Kim Kardashian's curves aren't to blame for our problems

Young girls admiring Kardashian's unskinny form isn't going to bring Western Civilisation tumbling down

If you had to pick one image that summed up all that’s currently wrong with Western Civilisation, what would it show? Greek families begging on the streets? Guantanamo? The thousands of victims of child abuse that await protection?

Or an undulating Kim Kardashian in her practised, projectile T-and-A pose?

According to the very learned Dr Helen Wright, former President of the Girls’ School Association, our moral pillars are crumbling under the voluptuous threat of Ms Kardashian: "The descent of Western civilisation can practically be read into [her] every curve". And here was I worrying about unemployment (around one in 10 are jobless in the eurozone alone) and whether the new Greek government will say "yamas!" to meeting debt repayments. 

Wright’s speech to the Institute of Development Professionals in Education makes the obvious but reasonable point that girls are growing up to value aesthetics over intellect due to a dearth of decent role models and society’s (or rather the market’s) overvaluing of female beauty – which if you take a look at history, Dr Wright, you’ll see is nothing new, whatever your fears about premature sexualisation may lead you to believe otherwise.

Kim Kardashian mentioned in the Daily Mail

Kardashian featured on the Daily Mail website

But for a supposedly clever woman, Wright’s hyperbole reveals a facile and paranoically conservative analysis. I mean, is a knicker-flashing Kim really responsible for social deprivation, or child poverty? Is Western Civilisation’s biggest problem really that women waste too much time worrying about their cellulite? And if we flibbertigibbets were all in drab, convently garb, would that rid our minds of frivolous thoughts, and mean that we’d be free of childcare conundrums or sexual harassment or any of the other things that stop us from reaching the professional echelons, come adulthood?

Quoted in The Times yesterday (£), Wright dissects a Zoo cover image of Kim that has so discombobulated her thus: "Officially the hottest woman in the world? Really? Is this what we want our young people to aim for? Is this what success should mean?"

Well, I hate to say it but I’m partial to a bit of Kardashi-bum admiration myself (only in the two-minute breaks I take between tweeting bunk, re-reading Foucault and overeating oatcakes, mind). Which doesn’t mean I consider her successful. Nor a moral role model (I don’t know her, I couldn’t possibly know anything about her personal values). Just that I quite admire her refreshingly un-skinny form.

Wright needs to calm down with the wash-their-faces-in-carbolic-soap maternalism. Piece of advice for you Dr Wright: I went to a girls’ school, and far better than worrying about the nefarious influence of Kardashian and her ilk, is for overly-concerned teachers like yourself to give pupils some more important topics to think about in the first place, as mine did.  You know, like hyperinflation in 1920s Germany. Or the fall of the Soviet Union. Or what happens when puritanical societies use women’s bodies as a moral battleground.

The Bum That Brought Us Social Meltdown, however, probably doesn’t need to be on that syllabus.

Kim Kardashian in Las Vegas in June 2012. Photograph: Getty Images

Nichi Hodgson is a writer and broadcaster specialising in sexual politics, censorship, and  human rights. Her first book, Bound To You, published by Hodder & Stoughton, is out now. She tweets @NichiHodgson.

A National Trust property. Photo: Getty
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The National Trust is right to bring gay history out of the closet

If you want to explore the history of Britain, you can't ignore its LGBT citizens.

Imagine seeing a monument to executed gay men and thinking literally anything other than, “how sad and poignant”. In September, the National Trust unveiled exactly such a memorial at one of their properties in Dorset. Kingston Lacy was once owned by William John Bankes, a man whose sexuality, in nineteenth century Britain, was a capital offence. The NT’s moving tribute to Lacy and so many others persecuted for being queer was deemed a “PC stunt” by the Daily Mail. Tory MP Andrew Bridgen somehow managed to find the monument “totally inappropriate”, adding that he looks to the Church for moral guidance – not the National Trust.

 But let me backtrack. I’m in the darkened vault of the Tower of London where the Crown Jewels are kept. The tour guide has just made a joke about vibrators.

The last time I was here, I was about nine and I was on a day out with my grandma. She made no mention whatsoever of sex toys. I wonder, actually, if this is the closest to this ceremonial bling a joke about vibrators has ever been made. I also wonder if there’s ever been a tour of the Tower of London where the guide – as my one did about fifteen minutes ago – has quite overtly slammed British imperialism. One thing I know for certain though: this is the first ever official LGBTQ tour of the Tower, organised by none other than Historic Royal Palaces – the charity that manages several of the UK’s grandest former homes.

 Earlier, at Traitors’ Gate, me and a tour group of about twenty people were told about Irish republican Roger Casement, who was executed, here, in 1916. Casement was dedicated to speaking out against the atrocities of imperialism, and was rumoured to be gay. But it wasn’t his alleged homosexuality that landed him in this thousand-year-old fortress-turned-prison, rather his involvement in the Easter Rising. King James I though – I later learn – was almost definitely gay or bi, having a number of “favourite” male courtiers. “Favourite” seeming to be a particularly coy seventeenth century euphemism for “gay lover”.

 The tour lasts about an hour and, although at times it seems to be slightly scraping the barrel for queer content, the pure effort of it is nothing short of heroic. The Crown Jewels section focused in on Queen Victoria, and all the anti-gay legislation introduced during her infamously prudish reign. On this tour, her freakishly tiny crown becomes a symbol of oppression rather than a cutesy royal knick-knack. Which, I can only imagine, would have the “gay agenda”-fearing monarchy groupies of middle England in a Faragean frenzy.

 This year marks the fiftieth anniversary of the 1967 Sexual Offences Act, which partially decriminalised (male) gay sex in England and Wales. And with the sheer number of events, like the queer Tower tour, at palaces and historic institutions – from Hampton Court to the British Library – you’d think it was the Queen’s platinum jubilee.

Now for some word association.

 “National Trust”.

 Pensioners? Fruitcake? Dust? Anarchic genderqueer hook-up joint?

 Not so much that last one? Well then, it may come as a surprise that it was the fusty old National Trust, working alongside the National Archives, that recreated a historically accurate covert 1930s London gay bar. For a couple of nights in March this year, Soho’s Freud Café was transformed into “London’s most bohemian rendezvous”, the Caravan club. In a spectacularly and appropriately theatrical evening of incense, cocktails and vintage drag queens, the NT totally nailed the “illegal den of queer iniquity” thing. This was preceded by a historic LGBTQ tour of Soho, which, like the Tower tour, didn’t gloss over the brutality of the British establishment. The Soho tour was rightfully heavy on harrowing stories about police raids on queer venues. In fact, it was through police reports collected by the National Archives that the NT was able to recreate The Caravan (which was shut down by the police in 1934).

Further north in London, another LGBTQ event hosted by the National Trust was “Sutton House Queered”. If the idea of a Tudor manor house in Hackney isn’t surreal enough, in February the grade II listed former home to aristocracy was the setting of a queer art exhibition. Think – richly wood panelled great room containing a painting of Henry VIII in full bondage gear. This was also the debut of the first gender-neutral public toilet in an NT property.

And, in a display of borderline hilarious inevitability, the Daily Mail … raised objections. “Preserve us from a National Trust that’s so achingly right-on”, quacked a Mail headline in December last year, after the NT announced its plans for a series of “Prejudice and Pride” events marking the 50th anniversary of the Sexual Offences Act. This July, the NT came under attack from the Mail, yet again, for outing late aristocrat, Robert Wyndham Ketton-Cremer. Ketton-Cremer left his Norfolk home to the Trust in 1969, and was supposedly outed as gay in a recent film for the “Prejudice and Pride” series. Whether or not the NT’s decision to discuss Ketton-Cremer’s sexuality was ethical, it’s a refreshing sort of controversy: the kind where an old British institution is actually quite blasé about gay sex, and the Mail goes nuts.

 Throughout this year, my inbox has been almost quite alarmingly full of press releases for queer-related events and promotions. From rainbow hummus (yes.) at the Real Greek restaurant, to “Pride at the Palace” at Hampton Court, more than ever, everyone seems to want a slice of the gay action. The Tate Britain’s “Queer British Art” exhibition, which opened in April, showcases a century (1867—1967) of sexually subversive works by LGBTQ artists. Although overwhelmingly male and posh, it’s hard to play down the importance of such a simultaneously harrowing and celebratory retrospective. In one room, A large and imposing portrait of Oscar Wilde stands right next to the actual door to his prison cell in Reading Gaol, where he was imprisoned for the absolute non-crime of “gross indecency”. Even if Britain’s cultural institutions are just playing up to a trend, a very big part of me is into it.

 In July, I went to a panel discussion organised by Opening Doors London, a charity that provides support for older LGBTQ people. A group of queer people who were adults when the Sexual Offences Act was passed spoke about what this anniversary means to them. When I asked panellist Jane Traies, the author of The Lives of Older Lesbians: Sexuality, Identity & the Life Course, what she thought about the likes of the National Trust taking on queer history, she was understandably wary of the possible faddy-ness of it all.

“It’s good, though, that history itself should come out of the closet,” she said.

                                                                                       

Eleanor Margolis is a freelance journalist, whose "Lez Miserable" column appears weekly on the New Statesman website.