Are the Kardashians and feminism mutually exclusive? Most people think so... But controversially for some - I don't. Here are five reasons why the Kardashian/ Jenners are contributing to a new flavour of feminism – and whether they know it or not, are helping to dismantle patriarchy in their own way.
1. They embody and value feminine energy
The Kardashian/ Jenners are unequivocally feminine. They display the outwards trappings and stereotypes of femininity, sure: they are into fashion, beauty, having their nails done, having nice hair and being glammed-up. Yet noticeably, they also embody feminine values internally as well. They value being together and being present with each other (rather than doing/ achieving), they connect and listen to one another, they love and care for their own families and each other’s, and they get strength from being with each other. In fact, a big chunk of their reality television show is them hanging out and chatting – and as I experience in my work as a facilitator of women’s circles, the power of feminine energy is magnified when women gather together.
Their clear embodiment of feminine characteristics is in direct contrast to much of our patriarchal-dominated world, which sees masculine characteristics as generally ‘better than’ and more valued than feminine characteristics. As I talk about in my new book, The Patriarchy Illusion: A Down-to-Earth Guide to Spiritual Feminism, feminine characteristics include qualities such as intuition, flow, love, feeling, creativity, nurturing, care and intuition, while masculine characteristics include qualities such as action, directness, thinking, planning, organisation and structure. Mirroring the concept of yin and yang, ‘feminine’ and ‘masculine’ in this context correspond to different but complementary energies – they do not relate to females and males. For this reason, everyone has feminine and masculine aspects – and while neither is better than the other and both are needed to be a healthy functioning person (and for the healthy functioning of society as a whole), masculine energy is generally much more valued in patriarchal societies than feminine energy. Subsequently, all of us can become disconnected from our feminine sides, which has all sorts of negative consequences at both the individual and societal level. Yet the Kardashian/ Jenner’s role model honouring our feminine essence - and learning how to re-value and re-balance our collective feminine energy is something we can all get better at learning how to do.
2. They recognise and honour the importance of motherhood
The Kardashian/ Jenners greatly value motherhood. Being a good mother and being a mum in the first place seems to be the # 1 value in their world. The mum and head of the family Kris regularly says how much she loves being a mum, how much of an honour it is and how special it is. All of the female members of the Kardashian/ Jenners except for Kendall are mothers, including Kylie from when she was just 20 years old. In Kardashian-land, the ultimate compliment is being said to be an amazing mother, and conversely, the ultimate insult appears to be said to be a bad mother. Case in point: Kim is normally quite thick-skinned and not much seems to bother her. But witness her extreme and vicious reaction to sister Kourtney criticising her parenting choices and skills!
This value system is a refreshing point of difference to a lot of our capitalistic patriarchal society. In this value system, a high importance and value is placed on the traditionally 'masculine' spheres of careers and worldly success, and a low importance is placed on the traditionally 'feminine' spheres of motherhood and home making. As I examine in my new book, The Patriarchy Illusion: A Down-to-Earth Guide to Spiritual Feminism, our cultural apparatus promotes the idea on all fronts that having a career is more valued by society and a more impressive life outcome for a woman than being a mother. ‘Just a stay at home mum’ is a common and telling phrase that reflects the cultural devaluation of motherhood, and how patriarchal-infused values can overlook this crucial contribution that anyone of any gender can make to bringing up the next generation of humans. This is not to say that having a career is a bad thing – but not equally valuing all the different ways of contributing to society is problematic. Such patriarchal attitudes can leave some women feeling confused, worthless and unfulfilled, yet the Kardashian/ Jenners subvert this offensive patriarchal value system and deeply value the importance of motherhood instead.
3. They role model female support
The Kardashian/ Jenner sisters are notably not competitive with each other and are supportive of each other to a tee. Rather than allow themselves to be compared against each other, in various interviews and on their social media profiles they regularly point out and celebrate their individual strengths and gifts. Kim is the shrewd and successful businesswoman, Kendall is one of the world’s top models, Khloe is the health and fitness fanatic, Kourtney is the original mum and homemaker, and Kylie (following in Kim’s footsteps) has become an extremely successful businesswoman in her own right. By gracefully staying in their own lanes, they sidestep competitive and toxic dynamics. Kylie and Kim are the most popular and wealthiest Kardashian/ Jenners, yet there doesn’t appear to be any real jealousy between them or the other siblings. They don’t overtly or covertly try to tear each other down, nor do they buy into a false sense of competition drummed up by eager tabloids as to who is the most beautiful or successful or wealthy. Instead, they regularly celebrate and support each other’s success through their public profiles and huge social media followings.
Contrast this with the competitive female dynamics that patriarchy does its best to promote: a dynamic of fighting with each other for opportunities, and feeling jealous and threatened by each others' success. Given we all live in patriarchy, it’s certainly easy to pick up this dynamic and fall into its trap – as I myself have many times. For women living under patriarchy, scarcity has historically been the norm: scarcity of opportunities, scarcity of respect, scarcity of safety, scarcity of money and scarcity of freedom. Patriarchal societies are often only comfortable with one token female at most at the decision-making table, whether that be a seat in the boardroom, parliament or other top position – amid a sea of powerful men. So unfortunately, this can create a conscious or quite unconscious instinct in women to compete against each other, rather than support each other. When the real truth is that as one of us rises, so do we all – so it really does make sense to support each other, not cut each other down like patriarchy tries to tempt us to do. So let's follow the Kardashian/ Jenner lead, and support and celebrate each other’s success as a powerful antidote to our internalised patriarchy.
4. They don’t have a (male) gatekeeper controlling them
The Kardashian/ Jenners have helped to create new pathways to fame, influence and wealth. They have parlayed the success of their reality television show into millions of followers on social media, which has in turn allowed them to market directly to these followers and create incredibly successful businesses. All of the Kardashian/ Jenners are worth at least tens of millions of dollars, and Kylie is now worth one billion dollars from her Kylie Cosmetics make-up line. While they did have family wealth to begin with, I think their achievements are still impressive given many rich kids go on to drug and alcohol rehab, not billion-dollar business empires. And while they do play by some of the existing patriarchal rules - particularly in the form of the sexualisation of women’s bodies and the need for women to be aesthetically pleasing to men at all times - they also use these patriarchal rules to their own advantage by using Instagram and other visual mediums to flaunt their stunning beauty and sexual appeal. This savvy use of social media gives them a direct connection with their followers/ customers, allowing them to monetise their beauty and sexual power directly for themselves.
And this is quite revolutionary. Throughout history, it’s mostly been men who’ve controlled and profited from women’s beauty, and determined women’s success in one way or another. Think Marilyn Monroe and other stunningly beautiful - but not exactly empowered - women throughout the ages. It has also been the historical norm to have a gatekeeper deciding who succeeds and who doesn’t in various fields - and mostly this gatekeeper has been a man. This could have been the record company executive in the music industry, the editor-in-chief in the publishing industry, the producer in the movie business or even the bank lending agent for any form of business. But nowadays, people have direct access to their chosen industries because they can bypass powerful (male) gatekeepers - uploading music and videos straight to YouTube, self-publishing books and blogs, and starting new businesses with no capital outlay beyond a laptop and an internet connection. The Kardashian/ Jenners are part of this greater disruption to traditional (male) power, and are eluding powerful men by creating their own wealth and incredible success for and by themselves.
5. They are authentic
The Kardashian/ Jenners are often derided for being famous for being famous and scorned for having no talent. Yet, they are popular and successful for genuinely being themselves, and that is actually a lot harder than it seems. Unlike many other celebrities, and many people generally, they don’t hide behind a mask or public persona. On their reality television show, they consistently show themselves warts and all – sometimes bitchy, sometimes vain and regularly lacking perspective. Given they executive produce their show, they could very easily seek to portray themselves in the most flattering light possible. Yet they are always authentically themselves - they don’t try to present themselves as perfect. They also openly share their various life struggles with the public.
My new book, The Patriarchy Illusion: A Down-to-Earth Guide to Spiritual Feminism, explores the growing movement around authenticity and how learning from each other saves us a lot of time. Historically, we humans have learnt by sharing our stories and our wisdom borne from experience. However, this requires us to have the courage to share our complete stories, our mistakes as well as our hard-earned learnings, which is not encouraged in patriarchal societies that rewards us for being seen to be ‘perfect’ and ‘the best’, rather than human. Truth-telling and honesty can be scary because we open ourselves up to being both potentially judged by others and feeling deep shame for our past actions or experiences. Yet a generous spirit of open and authentic sharing helps us to open our hearts, truly connect with others and evolve spiritually – which we really have no choice but to do now if we want to survive as a species.
The Kardashian/ Jenners are certainly not perfect and there’s lots of things they do and values they hold which I personally don’t agree with - but that’s kind of my whole point. Patriarchy has been selling us a poisoned apple for millennia: telling us that in order to have any worth whatsoever as women, we need to be perfect in all ways and at all times, and under no circumstances whatsoever should we make a mistake. This obviously sets us up to fail because we are human, and so will never be able to reach this illusionary goal of perfection.
It’s time we stopped listening to our internalised patriarchy, embrace our imperfect selves, and realise that we are more than worthy as we are, right here and right now.
My new book, The Patriarchy Illusion: A Down-to-Earth Guide to Spiritual Feminism, is out now!