It’s official, Kim Kardashian’s naked selfies have been given the Labour party seal of approval by Harriet Harman. On ITV’s Good Morning Britain, to the delight of a guffawing Piers Morgan, Harman sung the praises of the Kardashian selfies. ‘I am an expert on the Kardashians’, she said, ‘There’s a kind of bravery and pioneering spirit in them’. According to Harman, Kim Kardashian’s naked social-media posts are ‘brave and pioneering’.
And yet, in the same breath, Harman went on to criticise Page Three girls, describing them as ‘fodder’ for pervy male readers. The difference between Kim Kardashian and Kelly from Essex, Harman argued, is that ‘the Kardashian girls are controlling their own agenda. The thing about the Page Three girls in the Sun (who, in fact no longer appear in the paper), is that the male editors are producing these young girls for the male readers’. To summarise: Kim Kardashian is in charge while holding the camera phone; Page Three girls aren’t.
Let’s not pretend that reality TV stars produce naked selfies just for the hell of it. The Kardashians are famous for being marketing geniuses – Kim Kardashian has even published a book of her selfies. We should also be honest about Page Three because, when it was still in print, women were willingly posing topless. Glamour modelling is an industry which women choose to enter. So the difference between the two types of boobs is not one of control, as Harman suggests.
So why are Kim’s boobs empowering and Page Three boobs demeaning? In her book ‘How To Be A Woman’, fellow feminist Caitlin Moran suggests that lap-dancing is not fine, but pole-dancing and burlesque are. Are you beginning to see the difference? When the audience is stereotypically working class – tabloid newspaper readers, builders or audiences at a working men’s club – naked boobs are problematic. But when you’re flicking through Instagram over brunch, checking out Twitter in the office or a member of a private members club, looking at naked women is suddenly OK.
The argument against Page Three was always that the women being paid to flash didn’t know what they were doing. But when middle-class women chose to whip out a nipple for an arty beach shot on their blog, it’s the decision of an intelligent women in control. This is not only completely false, but reveals a strong class hatred at the centre of Harman and her fellow feminist’s arguments. There are good boobs, and there are bad boobs. If yours are spilling out of an Elle McPherson bra instead of a Primark one, you’re probably doing it right.
The depressing thing about Harman’s lecture is that it was initially pretty good. ‘I don’t think that feminism is about somebody else being the role model and us all following them. I think it’s about women not being told how to be a feminist or how to be a woman, but actually deciding for themselves’, she said. But how far does this theory go? It seems that Harman thinks freedom should be extended to women only when they are making the proper choice. Harman, then, was not arguing for women’s bodies to be free, she was arguing for middle-class women’s bodies to be free.
If contemporary feminism was really about liberation, it would not have such a disdain for the choices of ordinary women. Feminism has painted working-class girls, who sometimes enjoy casual sex and pose for topless photos, as brainless idiots, exploited by men.
To hell with that. If women need a political movement today it needs to be one that fights for women to be free to make their own minds up about what they do with their bodies. This extends from the bizarre fascination with topless politics to issues around prostitution and abortion and a woman’s right to control her own body. Harman was right when she said, ‘women have spent decades and centuries being told don’t do this don’t do that’. But her failure to see that she was continuing to define a correct way of being a woman shows the complete removal of middle-class feminism from the lived experience of ordinary women. We don’t need a girls club that heralds naked selfies from rich women as feminist inspiration. We need a serious political movement for freedom which isn’t based on class prejudices and is more interested in what we say, not what’s in our bra.
Ella Whelan is the assistant editor at spiked.