Kim Kardashian and Kanye West are not new to generating headlines. They are both notorious for their ability to garner attention and court controversy. I’ll be honest I have zero respect or tolerance for Kardashian – and that family – or West. Her and her family’s history of exploiting their employees, fetishization of Black men, and obsession with the bodies and style of Black women, have long been discussed. His ability to make beats or albums that remind me of my late teens and early twenties, could not inspire me to continue overlooking his narcissistic behavior and outright misogyny. It’d been years since a headline featuring either person was able to thoroughly rouse my interest. However, both have recently found their way back into my pop culture sphere.
Kardashian filed for divorce early last year and has since remained staunch in her desire to keep the proceedings private, but West is making that difficult. In the last six months West’s “desire” to reconcile his marriage has escalated into outright stalking.
What I find curious about this whole situation is how we’re talking about it, myself included. There are mainly two camps forming: those that believe Kardashian has all this coming to her because of her and her families’ tendencies to turn relationship fodder into storylines for their television show, and those that see West’s behavior as a warning sign of danger that should be taken seriously.
I’ve found myself in both camps over the past few weeks, which led me to discover a pocket of internalized misogyny and to ask how we can support people in our community who are dealing with stalking.
My awareness of this situation started with listening to Ratchet & Respectable, a podcast hosted by Demetria L. Lucas. I listened as she unraveled the situation between the famous couple and just shook my head. I shared her irritation at having to grapple with the behavior that West was directing at Kardashian.
Despite my deep disinterest in either Kardashian or West, while listening to the plot points of what was happening between them on that podcast, I couldn’t help agreeing with Lucas’ statement: “He is making me feel empathy for Kim Kardashian. I don’t like having to defend Kim because he is being so damn crazy.”
In the days after listening to Lucas and thinking about my lack of empathy toward Kardashian, I started seeing tweets noting that West’s behavior amounted to stalking and comparisons to the actions of O.J. Simpson before the murder of his ex-wife, Nicole Brown Simpson.
My initial reaction to the tweets was mild incredulity. I thought, perhaps this is social media hyperbole – the Kardashian and Simpson families are connected forever because of what happened and the subsequent trial of the century. But it also made me pause long enough to really consider what was taking place.
Rather than dismiss my discomfort and shrug off the tweets I’d seen, I started searching for more information about what occurred and found a comprehensive list of actions West had taken.
For the past six months, West has posted about the pair’s custody fight (including an accusation that Kardashian withheld the location of their child’s birthday party); made a song about how he wants to beat up Kardashian’s new boyfriend, Pete Davidson; publicly asked her to come back to him while performing at a benefit concert; sent a truck emblazonedwith the phrase “MY VISION IS KRYSTAL KLEAR”with a bed full of flowers to Kardashian’s home for Valentine’s Day; posted and deleted paparazzi photos of Kardashian and Davidson, again threatening him; repeatedly shared screenshots of his private communication with Kardashian; and talked about the dissolving marriage publicly, while volunteering at a charity event benefiting the unhoused.
Since then, West released a Claymation music video in which he kidnaps and buries Davidson alive.
I don’t know why seeing it in black and white made it more real to me than hearing it on a podcast, but, as Jezebel reporter, Caitlin Cruz wrote, “This is not normal, and it should not be passed off as romantic or okay or fodder for our entertainment.”
I’ve spent many years thinking about patriarchy, misogyny, rape culture, misogynoir, and how these things manifest in our everyday lives. Even before I had the language, I held the quiet discomfort of dealing with its effects. If a man approaches you with interest – whether he phrases that interest nicely or crudely – be sure to be kind to him as you reject him. If you are assaulted by a man, be prepared for people to ask you what you did to make him angry. If a woman is sexually assaulted, rest assured someone is going to want to know what she was wearing to garner the perpetrators attention. It’s everywhere and no matter what a woman does or doesn’t do, there will always be questions as to what level of responsibility she has in her own discomfort or what happened to her.
Stalking – which is defined as a pattern of behavior, two or more incidents, directed at a specific person that would cause a reasonable person to fear for the person’s safety or the safety of others; or suffer substantial emotional distress – is such an interesting phenomenon. If women are inherently responsible for the actions of men, as our culture often states explicitly and covertly, stalking, as often framed in popular culture, is a sexy obsession or the ultimate display of love.
We are bombarded with instances of stalking in media. Movies, television, music, and books, use stalking tropes casually with alarming regularity. According to the Pop Culture Detective, “Stalking For Love is a popular media trope where invasive stalker-like behavior is presented as an endearing or harmless part of romantic courtship. The hero will often go to extraordinary lengths to coerce, trick or otherwise manipulate his way into a woman’s life.”
How many times have we felt warm and gooey about love and grand romantic gestures in a television show or romantic comedy? We may overlook the fact that the “hero” didn’t take the heroine’s initial thanks, but no thanks seriously. We’re encouraged to see his tenacity and instance as a sign that he really loves her and that she doesn’t know what she wants. He knows best and she just needs some encouragement to see and believe in his vision, right?
The repetition of this trope in media is what allows us to buy into the myth of romantic stalking, so when it turns up in the lives of people we care for, we might not see it for what it is, and decide to downplay what we are being told by loved ones.
According to the Stalking Prevention, Awareness, and Resource Center, for heterosexual people “one in six women and one in 20 men will experience stalking in their lifetime.” LGBTQIA+ people are more likely to experience stalking with “one in three bisexual women and one in 14 bisexual men; one in five lesbian women and one in nine gay men are likely to experience stalking in their lifetimes.”
Which leads me back to Kardashian.
I don’t like her. I don’t like her family. I feel bad for all those Black children being raised in an environment that, from the outside, feels hostile toward Black people. They are people who have sucked as much as possible out of Black style and culture to increase their profit margins and keep themselves relevant. I can only imagine how all the Black kids they have produced are being socialized to see themselves. However, coming to terms with my personal dislike of her while she faces being stalked by her soon to be ex-husband has revealed a lot about my, and our, internalized misogyny.
If I’d heard that any other woman was experiencing that kind of behavior from an ex-partner, wouldn’t I have empathy and even righteous anger at what she was being put through? Of course! No woman – and no one – deserves to be stalked, harassed, or threatened because they decided they didn’t want to be involved with someone.
However, the universe decided to explicitly drive this message home before I had a chance to fully grapple with my internalized misogyny, when a friend of mine published an essay about her experience with stalking.
Twenty years ago, Beth Eakman Re was a senior in college, and had broken up with a man she’d been seeing, which is when the trouble started.
In her piece, Stalking needs a #MeToo movement, she wrote,
One day a few weeks after I’d moved into a new place just blocks from the old one, my mail carrier knocked on my door and sheepishly handed me a large postcard-sized form. It was a postal order that Rich had forged my signature on to have my mail sent to his new address. The mail carrier looked spooked and told me that this was, in fact, a federal offense, but he wanted to show it to me. I put it in the box that was already rapidly filling with the letters. I didn’t know what else to do.
As I read her account of that first year of stalking and how she recognized the hell that’s inflicted on victims with far less resources than Kardashian, I recognized how easy it was for me to access my empathy for her versus how easily I could dismiss Kardashian’s as another storyline for her reality television show.
So, I reached out to Re to talk about her experience and how her community (friends, family, police, supervisor, mail carrier and more) reacted and responded to what was happening to her.
“All these connections that you think are going to want to help you either want nothing to do with it and will distance themselves from the problem – because they’re legitimately concerned that they are going to get hurt – or a lot of them distance themselves because it just seems trashy.”
Even those in positions to advocate for her, the police and mail carrier, tended to ask her what she wanted or intended to do about the situation rather than taking actions that were appropriate for their roles.
“Every single person turned it back to me,” Re says. “He would show up, park in the parking lot [of my job at a preschool] and then lean against the car. I’d get a call from my boss saying, ‘Hey he’s here again. You need to tell him to go away.’”
Twenty years ago, we weren’t talking about stalking publicly or privately very often. In fact, we might have been swooning over the Love Actually carol singers scene, or maybe we were ignoring the creepiness of the boy next door in American Beauty.
In the video, Stalking for Love at the Movies, the author notes, “Media employing the Stalking for Love trope has been shown to have negative effects on people’s attitudes and expectations when it comes to courtship, romance, and love in the real world. Movies like those we’ve been discussing […] serve to reinforce a variety of harmful myths about romance. These including: the idea that women don’t really know what they want, that stalking-like behaviors are justified when love is on the line, and that stalking victims are just ‘playing hard to get.’”
When stalking suddenly jumps off the screen and into the real world, we are less likely to interpret it as a crime and more likely to minimize the feelings of the person being stalked.
Kardashian has a large extended family, money, private security, and many other resources available to her, but for most of us, when stalking happens, we don’t have too many options outside of hoping the legal system will protect us and that our loved ones will stand with us.
How we discuss stalking is important, but right now, how we discuss West’s stalking of Kardashian is very important. When we downplay, mock, or degrade Kardashian’s past and frame her current situation as her own fault or failing, our loved ones hear and feel that and take note.
When they reveal that someone’s behavior is making them uncomfortable or that their old significant other is behaving inappropriately, we need to listen to what they are saying. We cannot minimize their concerns and we need to support them in ways that make them feel safe.
“It’s incredibly isolating,” Re says. “I had my best friend and probably one friend from a mutual friend group that said, ‘Leave her alone, she doesn’t want to be with you [to my stalker].’”
To create the communities we say we want, we need to examine our beliefs about stalking and we need to support victims, even when they are women we don’t like.
We’ve seen too many times that women, even the ones we like, that are famous and monied, aren’t safe from stalking or the violence that often accompanies it – 81 percent of women who were stalked by a current or former husband or cohabitating partner were also physically assaulted by that partner.
I wish Kardashian and her children safety, peace, and that this ends sooner rather than later.
Because, as Re asked me, “Why do we have to be perfect to be worthy of not being harassed?”