I’ve been seeing this photo spread around a lot lately:
RAAAAAAWRRR! THE MEDIA! MEDIA BAD! KYLIE BAD! MALALA GOOD!
The Kardashian women take a lot of flack from people who call themselves feminists or politically engaged. These folks claim it says a lot about the shallowness of culture that 18 year olds having extravagant parties is considered newsworthy.
But when adults get their panties in a bind about how ridiculous Kylie Jenner’s celebrity is, when they get disgusted by the level of consumerism and consumption she demonstrates and bemoan the sexualization and vapidity of youth– they’re missing the point. After all, they’re still making her news.
I’m making her news, too, right now. Just by talking about her.
I mean, I agree with the assessment that she is a poor role model. Most teenagers are. But she’s still a kid, and kids don’t need to be told they’re attention whores or worse, actual whores, as Kylie has been. They need people to set positive examples for them. Positive examples, by the way, do not take one kid and compare her to another and say, “Why can’t you be more like her?”
I know she’s 18, which is legally an adult. I know she grew up in the spotlight and has Kris Jenner Momager as a mother and knows adult skills, like how to take a meeting and manipulate press and sit in makeup chairs.
But for Pete’s sake, her brain is literally still undeveloped. Pretty much all teenagers are narcissistic, self-absorbed, and envious. It’s a social response to developmental insecurity. So in the meantime, how about we just let her be? Stop dissecting her cries for attention, and stop demeaning her insecure fans. If we did that– stopped obsessing about the media obsessing about Kyle Jenner– not only would that cut the amount of time people spent talking about her by a lot, but it would also be a way to acknowledge that she’s just a kid, and no kid needs that much negative attention.
And by the way– Malala is just a kid, too. An extraordinarily intelligent, brave, and compassionate one, but not at all comparable to Kylie Jenner, except in that they are both 18 year old female humans. They are completely different people, raised in dramatically different settings, and with entirely different sets of concerns. “Enlightened” media consumers like to hold them side by side to make a point about what character traits our culture values, but the secret value they themselves are perpetrating is that it’s good to compare women to one another.
Juxtaposing their pictures reduces the complex people to images, essentializing them as symbols of values without any regard for the nuance that is their humanity. It also pits them against one another–which, wait, we’ve been doing to women for centuries. It’s true that compassion is a more useful value than consumerism. But it isn’t as though these young ladies are reducible to either one, or that these values are diametric opposites. Female-female comparisons and competition have always been an easy way for a patriarchal society to ensure that no female actually gets the respect she deserves.
Media outlets giving air to particular types of events and celebrities does perpetuate certain values. But we have to remember to think for ourselves, too. Let’s stop putting women in unwinnable competitions against each other, and let’s stop reducing them to what they represent. People are not symbols. They are people: hella messy, hella fragile.