Who cares about the Kardashians? The antics and actions of this reality TV royal family are usually met with an eye roll. They’ve built an empire on outrageous and explicit public altercations. The latest battle between Rob Kardashian and his ex-fiancée Blac Chyna unsurprisingly made headlines with all of the gossip magazines, daytime talk shows, and shock jocks. But this celebrity feud matters…for reasons bigger than the Kardashians.
In July 2017, Rob accused Chyna, the mother of his daughter, of cheating on him. Instead of settling the matter privately, Kardashian took to social media to vent his frustration and anger. He posted naked photos of Chyna to his public Instagram account. Kardashian had over nine million followers at the time. The photos were quickly taken down and Instagram suspended the account, but not before a firestorm of media coverage ignited.
Kardashian’s decision to post private photos of Chyna’s naked body online speaks to a broader cultural issue of revenge porn and the female body. According to a recent report by the Data & Society Research Institute, 1 in 10 women under the age of 30 have been threatened with the possibility of revenge porn. The vast majority of those who become victims are also young women.
What does this say about the positionality of the female body in our culture? In a world where the lines between public and private are severely bleeding, how is female sexuality situated? It’s evident that even in our progressive society, women’s bodies are still exploited and shamed, while the male body is celebrated. These negative readings of female sexuality are only amplified by social media.
In cases of offline revenge porn, a woman’s sexuality is used against her for shaming and embarrassment. Her body is put on display and is subjected to be ridiculed and scrutinized. These images are shared via group texts or in-person without her consent. Online revenge porn opens up this ridicule to the public sphere. An exponential amount of people now have unregulated access to surveille her naked body. In the case of Blac Chyna, it was nine million people.
Not everyone cares to keep up with the Kardashians, but their latest celebrity feud holds cultural significance. It brings the gendered crimes of revenge porn to a national stage, and awareness is the first step to elimination.