“Can she, will she, rethink her social media ways?” asked Lianne Italie in a Toronto Star article regarding the recent robbery of Kim Kardashian West. “Unlikely.”
Earlier this year, Kim Kardashian West was robbed at gunpoint in a private Paris residence by a group of male assailants. The men forced their way into the apartment, tied her up, locked her in a bathroom, and stole $10 million USD worth of jewelry.
Since the event, there has been speculation about the role social media has played in the incident. With 84 million Instagram followers and 48 million Twitter followers, Kardashian West is known for the heavy documentation of her everyday life on social media.
Yet, the important question isn’t whether Kardashian West should “rethink her social media ways.” Rather, it has to do with whether she should be required to do so.
Framing the Kardashian West robbery in terms of her ‘irresponsible’ usage of social media contributes to a culture of victim-blaming when it comes to violence against women. Indeed, most responses to the attack place the onus on Kardashian West to have prevented the robbery, rather than on the robbers themselves for having perpetrated the crime. For instance, Robert Siciliano, a security analyst who runs a firm in Boston, responded to Kardashian West’s use of social media in a CBC article: “It is beyond irresponsible. It is just crying out to be robbed.”
Siciliano is specifically referring to Kardashian West’s documentation of her stay in Paris — including an Instagram update a few days before the attack of her sporting a 15-carat diamond engagement ring, and a Snapchat video released an hour prior to the attack of her alone in a Paris hotel suite, wearing a white bathrobe and the ring. Valued at $3 million, the ring was reported to be one of the items stolen by the gunmen.
Siciliano’s statement that Kardashian West’s social media use is analogous to “crying out to be robbed” is uncomfortable, since it borrows similar ideas from victim-blaming in rape culture. While safety is a major concern in the use of social media, Kardashian West did not give away her exact location in real time, nor did she actually cry out to be attacked.
These statements attempt to justify Kardashian West’s robbery as a result of her own ‘foolish’ actions, which takes responsibility away from her attackers.
The criticism of Kardashian West’s use of social media is paired with the misrepresentation of violence against women in the media. One of the most prevalent responses to the attack is whether or not it matters due to Kardashian West’s socioeconomic status. It is important to remember that, despite Kardashian West’s social power and influence, she is still a woman being attacked by a group of men in an isolated situation.
In this case, as with many cases of violence against successful women, the victim is dehumanized or discredited. The general public is so far removed from Kardashian West’s life that they treat her robbery with the same gravitas as a scene on Keeping Up with the Kardashians. One of the most severe reactions to what happened is an article that accuses Kardashian West of faking the robbery, lying about the assault, and filing a false claim with her insurance company. The website, which is being sued by Kardashian West for libel, lacks any factual support.
The trivialization of the attack also takes physical form in a Halloween costume depicting Kardashian West being bound and gagged as a robbery victim. The costume, dubbed ‘Parisian Heist Robbery Victim Costume Kit’, was selling for $70.00 on Costumeish, and it essentially equated the robbery to a fun pop culture moment.
The satirization of Kardashian West’s life should not extend to a situation in which her safety has been jeopardized. It is sometimes difficult to remember that Kardashian West is a human being, and this combined with the violent, gendered dynamics of the incident have made for a toxic combination.
While Kardashian West’s celebrity status has certainly played a role in the ensuing media reaction, it is also eerily reflective of the way in which society reacts to violence against women. In the case of sexual assault in particular, much of the responsibility is placed on the survivors for not having prevented the assault, rather than on the perpetrators for committing it. Additionally, women are often dehumanized in most cases of violence, as the general public may be too far removed from the situation to put it into the correct context.
What happened in Paris may seem like an isolated incident, but Kardashian West’s celebrity status doesn’t make her an exception to the rule. In order to combat misogyny, we need to take a more critical look at the representation of women in the media, especially in cases of violence.
Avneet Sharma is a second-year student at Trinity College studying English and Book and Media Studies. His column appears tri-weekly.