Intimate partner violence can be experienced by anyone, including Kim Kardashian, a rich, able-bodied, white, straight woman. While power dynamics around class, race, sexual orientation, and disability affect and even shape the abuse, intimate partner violence occurs in all settings and among all socioeconomic, religious and cultural groups, according to the World Health Organization. In patriarchy, privilege does not exclude the possibility of violence—it just makes resilience more attainable. Consequently, the violence may become more bearable, but unfortunately, it is inescapable.
As the very public break-up of Kardashian and Kanye West unfolds on social media, filling the headlines of tabloid media and meme pages, these basic facts about inter-partner violence are worth emphasizing. In February 2021, after seven years of marriage to West, Kardashian filed for divorce. For a few months, the ex-couple seemed to be on good terms, but in August, West started a cycle of ongoing public harassment. From accusing Kardashian of kidnapping their daughter Chicago to begging for his ex-wife to take him back on Instagram, West has been consistently making public attempts to get Kardashian’s attention. However, because of West and Kardashian’s reputations as A-list celebrities who have wielded their power in problematic ways in the past—West has repeatedly made harmful statements and Kardashian has been called out for blackfishing and encouraging diet culture, among other offenses—their public conflict has become fodder for news and jokes rather than flagged as concerning.
West’s pattern of public harassment is a textbook articulation of the intimate partner violence that commonly occurs after the end of the relationship. Despite Kardashian’s attempts to end their marriage, West continues to publicly mention her and their relationship in desperate bids for attention. In a listening party for his album Donda (2021), West allegedly recreated his wedding to his estranged wife: A woman who resembled Kardashian walked on stage in a wedding dress, and West faced her and took off his hat, as if preparing to exchange vows. In January, West confirmed that he purchased a house directly across from Kardashian’s home. In February, West initiated a social media back and forth where he “called out” Kardashian for many perceived offenses—mainly, dating comedian Pete Davidson and posting videos of their daughter North on TikTok. After delivering a truck full of roses to Kardashian’s house on Valentine’s Day, the latest news is that West has used Kardashian’s Saturday Night Live monologue in a song in his new album, Donda 2. (Kardashian hasn’t clarified whether the use of her voice was consensual or not.) This week, West released a disturbing video for his track “Eazy” where he kidnaps and decapitates Davidson, Kardashian’s current boyfriend.
Kardashian articulated clear boundaries by posting on Instagram that she wants to handle matters privately, but West has continued to publicly harass her through social media and other public acts that involve her name or her likeness without her consent. At a party for his new album, West allegedly went home with Kardashian lookalike Chaney Jones. As expected, the tabloid press has been gleefully reporting on West’s every move on social media and beyond, getting views, subscriptions and followers as a result. The sinister truth is that we are watching a man fall apart in real time as he lashes out on the mother of his children in ways that might be irreparable, while the tabloid press—and anyone else who thrives on clicks and views on the internet—monetize a public case of intimate partner violence.
Since Kardashian is rich, beautiful, white, and privileged, to the press and people who read every word of gossip about her relationship, it seems unthinkable that she is actually suffering a very public cycle of violence.
Though much has been said about the social media urge to preamble any conversation about the West/Kardashian situation with “I don’t like Kim, but…” and the fact that what is happening is indeed domestic violence, not much commentary has focused on how media conglomerates are reporting on West’s actions without unpacking what is actually happening between the ex-couple: a cycle of abuse triggered by the end of the relationship. Leaving an abusive relationship, no matter the race, class, or gender of the victim or the abuser, is a high-risk decision that usually elicits violent responses from the abuser. Domestic Shelters, an organization that helps abuse victims find support, reports that leaving an abusive relationship is “the most dangerous time for a domestic violence survivor” because abusers lash out in an attempt to regain control over their partner. The most devastating consequence of the post-breakup period of an abusive relationship can be extreme violence and even homicide. As such, regular celebrity news reporting of West’s actions is no longer appropriate nor ethical.
This isn’t the first time—and it won’t be the last—that the tabloid press has monetized a case of domestic abuse between two celebrities. The case most similar to the current West/Kardashian situation is perhaps the relationship between O.J. Simpson and Nicole Brown, which tragically and infamously ended in homicide. After Brown filed for divorce, Simpson stalked and harassed her in an attempt to reconcile the relationship. Unlike Kardashian, Brown was completely financially dependent on Simpson from the beginning of their marriage, which made her situation much more volatile. Regardless, the fame of being Simpson’s ex-wife did not save Brown from being violently murdered.
While Kardashian is no stranger to the invasiveness of the press—her first encounter with fame was a leaked sex tape that made the news in 2007—she has successfully harnessed her visibility into an empire. Her fame and influence, along with her aforementioned problematic behavior, has resulted in a dehumanizing approach to reporting on what West is doing to her without her consent: Since she is rich, beautiful, white, and privileged, to the press and people who read every word of gossip about her relationship, it seems unthinkable that she is actually suffering a very public cycle of violence.
The truth is that Kardashian is an easy person to hate, particularly because of the white, high-class hyperfemininity she embodies and the potential racial power dynamics between the couple. Kardashian has everything she wants, emboldening tabloids and gossip blogs with a sense of righteousness when they revel in the public harassment West enacts on her. Despite West’s publicly known bipolar disorder diagnosis, his Instagram posts are still considered fair game to dunk on, even though it’s clear that he is struggling with mental health problems. And because the Kardashians have generally managed to turn hypervisibility into influencer gold, monetizing the gossip and conflict around Kim has become completely normalized—so much so that reporting on her public harassment has hardly been questioned as a matter of concern.
The cycle of abuse triggered by the end of an abusive relationship should not be accepted as tabloid reporting material or as fodder for joke Tweets. Intimate partner violence occurs in all settings and among all socioeconomic, religious, and cultural groups—including the homes of the hyperwealthy and the hyperfamous—and it should be taken seriously in all contexts, rather than monetized and memed.