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Courtesy of The New York Times

April 14, 2019

YANG | In Defense of Kim Kardashian West

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I know. I never thought I’d be writing something like this either, but here we are. Maybe I should get this out of the way first: I don’t watch Keeping Up with the Kardashians, nor do I intentionally follow the activities of any member of the family on the internet. My general perception of the family has been  that they are shallow, privileged and entitled, and I frankly didn’t understand their fame or the appeal of watching their everyday life unfold on TV.

So when Kim Kardashian’s Vogue cover story came out a few days ago, I wasn’t initially interested in reading it. Vogue’s Instagram post suggested that she made a big announcement in the interview, and the comment section was overwhelmingly negative. People were expressing disappointment in the magazine for giving her attention she doesn’t deserve, and for not featuring “women of substance” or real models. It was this outpour of hostility and anger that made me curious: What did she do this time that made people hate her even more than they already do?

As it turns out, the story was about her studies to become a lawyer.

My first reaction was a mix of confusion, disbelief and perhaps outright dismissal. It seemed ridiculous to even associate the two concepts in my head: an entertainment personality who owns an overhyped and overpriced makeup line . . . and a criminal defense lawyer fighting for prison reform. But I never liked jumping to conclusions before reading the article, and soon enough, I started to realize how presumptive and biased I was.

Unbeknownst to me, Kim Kardashian had a personal hand in fighting for clemency for Alice Marie Johnson, a 63-year-old woman who’d received a life sentence on a nonviolent drug charge. The article claimed that after learning about Johnson through social media, Kim brought the case to her own legal team, then worked with the criminal justice reform group #cut50 in persuading President Trump to pardon Johnson. The activists and attorneys who worked with her spoke shockingly highly of her emotional intelligence and persuasiveness in her interaction with Trump, and seemed to believe that she has what it takes to start a legal career.

So let’s take away her name and her fame for a second, and look at this for what it really is: A woman stumbled upon someone she wanted to help, went all out to make a difference and by doing so saw a new opportunity for her own life. Now, let’s add her name and her fame back into the picture, and you’ll realize that the sheer power of her platform can bring about enormous change if she were really to use it for promoting a social justice cause instead of a beauty trend. Sure, it could’ve been for her public image, but she has a million other ways to make the headlines that involve much less work. And even if it is all for show, so what? Isn’t that a win-win? If anything, everyone should want her to succeed, so why are people so angry about it?

The short answer is, it’s unsettling, and for two reasons: one being the prestige associated with the legal profession, and the other being the female stereotypes that we as a society have become accustomed to.

If Kim Kardashian could pass the bar and become a real lawyer, it would very much rattle everyone’s preconceived notion of the legal profession. If there was a pyramid for kinds of professions based on prestige, practicing law would surely be somewhere near the very top. I associate a successful lawyer with an elite education, years of hard work and a ton of pressure. Not everyone who starts law school makes it through to becoming a practicing attorney, and just the price of a law degree bars many people from embarking on the path in the first place. The idea that a rich, privileged reality show star with no college education could just decide to do it on a whim and then actually accomplish it? An unsurprisingly hard pill to swallow. Kim’s current career and fame are inferior in the face of what people expect a lawyer’s past and image to be. But why is that expectation there in the first place? In the context of social activism and fighting for changes in the prison system, is it more important for someone to come from an orthodox legal education background, or for them to care about the cause so much so that they’re willing to learn everything from scratch?

There’s also the aspect of what kind of woman people consider Kim Kardashian to be, and ultimately the categories that society asks women to fit in. She’s associated with money, fashion, fame and vanity — generally very shallow subjects. She’s a plastic barbie doll who isn’t supposed to have a brain, let alone be allowed to express her own thoughts on important sociopolitical issues. If anything, she has embodied everything that some insist one must reject in order to be a strong woman and a true feminist. And the idea that she could become more than just a pretty face on the cover of a magazine, someone that people can actually look up to? That’s something people are unwilling to accept.

 

But no one is one-dimensional. We are all multifaceted, and so is she. Yes, she may have gained her fame through a sex tape, but she may just end up a great attorney, too. And to be honest? I really hope she does.

 

Andrea Yang is a junior in the College of Arts & Sciences. She can be reached at ayang@cornellsun.com. Five Minutes ‘Til Places runs alternate Mondays this semester.