”.
We see these conventions at play when we examine how the role of celebrity within the feminist discourse can get tangled. There are those who view female celebrities’ class status as a disqualifier from the discourse, and this “disqualification” is especially prevalent when a female celebrity experiences a sort of trauma of their own. Others’ perceptions of class in relation to the ability to understand something like trauma begin to undermine the validity a celebrity’s trauma, and they are not taken seriously. While it may seem that the more celebrities discuss feminism and modes of oppression, that is, the more they become active interlocutors, the more likely feminists and people in general are able to embrace them as humans, the truth is that the celebrity still has to be deemed worthy of acceptance., This means participating in a dialogue is not enough for others to take their experiences seriously. One axis along which deservingness is determined is ‘talent;’ that is, acceptance seems to be only reserved for celebrities with so-called ‘talent,’ a notion which can be brought to light in a comparison between Kesha and Kim Kardashian.
Starting in 2014, musician Kesha sued her producer, Dr. Luke, in an attempt to void all contracts she had with him because she claimed he had abused her in numerous ways (sexually, verbally, physically, and emotionally). In February of 2016, after a series of court decisions, Kesha was unable to be released from her contracts. Images of her crying in a New York City courthouse were released into the media, and the public witnessed her pain. During this lengthy and emotional process she garnered a great deal of support from fans and celebrities, including Lady Gaga, Adele, and Lena Dunham. Kesha’s battle sparked conversations around what it means to be a victim of such a crime and how to speak openly about it. Kesha was praised for her bravery in bringing to light the events she went through. Fast forward to October 2, 2016, news breaks that Kim Kardashian had been tied up and held at gunpoint in the middle of the night while five men robbed her apartment in Paris. Almost immediately, the Internet erupted with comments about the robbery being a publicity stunt, that Kim deserved it, and that she was “probably filming a new sex tape.” [AS1] Many celebrities reacted to the jokes being made about the robbery, with Chrissy Tiegen being most vocal tweeting “ Some shit just isn’t funny. I see you trying, but it isn’t…. I just miss empathy, in general, for everyone.” [AS2] So why is it that when a celebrity such as Kesha reveals having gone through a traumatic event people react with sympathy and support, whereas when a celebrity such as Kim Kardashian experiences a traumatic event people respond with hate and disbelief? The answer lies inChanter’s writing. [AS3]
Kim Kardashian is viewed as a woman with no talent who got famous because of a sex tape and a family dynasty owing to her mother’s proclivity for business, while Kesha is viewed as a talented musician who works for her success. Despite trying to make feminism more inclusive on the grounds of race, gender, and class, society has found other ways to oppress and dominate women based on categories such as talent, professionalism, and celebrity persona. This then translates to how we respond to various women’s experiences of trauma. Our responses have the potential to hinder the feminist movement because we may end up reinforcing victim blaming, rape culture and other conventions that systematically denigrate and devalue women, thus perpetuating the cycle of domination and oppression women face. Creating more divisions within a group through holding such negative opinions does exactly whatChanter suggests: it stands in the way of women’s progress. If we so quickly and cruelly dismiss a woman’s trauma, regardless her status in the world, then women will never be able to truly break free from the domination they face. Chanter engages the notion that ‘the personal is the political,’ discussing how some women do not possess the same agency as others to “redraw the boundary separating the private from the public” because of factors such as race, socioeconomic status, and so forth. Experience should be the fundamental grounding for all feminine discourse with the understanding that experience will vary because of the various socioeconomic and identity factors that compromise intersectionality. There is a level of trauma all women face because of their inescapable status as subordinates within patriarchy, and finding new ways to keep us separate and treated differently because of it, with the mindset that we deserve what we get because of what we do or don’t have, is regressive to any progress women have made since the first wave of feminism.
In this case, trauma, celebrity, and status as women bind Kesha and Kim Kardashian together; yet they are separated because of how they gained their fame and for that reason, members of society treat their traumas differently. Though many celebrities have intentionally entered into the feminist discourse, Kim Kardashian not necessarily being one of intentional entrance, society still undermines their traumas because of their success and the means by which they obtained it. Furthermore, maybe celebrity has developed to include feminism, unlike society. Perhaps this is really representative of the ways in which society has not developed, showing us that women are still divided on an arbitrary basis. It seems that if society deems you undeserving of what you’ve built for yourself, you will be deemed deserving of any emotional or physical harm that comes your way. The respect some celebrities get over others after opening up about a traumatic experience provides a novel iteration of the non-inclusive nature of mainstream feminism Chanter writes about, and the enduring divisions within society at large.