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SHAH: We must be willing to question third-wave feminism

No one has a neutral opinion on the Kardashians. They are an American staple. Whether you love, hate or love to hate them, you know who they are. No one is truly proud to be interested in the Kardashians’ lives, but it is hard not to be, considering they dominate almost every news cycle with one controversy or another. And because they are such an unstoppable, unforgettable force, they seem almost untouchable.

Jameela Jamil from “The Good Place” is the latest celebrity who is looking to change that. In her appearance on the Channel 4 podcast “Ways to Change the World,” Jamil talks about her eating disorder, airbrushing, her new Instagram campaign @i_weigh ... and the Kardashians. This is not the first time she has voiced her distaste toward them either. Earlier in May, Jamil commented on a post on a photo of Kim Kardashian promoting Flat Tummy’s appetite-suppressing lollipops: “No. F*** off. No. (You’re a) terrible and toxic influence on young girls. I admire their mother’s branding capabilities, she is an exploitative but innovative genius, however this family makes me feel actual despair over what women are reduced to.” On the podcast, Jamil expands upon her comments, calling the family “double agents for the patriarchy.” It is her term for a woman who, knowingly or unknowingly, profits off selling a patriarchal narrative to other women. She said, “You’re selling us an ideal, a body shape, a problem with our wrinkles, a problem with aging, a problem with gravity, a problem with any kind of body fat. You’re selling us self-consciousness, the same poison that made you clearly develop some sort of body dysmorphia ... you are now pouring back into the world. You’re recycling hatred.”

Women solidarity is in, and so is the idea of calling Kim Kardashian a feminist icon. And I myself have sold into the idea. As a young and passionate feminist, I sincerely believe women need to support each other in a predominantly patriarchal world, even if that brand of feminism is different or unfamiliar. But it is hard not to buy into Jamil’s perfectly rational argument against Kim Kardashian's brand of feminism since there is nothing feminist about selling young girls an appetite-suppressant lollipop. There is nothing feminist about selling young girls a body type that is impossible to replicate without expensive help and physical harm. There is nothing feminist about promoting an ideal that is poisonous to women for the appreciation of men.

Still, there is something so empowering about Kim Kardashian’s ability to use her sexuality to earn money and fame, but something deeply unnerving about her flippant sponsorship of a product that is toxic, especially when she so clearly does not need the money. The truth is, Kim Kardashian profits off the urge young women have to look just like her ... even if her curves and slimness are naturally, physically impossible to achieve. Her promiscuity may help her feel empowered, but it is done while exploiting other women’s insecurities in the worst way. Consciously or unconsciously, it does play into a patriarchal narrative in which a woman’s value is limited to her appearance.

This controversy leads us to ask whether our race to reclaim our sexuality is truly feasible in a world that is so deeply, perhaps irreversibly, patriarchal. We have to start questioning third-wave feminism in an uncomfortable way.

It is time to start realizing that the quota to being a feminist is not just being any successful woman — it is being a woman who is diligently willing to support women of all types in their journey toward accepting and loving themselves. And this journey cannot be completed alone. It requires us to question the nuances of third-wave feminism and fundamentally re-evaluate what we expect of fellow women and ourselves. Right now, it requires us to listen to Jamil’s constructive comments to attempt to make feminism more intersectional and inclusive for all.

The truth is, feminism is confusing. It is hard to understand how something that makes you uncomfortable can actually empower other women. Every woman is so different, so following a single model of feminism is what destroys our solidarity. At the same time, we must question the intentions with which we are modest or promiscuous — if it is because we want to, even in the most subconscious of ways, impress or subdue men while giving up our own comfort, then it is time to re-evaluate. The second we reduce feminism into a single-faceted experience is the second we fail to support the women around us. The second we excommunicate and refuse to forgive women for being bad feminists is the second we lose control of our own movement.

We need to be willing to listen, learn and grow.

We still struggle with contemporary third-wave feminism, and chances are, the struggle will not be over any time soon. But we cannot give up the fight, even if the rules are constantly shifting. The Kardashians have yet to respond to Jamil’s comments, but we can only hope that when they do, this Twitter-storm ends up becoming a fruitful, constructive conversation about feminism and where it can take us. 

Anjali Shah is a Rutgers Business School sophomore, contemplating her primary major but minoring in political science and philosophy. Her column, “The Progressive’s Hot Take,” runs on alternate Fridays.


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