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Kim Kardashian West’s White House meeting with Trump exposes our sexist, slut-shaming culture

Photo via Kim Kardashian West Instagram account

News of reality TV star Kim Kardashian West’s visit to the White House to meet with President Donald Trump about prison reform and the case of Alice Marie Johnson, who’s served 21 years on a life sentence without parole for a nonviolent drug offense, have been met with incredulous reactions. The shock makes sense considering that five years ago, both were known more for their prowess at self-promotion than their political opinions.

However, it’s now 2018, and politics has changed. While many have thoughtfully criticized the mere idea, let alone the reality, of Trump taking a meeting with Kardashian West (The New Yorker called it “palpably creepy”), or pointed out better qualified prison reform experts, the meeting’s insufficiency, or Trump’s penchant for A-list celebrity attention, others have gone a more typical, sexist route: slut-shaming. Although she’s since gone on to build a highly successful multi-million dollar empire that shows little sign of slowing down, for many, Kim Kardashian West will only ever be known for one thing: taking her clothes off on camera.

Women who’ve posed for nude photos or done porn can still have opinions

That’s where I have to step in and say: Enough. There are plenty of good reasons to critique this meeting as a vapid photo opportunity, or as Trump choosing a celebrity over a bona fide expert. While to me it makes perfect sense that a man so mired in his own ego would want to meet with one of the most famous women in the world, and that she might try to use her fame to highlight a case that Mic first wrote about in 2013, of course I see there’s an element of ridiculousness to it. But the reason it’s ridiculous isn’t because Kim, who it feels right to call simply by her first name because she’s so ubiquitous that she almost doesn’t need her famous surnames, once made a porn video.

The insults slung at her because of her X-rated past ring hollow for several reasons. For one, porn is incredibly popular; the website Pornhub received, on average, 81 million visits a day in 2017, according to their data. I highly doubt that all of Kim’s critics can claim that they themselves have never watched porn.

Two, I fail to see how Kim’s getting naked invalidates her political opinions. If that’s the case, then I shouldn’t be writing this essay, or any other, because I’ve posed for nude photos and had them published online. I’m not alone; a 2014 Cosmopolitan survey found that 89% of millennial women respondents had taken nude photos.

It’s an outdated, misogynist cliché to shame women for taking naked images, whether they’re used privately or publicly. It’s the same mindset that drives revenge porn — the idea that a woman’s naked body should be cause for alarm, shaming and invalidation of her career and intelligence. Save for politicians like Anthony Weiner, I can’t recall a man receiving the kind of pushback Kim gets any time she does anything outside the bounds of reality TV. It’s as if to these simplistic commentators, the words “porn star” translate to “shut up.”

“Porn star” is not an insult; it’s a job

This brings me to my third point: We need to stop using “porn star” as an insult. It’s not; it’s a job. We’ve seen the very same mindset pervade the narrative when Stormy Daniels and jessica drake came forward about their interactions with President Trump. If feminism means anything, feminists and others who care about social justice have to stand up for porn stars and sex workers; their experiences and opinions are as human as anyone else’s.

Yet it’s still incredibly commonplace for any political opinions Kim may profess to be immediately dismissed not on the basis that they’re unfounded, but that she’s exposed too much of her body for them to even be worthy of consideration. On Wednesday, Bishop Talbert Swan Tweeted a reductive argument pitting Kim against Michelle Alexander, author of The New Jim Crow, lamenting that instead of the President meeting with Alexander, “WAIT, sorry, he actually met with @KimKardashian, who specializes in taking selfies and ‘breaking the Internet’ with photos of her derriere.”

I fail to see how taking selfies is such a crime that it means a woman can’t have a considered opinion. Once again, you can point out that Alexander is an expert, and that the issue is broader than one lone woman, without insisting that Kim should stick to only talking about makeup or fashion.

There’s a far cry between saying something like “I can’t believe this world we live in” or “Who would have thought this was possible” or “This is part of a larger problem” and the tactic many Twitter users have resorted to. The best they can come up with are taunts such as “What ideas does a Porn star have about Prison reform ? i would be honestly keen to know” and “she is a pornstar so it’ll only make sense for @realDonaldTrump to invite her to the WH.”

Again, with no disrespect to actual porn stars, the way the phrase is used here is clearly meant to convey that even though her sex tape Kim K Superstar by Vivid came out in 2007, meaning it’s over a decade old, it should always be the first — and last — thing we associated her with. Yet she still dominates headlines, has a $175 million estimated net worth, and her reality show has aired for fourteen seasons. She’s made inroads across numerous fields, and is set to receive the first influencer award from the Council of Fashion Designs of America, aka the “Fashion Oscars.” But never mind that she’s been more than a flash in the pan; we’ve seen her naked, so nothing else matters.

Criticize Kim Kardashian West on the merits, not with slut-shaming

Our culture can’t have it both ways. We want to splash Kim’s face across every possible surface, then pretend that we hate her and she should retire from public life because she managed to launch a career that grew out of a sexual element.

Kim has stated that she was moved by the Johnson case when Mic reported on it with a Twitter viral video, revealing that she’s worked for “months” to get it onto the President’s radar, advocating both behind the scenes and publicly. She told Mic, “If you think about a decision that you’ve made in your life and you get life without the possibility of parole for your first-time nonviolent offense, there’s just something so wrong with that.” Why is it so hard to believe that she might genuinely feel that way? Should she really not try to wield her fame and influence to help those in need? Personally, I don’t care whether Kim’s motivations are totally pure, or if she’s trying to help her own public image as well. She’s got the power to get that meeting and be heard, and she’s not afraid to use it.

It’s one thing to criticize her using facts— such as a science website faulting the paper she co-authored for a scientific journal. But these attacks on her character aren’t legitimate. They’re simply sending the message that Kim — and by extension any woman who’s dared to be sexual in public — should never speak out about anything. In a year when women are stepping into the political arena in large numbers, we need to move past our Puritanical roots. Criticize celebrity worship or reality TV or Donald Trump or even Kim Kardashian — but don’t resort to slut-shaming to do so.

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Rachel Kramer Bussel (rachelkramerbussel.com) has edited over 60 anthologies, including Best Women’s Erotica of the Year, Volume 1, 2 and 3, Come Again: Sex Toy Erotica, Begging for It, Fast Girls, The Big Book of Orgasms and more. She writes widely about sex, dating, books and pop culture and teaches erotica writing classes around the country and online. Follow her Twitter account @raquelita and find out more about her classes and consulting at eroticawriting101.com. You can also follow Rachel on BookBub to get notified about new releases and ebook sales.