The Real Reason Behind the Outrage over Kim Kardashian Being on NPR

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Everyone has an opinion on Kim Kardashian and that's never been clearer than in the two weeks since she appeared on NPR's Wait Wait...Don't Tell Me! for a harmless 10-minute segment. She was charming, self-aware and a good sport. But many listeners didn't feel that way and took their outrage to social media, as well as the comment section of NPR's site.

I wrote a piece defending Kim against these attacks, which got the attention of The Washington Post and the NPR Ombudsman, and led to a guest appearance on KQED's Forum to get to the bottom of the backlash.

During the 30-minute segment, many people chimed in with their views on whether someone like Kim should be allowed on NPR. But there was one comment by a caller that really hit at what this whole thing is really about.

Gina from Oakland had this to say:

"I was just listening to this and I couldn't help feeling there was an undercurrent of gender bias going on...Because she's a woman and because there's a sexual element to her fame, I think that actually is driving some of the discomfort, the ability for people to kind of pooh-pooh her and dismiss her."


I agreed wholeheartedly:

"When we talk about her sex tape, I just keep thinking of the male celebrities who have had sex tapes. When we're talking about Rob Lowe or...Colin Farrell, that never comes up and that isn't used to discredit everything they've accomplished. But with Kim, because she's a woman and we're used to shaming women for their sexuality, it's just easier for us to pile on and I think it's wrong."

Listen to the full exchange:

A huge portion of the comments I've read in response to Kim's WWDTM appearance mention her sex tape or resort to name-calling. And there are a lot of words for these people to choose from—strumpet, harlot, floozy, hussy, trollop, trash, bimbo, whore, slut, and on and on. On the flip side, you would be hard pressed to find equally derisive language to describe a sexual man. They get called lotharios, players, pimps, studs or, most often, nothing at all. Women are placed under a different level of scrutiny in our culture and nowhere is that clearer than within discussions about Kim.

Just this weekend, a concertgoer at the Glastonbury music festival printed a still from Kim's sex tape on a flag and waved it during Kanye West's set. That's how pervasive this culture of slut-shaming is. Her sexuality is being used as a weapon against her and her husband. And people don't bat an eye.

Kim's sexual past doesn't negate her success. She has an estimated net worth of $85 million. She has created fashion and cosmetic lines, clothing stores, an app worth $200 million, and a reality show that's in its tenth season. Regardless of whether you like her or her products, she is a prominent businesswoman, who, yes, has had sex before and has cleverly used our culture's obsession with objectifying women to her advantage. Like host Joshua Johnson said on today's Forum segment: Don't hate the player, hate the game.

We might disagree on whether Kim warrants a discussion worthy of NPR. But hopefully we can all come to realize that this debate is about something much deeper and more insidious than the value of reality television or celebrity culture. If you're one of the people who thinks Kim's perspective shouldn't be heard on public radio, it's time to take a moment and ask yourself what's really behind that belief and what you can do to stop it.

Listen to the entire Forum segment: