Kylie Jenner's Handmaid's Tale-themed party is a middle finger to women's fears about losing their reproductive rights
In a previous W24 think piece about privilege, I wrote; "usually we are unaware of our [relative] privileges. They are such a normal part of our daily lives that we don't even consider them privileges. So much so that when someone calls us out on any of them we feel attacked".
I'm referencing this particular part of that article because whenever our warranted outrage is directed at the Kardashian-Jenners' tone deaf antics, it is always misconstrued as "hating", "trolling" or "misdirected anger" by both their fans and them. This is the result of exceptionalism as well as not being able to see past your privilege - to be so cushioned by it that you immediately assume constructive criticism is envy or some variation of it.
This family that the world follows both willingly and unwillingly has given us much to admire over the years in terms of the power of personal branding, but in the same breath, has repetitively exhibited behaviour deserving of critique too. They offend so often that at this point we have to think that they are being deliberately obtuse about the extent of their cultural insensitivity due to the attention which follows from it.
So in the latest news about a Kardashian-Jenner offense that has caused an eruption on social media, Kylie Jenner hosted another one of her well-organised lavish parties. This time, for her friend Stassie Karanikolaou.
Usually, we all watch in awe as she walks us through the party venue on her Instagram stories, but this time a very bad taste was left in our mouths (also probably at the thought of what 'Under His Eye tequila' must taste like) as she and her friends exclaimed "praise be, b****s" while clad in red robes and white bonnets in a room full of Gilead flags at her California home.
Yes, if you haven't guessed it by now or seen the IG story, the theme of the party was The Handmaid's Tale - Margaret Atwood's 1985 dystopian novel about a state in which women have no reproductive rights. A novel which has since been adapted into a Hulu TV series by Bruce Miller.
ICYMI - watch the IG story below:
See, the reason avid viewers of this series hashtag it, tweet about it, reference it in conversation, or look forward to new seasons of it isn't because its chilling narrative has flown over our heads or that we think we're participating in some form of activism by watching it - or conversely, that we trivialise it. Not at all.
It's that - brilliant cinematography aside - it's an incredible piece of literature about the enslavement of women and their subsequent loss of reproductive and sexual autonomy in a totalitarian state that grants women little to no rights.
The Handmaid's Tale has managed to remain relevant well into a time where Margaret Atwoods' dystopian setting threatens to be a reality.
This is Gilead
In 2018, the Ohio House of Representatives passed a bill that prohibits abortions from being performed when a heartbeat can be detected. This year, Alabama signed the most restrictive abortion ban in the U.S.
Furthermore, according to Al Jazeera, other "restrictive bans have been passed in Arkansas, Georgia, Kentucky, Louisiana, Mississippi, Missouri, North Dakota and Ohio, among other states". In addition to this they cite the Guttmacher Institute, a reproductive health research and policy organisation that revealed that "27 abortion bans have been enacted across 12 states so far in 2019".
The fact that "Maryland, Minnesota, Texas and West Virginia are also considering abortion restrictions," is also mentioned in the article.
Again in 2018, Kenya banned Marie Stopes from offering abortion services in a letter from the Medical Practitioners Board demanding an "immediate cease and desist".
In the fictional state of Gilead, handmaids are not only forced to reproduce against their will, but those who have had an abortion before, are part of the LGBTQ community or simply read have faced some of the most brutal punishments.
This mirrors a reality where people are violated or murdered for being gay and some women experience violent reproductive control from their intimate partners.
Addressing the privilege
Bearing all of the above in mind, let's get back to why Kylie Jenner's "celebration" of Bruce Miller's series is not 'edgy', but purely insensitive and ignorant.
This is not The Avengers, The Lion King or Black Panther - all of which have had an impactful pop culture footprint, much like The Handmaid's Tale - but they do not portray narratives that are direct triggers about society's moral stains and fears thereof.
As a mother to a one-year-old baby girl, whom she had access to the finest healthcare in order to give birth to her, it's deeply concerning that Kylie missed the message behind this TV show and the only takeaway she got from the story is a party theme.
As this tweet implies, even if this is what Kylie (and her fans) thought, a little reading would've gone a long way.
I saw a Kylie Jenner stan try to defend the Handmaid’s Tale party by calling the book/series a celebration of women’s empowerment and mothers’ love. Laugh with me— Third Force (@naledimashishi) June 10, 2019
Ultimately, the Kardashian-Jenners form part of a group of women who are privileged enough to have reproductive and sexual autonomy. Yes, even women in South Africa currently have this privilege too... to some extent, but the possibility of one day losing it is a kind of impending doom we are not removed from.
But alas, I guess this is just an example of an "if it doesn't affect me, I don't have to be bothered" mentality that the young beauty mogul has employed.
And no one is expecting the billionaire 20-something to stop living her best life to dedicate herself to activism - would you? Maybe not.
But a common thread of the backlash is that this kind of theme is in bad taste, especially for someone with as much influence as Kylie Jenner.
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