Unfortunately, it was only upon the news of her death—her murder—that I learned of Qandeel Baloch. When I read that Qandeel Baloch was the “Kim Kardashian” of Pakistan (albeit, a description that may not be wholly fitting, according to many South Asians), I was both intrigued and frightened. Intrigued because…well…Kim Kardashian is a pop culture icon made famous for how she presents her body, embraces her sexuality, promotes vanity, etc. I wonder what that would look like, how it would be received, in a culture as conservative and as oppressive towards women as that of Pakistan. Frightened because of the realization that the shame and hate that Pakistanis imposed on Qandeel Baloch doesn’t stray too far from much of what we do to and say about Kim Kardashian for…showing her body, for making money from exposing her body, for being famous for her body, etc.
Kim Kardashian may not be facing silencing by death in our society, but there are countless ways in which our society seeks to silence her that speak to a desire for her social disappearance or social death. In the comments section of any article you’ll find going around about Kim K (and given that she is in the news pretty regularly—there are new ones coming up on the daily), you’ll find not only criticism, but truly hateful, vitriolic language—from people calling her a piece of trash and a whore to a complete “disgrace to society”. I’ve gotten so accustomed to the hate towards Kim that I find myself laughing along with my friends and peers when they go off on her. I myself have said some pretty regrettable things about her.
It took Qandeel Baloch’s death for me to stop and reconsider how I’m contributing to some of the same culture of slut shaming that resulted in Qandeel Baloch’s death. For those of you who may have missed the story, Qandeel Baloch was a 25 year old Pakistani social media star, actress and model who was strangled to her death by her own brother. Her brother claims that he is proud to have killed her because of the shame she brought to her family in an act that exists as part of a larger, widespread phenomenom throughout the Middle East and South Asia called “honor killings”.
The point I am trying to make is not that we should all celebrate Kim—or get behind everything she does. Like many, I find it unsettling that as a culture we spend so much time on her–that so much of what infiltrates our media is dull, vapid, un-intellectual content. What I am trying to say is that shaming her, slut-shaming her, is not only disgraceful but truly damaging to women.
One of the most recurring things I read and hear about Kim is that she is only famous because of her sex tape and that outside of that, she offers no value to society. Let’s think about how damaging that is for a second. Sure, it may not be the most meritorious achievement to be known for a sex tape. But her ex released the sex tape. And it was humiliating for Kim, as she’s stated in an interview from many years ago. She says, “My dad would have been mortified and I’m not happy about it.” If an ex of mine were ever to do the same to me, to say that I would be depressed is an understatement. The phenomenon of women committing suicide because of sex tapes is common enough and yet it doesn’t seem to deter us as a society from making the victims feel like they don’t deserve to have a voice–to live and flourish.
The other thing to consider is the sexism here. Male artists, for example, get to sing and rap about their sex lives, how many women they’ve slept with, etc. and no one says a thing. If anything, they’re praised and rewarded–considered more masculine, etc. For women, it is the opposite that is true. A woman’s worth and value, according to our society, is in being modest, covering up, being cautious about who you have sex with, how many people you have sex with, not being promiscuous, etc.
Is Kim, then, not a hero for claiming what happened to her, for triumphing in the face of it all, and continuing to expose her body–to be known for her revealing her body instead of shriveling up, going into hiding, or forcing herself to be a conventionally “good role model” simply to negate your negative criticisms?
For those that make the argument that we shouldn’t be paying attention to her because she offers no value to society, should we not be more critical of the larger institutions, incentives and cultural trends that bring about celebrities like Kim Kardashian? How could she be the sole person to blame for a supposed degradation of our society, culture and values?
And then there’s this idea to consider–does she truly offer no real value to society? Could she possibly be of some–really meaningful–value to society if only we dare to look at her from a different lens?
Shiveta Vaid, a law student at the University of Minnesota pursuing a degree in biomedical ethics, with an eye toward addressing social inequities, says “I’ve been thinking more and more that one of her contributions as being un-apologetically in control of her body and image – and using that control to expose more of herself (body and self/daily life) rather than use control to create a privacy cocoon. There is nothing wrong with the latter, but the former is subversive when we think about how other women known for being in control of their image (Angelina Jolie, Beyonce) control it to limit exposure rather than expand it….Like, not the fact of exposure, but the mechanics of it, using her autonomy to be visible instead of hidden as many other women do.
Another contribution I think she makes is the example of her business acumen, which I think people are remiss to ignore. Scores of young women and girls are watching a woman without any formal education in business, finance, management, etc., succeed in an old boy’s club. She did have the extreme privilege of being born into the family she has, but it takes some serious chops to build upon what she inherited.”
It’s easy for us to point to outwardly oppressive societies like Pakistan. It’s difficult for us to look inward and examine how many of our own norms might also be damaging to women. But we need to do it.