Kim Kardashian West Reminds Us Why The Feminist Label Does Matter
On Monday, Kim Kardashian West set the record straight: She’s not a feminist.
"For me, a feminist is someone who advocates for the civil and social rights and liberties of all people, regardless of their gender; anyone who believes that women should have the same choices and opportunities as men when it comes to education and employment, their bodies and their lifestyles," she wrote on her website. And yet, she added, despite agreeing with these things, does not consider herself a feminist because she doesn't like labels.
While few people are likely too concerned with whether Kardashian West as an individual aligns with the feminist movement, her comment points to an age-old debate: Does the feminist label matter?
"Why do we have to put labels on things?" she asks — as have others in the past. But Kardashian’s focus on what the label means to her ignores the real implications of what her relationship to the label could mean to others. And that’s exactly what it is: a relationship.
Plenty of young women probably recognize the "I don't really like to put labels on things" comment as one that could have easily come straight from the many millennials out there who are too nervous and insecure to commit to a romantic relationship. Similarly, Kardashian West's evasion of the feminist label reflects her own lack of commitment to equality for women (AKA the feminist movement). Just like those who refuse to "label" relationships, Kardashian West is still allowing others to draw their own conclusions about her relationship with feminism even if she rejects the "label." Not acknowledging any kind of relationship for what it is effectively discounts its legitimacy or importance, and when Kardashian West glosses over how her values align under the label “feminist” she’s doing just that.
What's more, it seems Kardashian West's understanding of the feminist label itself may be skewed. Instead of indicating that she understands "feminism" as the advocacy of women's rights on the grounds of political, social, and economic equality to men, Kardashian West selectively pointed to more recent, specific groups within the movement as influencing her feelings about the movement as a whole. For example, she defended her rejection of the label by saying, "I'm not the ‘free the nipple’- type girl." By using her dislike of a single response to a single issue within the movement to excuse why she denies the movement altogether, it's clear that Kardashian West is modeling that it's okay to reject something without fully understanding it in the first place.
Of course, individuals should be able to choose how they want to label themselves. But a self proclaimed label has power: It tells the world that you want people to know that you have a relationship to something you value. Especially because your peers, friends, and society at large will never fail to slap labels onto you, whether you want them or not, the labels one chooses to accept for themselves are important. And labels need not be inherently damaging. Labels can help create a person's identity, communities, and even movements. Shared labels can bring people together.
The feminist label has particularly been stigmatized for a long time. Even today, women young and old, famous and anonymous, face judgment and criticism when they label themselves as feminists. In the face of such negative reactions, knowing that many women wear their feminist label with pride creates a strong community that offers a sense of belonging, safety, and support. Rejecting the feminist label rejects the feminist movement and community of people that label represents. When a public figure like Kim Kardashian West is reluctant to accept the feminist label — especially based on a relatively ignorant understanding of the nuances of doing so — she damages the principals of gender equality she claims to value.
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