Vilsan ’19: Fame, fortune and feminism

Staff Columnist
Tuesday, September 27, 2016

Feminism is central to today’s pop culture. Growing up, I was taught that the feminist movement was about abandoning stereotypical gender roles and enjoying the right to choose. Women from Gloria Steinem to Hillary Clinton broke glass ceilings, inspiring many women to reject their status as second-class citizens, admired only for their sexuality, childbearing capabilities and ability to work a vacuum. The feminists of the past haven’t stood as icons for every woman, as the movement marginalized the needs and interests of women of color, lesbians and transgender women, among others. The movement is far from perfect and far from complete. Yet, according to The Economist, women’s bodies are being objectified on an unprecedented scale. Instead of furthering the feminist effort, pop culture icons-turned-feminist leaders are exposing young girls to a warped version of the social activism they promote.

Despite your political differences with Clinton as the Democratic presidential nominee, her 10-fold presence on the New York Times list of 100 Most Influential People is not surprising. She has dedicated her life to breaking down barriers for women in the United States, famously commenting “women’s rights are human rights” as first lady. It may come as a surprise, then, that the infamous Kim Kardashian was one of the titans on the 2015 Times 100 list. The Times lauded Kardashian for her ability to break the Internet with her provocative images. This description, in the same list as that of Malala Yousafzai, begs the question: Should these two women be sharing a stage when it comes to their contributions to the feminist movement? Considering that more teenage girls can describe Kardashian’s rise to fame than can recount Yousafzai’s struggle, shouldn’t we re-evaluate what constitutes female empowerment and whom we choose as our feminist leaders?

For Kardashian, sex, money and power are inextricably linked. Her best-selling game has players aiming to get noticed by the press through a modeling career and relationships with fellow celebrities. Players are not given the option of becoming biomedical engineers or earning their PhDs, for example, and are advised against dating common folk who have no potential to further their careers. Such behavior is clearly shallow — is that what we want from a feminist icon? There should be more than just admiration for conventionally beautiful, 20-something models centered on their bodies and looks.

Shouldn’t we as a society be making sure that one of the most influential feminists in the world is setting a positive example for young women and teaching them that they have more to offer than their bodies? Today’s youths need to know that there is a distinction to be made between the freedom to express sexuality and body positivity and exploiting one’s sexuality for fame and fortune. We’ve come a long way since sex appeal was all we had to offer.

This article may at first appear to be a typical conservative rant, shaming celebrities for voicing their opinions and women for expressing pride in their bodies. I believe that every woman is entitled to her decision to be anything from a cutthroat executive to a stay-at-home mom, and I agree that, for decades, women’s rights to their own bodies have been stifled while men have suffered no such restrictions. I am not here to slut-shame or preach double standards. Teaching young girls to enjoy their beauty and express their sexuality in a healthy, self-empowering way is an important part of the movement. But to me, the feminist campaign is about inspiring women to seek appreciation for attributes beyond their appearance, demanding respect for their ideas, their intellectual ambitions and their desires to break free from the traditional female mold.

A nude selfie with a feminist hashtag does not a feminist icon make.

Feminism — birthed as a political movement uniting women in a common effort to renounce stereotypical gender roles and assert equality — is now employed as a tool of self-promotion by celebrities who misunderstand the substance of the effort to begin with. Rather than contributing to progress within the feminist political movement, celebrities incorporate the movement into their own personal brands, using it as fodder for consumer and social trends.

Celebrities’ voices are heard around the world, with millions of adoring young fans clinging to their words. Meanwhile, many young adults are unable to recognize or even name political or social leaders but can tell you where the Kardashians vacationed last spring. Can everything that needs to be said about gender inequality be neatly summarized by a Kardashian in a 140-character, emoji-laced tweet?

Fabiana Vilsan ’19 can be reached at Please send responses to this opinion to and other 0p-eds to