The case for Kim Kardashian West and the "imperfect victim"

When Kim Kardashian West was attacked in Paris yesterday, the reactions ranged from disbelief to scorn. Why was it so hard for people to feel straight sympathy?

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By Caroline O'Donoghue on

A day. It took me an entire day to think about how it might feel to be Kim Kardashian West.

It took me that long to consider what it must be like to be dragged from bed by five strangers, before being bound by cable ties and gagged with duct tape. That long to ponder what it must feel like to be a mother of two young children, and to be inches away from the barrel of a gun. I think about her, bound and gagged and in a bathtub, and wondering where her husband is. I think about her, thinking about her son and daughter. I wonder if she thought about the other murdered celebrities who came before her, and if the names of the slaughtered women appeared in her head like patron saints. Sharon Tate. Selena. Adrienne Shelley. 

I confess to empathising with Kim Kardashian West today because of the distinct lack of feeling I had at this time yesterday. We publish a summary of news headlines every morning at 9:30, and I scanned them, barely registering that something had happened to her. When someone brought it up again later, I squinted and said nothing, but thought to myself: this is probably a lot of fuss about nothing, isn't it? This is just Kim Kardashian West doing a Kim Kardashian West thing, isn't it? She probably has a new perfume out and this is a sick ad campaign, right? This was Kanye's idea, yeah? 

And I wasn't the only one: it seemed the whole world had a delayed reaction. There seemed to be more of a concern of what this was doing for Kim Kardashian West The Brand, rather than Kim Kardashian West, the human being. Was it a publicity stunt? Then, nastier reactions: the NRA used her attack to sneer at anti-gun lobbyists. An ex-bodyguard has already piped up to say he's "certain" it was an inside job. Finally, the victim-blaming quadrant of the internet ushered themselves into the ring, the voices that said: well, if you will flaunt your wealth on Instagram, what do you expect? Surely you know what happens to women who share too much of themselves, who let everyone in, who tweet joyfully that they're in Paris? 

There is no such thing as the perfect victim. Women who are attacked while sleeping aren't always humble primary school teachers: sometimes they're celebrities with millions of dollars in jewellery.

Kim Kardashian West, the woman who is "famous for nothing" and who "had a sex tape, remember?", who is dually accused of being both vapid and devious, is not someone we're comfortable giving our sympathy to. Her wealth makes her irritating. The ever-presence of her brand makes her irritating. I can comfortably say that I find almost everything about her presence in Western culture irritating, and that's exactly why I disengaged with what happened to her. I was so determined not to endorse her that I didn't see the attack for what it was: a violent, opportunistic violation of a woman who dared to sell herself by sharing herself. 

There: there it is. I didn't want to endorse her so I ignored her. In much the same way that there is no such thing as the perfect crime, there is no such thing as the perfect victim. Women aren't always dragged down dark alleyways and raped by psychopaths: they wake up in the bedrooms of family friends and try to remember what happened. Women who are attacked while sleeping aren't always humble primary school teachers: sometimes they're celebrities with millions of dollars in jewellery.

You can dislike what someone stands for and still despise what happens to them. You can say "she's doing her thing, and that thing is not to my taste, but I hope she's healthy and happy". You can agree with the sentiment "innocent until proven guilty" and still sympathise with whoever is attempting to prove guilt. You are permitted to have empathy and possess critical reasoning at the same time. You're a person. She's a person. And we all, frankly, deserve better. 


Tagged in:
Kim Kardashian West
violence against women and girls

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