Kim Kardashian’s motherhood doesn’t preclude her sexuality

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I do not want to see my mother naked.

As far as fairly universal facts go, I can assure you that the majority of my fellow members of the human race would likely echo incredibly similar sentiments. So when Kim Kardashian’s oil slick hit the cover of Paper Magazine this week, it was perhaps not that surprising that amidst her slut-shaming detractors, the battle cry of “But you’re a mother” was tossed around as ammunition in the war to get Kimberly Noel to put some clothes on. But here’s the thing about that line of thinking: It’s a bunch of anti-feminist bullshit. And the fact that it’s being thrown at her primarily from other women? Well, that’s just worse.

What started as Glee star Naya Rivera taking a pot shot at the nakedest Kardashian, commenting on Kim’s Instagram post of the Paper Magazine cover with, “I normally don’t. But … you’re someone’s mother…” quickly escalated. Comedian Whitney Cummings also waded into the fray, offering a similar take on Twitter, as did Cummings’ pal, Chelsea Handler.

Handler, who herself has been embroiled in a battle with Instagram over their censorship of her own topless photos, posted a photo to Instagram with her panties dropped, alongside the caption, “Don’t worry, I would never show my peekachu, 1) because I have a familly, and 2) oh yeah…TALENT. Thanks for making the rules clear, instagram.”

 

Don’t worry, I would never show my peekachu, 1)because I have a familly, and 2)oh yeah…TALENT. Thanks for making the rules clear, instagram.

A photo posted by Chelsea Handler (@chelseahandler) on

 

Neither Rivera, nor Handler, nor Cummings are mothers. And while yes, Kim is indeed a mother, when exactly did forcefully ejecting a living human through her cervix suddenly negate her right to her own sexuality?

As Heather Havrilesky wrote in an op-ed in The New York Times on the spectacle of expectations that motherhood has become, “We smugly shake our heads at the backward attitudes of Mad Men, but at this particular moment in our history, some combination of overzealous parenting, savvy marketing and glorification of hearth and home have coaxed the public into viewing female parents as a strange breed apart from regular people. You might feel like the same person deep inside, but what the world apparently sees is a woman lugging around a giant umbilical cord.”

The war against women is complicated and well-documented. We are constantly told how to think, how to act, how to dress—policing behaviors that are used to set up socially acceptable constructs of “feminine behavior.” But mothers? Mothers have it even worse. As Havrilesky points out, we’re currently in an inescapable cult of “Mommy”: 

…our culture is so besotted with all things ‘mom’ and ‘mommy’: ‘Mommy & Me’ yoga classes and ‘Mommy & Me’ mani-pedis and ‘mommy’ makeovers abound. Navigate the world with a child in tow and pretty soon you can’t escape the word.

The backlash against Kim’s photo shoot proves exactly that.

These are not the sorts of arguments men hear. Men are rarely told that because they’re fathers, they cannot be sexy. On the contrary, we laud our silver foxes for aging so well, throwing them on covers of magazines simply for being so stunning while accruing crow’s feet and having them strip down on camera. Indeed, the average age for People’s Sexiest Man Alive is 39. For women? On Esquire’s comparable Sexiest Woman Alive list, the average age of the winner is a mere 30. Youth is sexy. Men are sexy. Motherhood? Not so sexy, points out Maitri Mehta at Bustle.

“…in this day and age, mothers can’t be sexy,” she wrote. “They must renounce their sex appeal in favor of chastity and quiet motherhood.” And this certainly isn’t the first time Kardashian has been shamed for owning her sexuality in public, nor is she the only woman who’s been targeted for bringing sexuality to motherhood. Beyoncé was slammed for the raw sexuality of “Drunk in Love,” while Dita Von Teese faced backlash over her risque maternity lingerie line.

But Kim Kardashian’s motherhood and Kim Kardashian’s sexuality are mutually exclusive, no matter how much puritanical armchair behavioral psychologists would have you believe. Just as her parenting choices are hers to make, so are her choices for her body. Sure, the argument can be made that the photos may one day be psychologically damaging to her toddler daughter North West, but is that really anyone’s argument to make, other than Kim and husband Kanye’s?

As Beyoncé put it when speaking with OUT Magazine earlier this year about feminism and sexuality, “There is unbelievable power in ownership, and women should own their sexuality. There is a double standard when it comes to sexuality that still persists. Men are free and women are not. That is crazy. The old lessons of submissiveness and fragility made us victims. Women are so much more than that. You can be a businesswoman, a mother, an artist, and a feminist—whatever you want to be—and still be a sexual being.”

Identities are a complicated thing, full of internal contradictions, especially when most people can classify themselves in a multitude of ways. But identities are ever evolving, and adopting a new facet of one’s personality doesn’t necessarily mean other facets should immediately be done away with. Is Kim Kardashian a mother? Yes. Should she be able to continue embracing her sexuality as she so chooses? No question.

Photo via Eva Rinaldi/Flickr (CC BY-SA 2.0)

Beejoli Shah

Beejoli Shah

Beejoli Shah is a reporter and editor whose work focuses on entertainment, internet culture, and social justice. Her work has been published in Rolling Stone, Cosmopolitan, Fusion, New York Magazine, the Guardian, and BuzzFeed, among others.