A wide array of media outlets, ranging from entertainment magazines to outlets targeting women (that have higher editorial standards than their entertainment counterparts), perpetuated sexism and attempted to shame female sexuality in their terrible coverage of Rob Kardashian’s misogynistic social media behavior against his ex-girlfriend. By doing so, they downplayed, if not completely ignored, the potential crime of revenge porn that Kardashian committed.
On July 5, Kardashian, who is currently a sock designer but who rose to fame through different iterations of television reality shows featuring his family, took to his Instagram account in apparent spite to publish graphic images his ex-girlfriend Blac Chyna had sent him. After Instagram shut down Kardashian’s account for violating its no-nudity policy, he took to Twitter to post the same content.
Entertainment magazines like Entertainment Tonight, US Weekly, and People, presented the incident as a “social media war,” focusing on the celebrity feud and the salacious images without mentioning that Kardashian’s sexist behavior was potentially criminal. While it’s not atypical for these publications to uncritically present the problematic behavior of celebrities as entertainment, the substandard coverage of Kardashian’s abusive stunt spread to other publications, including some that write for female audiences and have higher editorial ambitions.
Coverage from Jezebel, Latina, Marie Claire, Bustle and Refinery29 to varying degrees shared a similar form of play-by-play reporting, paraphrasing most of Kardashian’s gross posts and giving the abusive narrative new life on their platforms, thus furthering a man’s shaming of a woman for her sexual activities. Their accounts failed to mention Kardashian’s behavior could amount to revenge porn, or the distribution of “nonconsensual pornography,” an act that has been illegal in California since 2014 and can be penalized with up to 6 months in jail and a fine.
These outlets, specifically those that target female audiences, failed women by not contextualizing the abhorrent behavior and presenting it as what it is: shaming a woman for freely exercising her sexuality and publishing material that was meant to be private with the purpose of attacking a victim. They aided Kardashian in further advancing his hateful messages while failing to inform audiences of the illegality of his behavior. They missed an opportunity to provide useful sources -- like those provided by Without My Consent, a website advocating for victims of revenge porn -- for readers that have been victimized in similar ways.
Not every article missed the mark. Outlets including Glamour magazine and The Washington Post provided good coverage that focused on how “Kardashian’s Instagram posts are the epitome of revenge porn,” and noted that not only were Kardashian’s actions “cruel,” but also possibly illegal. Glamour called out Kardashian’s “slut-shaming,” noting “he crossed a serious line,” and The Post gave a detailed account of what revenge porn is, providing statistics on the number of Americans who have been threatened with or subjected to revenge porn.
Women’s media outlets have stood out in the past for their political reporting and for covering the effects different policy issues have on different communities. They shouldn’t let their celebrity coverage tarnish their credibility as a go-to source for many women.
Kelly Matthews and Katherine Hess contributed research to this piece.