Keeping Up with Postfeminism: The Branding of the Kardashian Sisterhood
Kris Jenner, the self-proclaimed “momager” of the Kardashian family said, “I think you guys have to stay united and realize that anything either one of you does builds the whole Kardashian brand.” She offered this advice during the episode “All for One and One for Kim,” of the wildly popular television series, Keeping Up with the Kardashians, to placate the three eldest sisters, Kourtney, Kim, and Khloé, after a disagreement concerning the amount of time they have been spending on their individual projects as opposed to the unified family brand. This comment, perhaps overlooked by the casual viewer, acknowledges the underlying ideological framework of the Kardashian empire: sisterhood sells. Keeping Up with the Kardashians presents sisterhood as the foundation of their entrepreneurial ventures. To be successful, the Kardashian sisters encourage the empowerment of women and celebrate the neoliberal, post-feminist idea that women can “have it all.” Further examination proves, however, that their construction of femininity continues to be heteronormative, upholding stringent beauty standards. The Kardashians demonstrate the power of women working together, but also glorify individual, even narcissistic, improvements of the self. In these ways, they are contradictory icons in a post-feminist age. In this paper, I will demonstrate the ways the Kardashian family uses the medium of reality television, along with other social media, to cultivate an “authentic realness.” Established by an overt willingness to grant the audience what is perceived as an unfiltered glimpse into their most personal moments (e.g. when Kourtney gives birth or when Kim goes to a fertility doctor), the Kardashians attract a fan base appreciative of their apparent genuineness. In the age of reality shows like Catfish, which films the first meeting of couples who have only interacted online to overwhelmingly disastrous consequences (one person is usually not who they claim to be), viewers are skeptical of fabrications; therefore, when Keeping Up with the Kardashians makes a claim to “real” drama, it creates an apprehensive audience, one who demands total transparency. As a result, the sharing of seemingly personal information forges an imagined bond of friendship between the sisters and their viewers, culminating in a virtual sisterhood. I will then expose the contradictory ways the Kardashians position themselves in relation to the post-feminist framework of today. According to media critic Diane Negra and other scholars, this millennia is a post-feminist period that dismisses the need for active coordination of organized movements because females have, allegedly, managed to reach a status equal to that of men. Although the Kardashian sisters exhibit many ideals of post-feminism, such as a type of “empowerment” that celebrates a command of sexuality and a recognition of consumer culture as a primary source of fulfillment, they also challenge the emphasis on neo-liberal individualism by advocating the value of sisterhood, a fundamental aspect of second-wave feminism. Beginning in the 1960s and extending through the 1980s, women embraced second-wave feminism for the “the promise of sisterhood” and a desire to become “a group with the capacity to act.” The promotion of sisterly unity by Kourtney, Kim, and Khloé, and their two younger sisters, Kendall and Kylie, in conjunction with Kim’s identification as a “sort-of” feminist, reported in an interview with Time Magazine, in which she revealed, “‘I guess people would call me a feminist […] I just do what makes me comfortable,” perpetuates the inconsistency of their market, one “tailored to insecurity and desire,” under the guise of female support.
Franklin and Marshall College Archives, Undergraduate Honors Thesis 2016
- F&M Theses Collection