Social-network users were quick to express their glee at the banner featuring a still from a leaked video featuring Kanye West’s wife – but to humiliate a pregnant woman this way is an extreme and ugly piece of victimisation
What do you give the woman who has everything? A short, sharp reminder that she can still be torn down at any moment. So it was at Glastonbury last weekend, when an audience member at Kanye West’s set chose to wave an enormous flag printed with a still image from a sex tape showing Kardashian performing oral sex on her former partner Ray J. The tape was leaked in 2007 without Kardashian’s consent.
Kardashian, who is four months pregnant, was present, so she got to witness the moment the photo was displayed to her husband and a huge crowd of his fans. Printed on the flag were the words “Get Down, Girl, Get Head Get Down”, a play on the lyrics from West’s song Gold Digger. Luckily, a compassionate Twitter user immortalised the moment by posting a picture with a suitably disapproving caption:
Many online were quick to share their glee, describing the flag as “the BEST Glastonbury flag ever”, “flag of the day”, “#BESTEVER”, “genius” and “hilarious”. The Lad Bible declared that it “wins the internet”. Just in case she hadn’t noticed the flag itself during her husband’s set, thoughtful users tweeted it into Kardashian’s mentions to be sure the picture be waiting for her when she got home.
The precise intent behind the stunt isn’t clear, though the idea that a man should be threatened or shamed by his partner’s past sexual history is as old as it is misogynistic. The use of West’s lyrics suggests it might have been intended to suggest that Kardashian is herself a gold digger, despite her own enormously successful media and business ventures. Is it possible that the flag waver was trying to make a point about sexism in West’s lyrics? At a stretch, yes. Is it likely? No. And even if that were the case, the ends wouldn’t justify the means, any more than they did when the person who threatened to leak naked photos of Emma Watson later claimed it was all in the name of a campaign against the internet site 4Chan. Thank goodness for these towering heroes of morality.
Regardless of intent, the outcome was yet another very successful woman being reminded that no matter how high she climbs, she can always be torn down by a slut-shaming, misogynistic double standard. There are powerful echoes here of the blame and outrage directed at the victims of last year’s nude celebrity photo hacks. These are women who we pressure to be hyper-sexualised when they are objects for public consumption, in magazines or films or on television. We love to squeal over their “barely there” dress or “plunging cleavage” when they’re walking the red carpet, packaged for an approving audience. But when they dare to take ownership of their own bodies, to have sexual agency, or even, heaven forbid, to enjoy sex for themselves, we are ready to scream shame and demand grovelling public apologies. What Kardashian was doing in that sex tape was private and consensual. The only piece of wrongdoing was the publication of the tape without her consent; one amplified by the flag bearer in revictimising her before a live audience.
Though Kardashian is not the only A-lister to have suffered this publicising of her sexual past as a weapon against her, there are noticeable differences in the way she is treated. While there was an outpouring of sympathy and support for many of the photo hacking victims, it was noted at the time that there was a nasty streak of venom reserved particularly for Kardashian.
There was a classist undertone of sneering, as some suggested that she was “asking for it” because she often chooses to share revealing photographs with her fans, or that as a reality star she doesn’t really deserve to be treated as a celebrity. It is regularly suggested that she leaked the tape intentionally to find fame, though she has made it very clear this was not the case.
It was the same classist sexism that saw the Duchess of Cambridge, pregnant with Prince George, praised for her pregnancy style and svelte silhouette, while Kardashian, pregnant at the same time with baby North, faced nasty memes comparing her to a whale, and front-page stories about her “gorging” on fast food. While the Duchess topped Vanity Fair’s“best-dressed pregnant celebrities” list, Kardashian was described as “brash” and “trashy”.
We will praise women for being sexy, as long as it’s the right kind of sexiness. As long as they’re the right “kind” of woman. As long as they’re not in control. As long as we can remind them of their place at any moment.
This wasn’t “banter”. This wasn’t a hilarious stunt. This was the very public shaming of a pregnant woman in front of her husband and a crowd of strangers. And if that sounds positively medieval, then it should tell you something about our “modern” attitudes towards women.
This article was written by , for theguardian.com on Tuesday 30th June 2015 16.06 Europe/Londonguardian.co.uk © Guardian News and Media Limited 2010