“I have the best advice for women in business. Get your f^^king ass up and work. It seems like nobody wants to work these days.”
Clad in all black, the Kardashian sisters and Kris Jenner are stunning on the cover of the latest issue of Variety where they talk about their careers, their new show on Hulu, and give advice to young women in the working world.
Kim’s advice to women is simple: work. Perhaps she senses how that advice would be interpreted, so down the interview, she says she’s just being “factual”: “With all respect, and with love, I’m not, like, being a bitch.”
A meme is flying around on Twitter, a smiling white lady is spotted wearing a top with the writing “stop being poor”, her arms spread upwards. People use this to describe Kim’s business advice, and I cannot help but laugh, because this is true.
We live in a world where the richest and most privileged of all have the most to say about how lazy the “unsuccessful” and “poor” are. There’s this “oh, I worked my ass off” coming from people who inherited their family’s businesses. Then the “I came from nothing” from those who rode in chauffeur-driven cars in their childhood. In a world where people are quick to dismiss other people’s successes because of their privileges, I understand the need to quickly tell the world you are a hard worker and you did not have it all too – you worked, and then you built.
It is true that Kim Kardashian works hard, but do you know who else does? Billions of women around the world. They wake up each day and grind hard. They take care of their homes while handling their businesses and careers.
There’s something unsettling about telling people to get their ass up and work. Advice like this are outrightly dishonest – because you leave out the part where your privileges aid your hard work. They are also delusional, an insult to the billions of hardworking people in the world, and dismissive of women’s struggles.
A long time ago, I made up my mind to stop attending certain conferences and events organised for women, especially on International Women’s Day or in the International Women’s Month. I was tired of the too-many talks that do not metamorphose into actions – panel sessions and keynote speeches that get you all fired up for the 2-3 hours you’ll be in the hall and then you go out to enter Danfo and face your reality. But majorly because these events were just – events, something done to tick off the organisation’s to-do, things done for publicity, things done to fulfil all righteousness. And these talks are mostly vague, simplistic and abstract. Statements that are simply performative, devoid of feelings and truth, pretentious, and bereft of intelligence.
For how do you bring together the who’s who of the women community, the richest and most accomplished women in Africa in an event and the best advice they give women who want to get to the peak of the career or businesses is “be hardworking, be resilient, learn to multitask, you have the power, you have what it takes, be bold…”
I have heard “be hardworking” said to mostly women – by other women and men – more than I have heard it said to men. That is because a larger part of us automatically associates hard work to the male gender. We are deeply riveted in this bias that women are lazy, so much that when we want to talk to or about women, we paint them as people who simply want things to fall on their laps, and we throw the words hard work, resilience and multitask at them so carelessly and flippantly, without seeing that all (majority of) women have done all their life is to be resilient, be hardworking, and fight to have a seat at the table.
And when we say they should be hardworking if they want to be successful, we become blind to the plight of women in our society – race, gender pay gap, gender biases, child-bride, FGM, lack of girl-child education, cultural and societal relegation of women, lack of opportunities for women, and the millions of other factors that hinder women from rising to the top. Statements like this are insidious to the progress women are already making in changing their narratives. Surely Kim Kardashian and other accomplished women must know that it doesn’t only take hard work to be successful, else they won’t be in the positions they are in.
Kim Kardashian’s statement is what you get from people who do not really know what it means to work hard, without privileges, in an economy hell bent on stunting your growth. A representation of the way privileged people see the rest of the world. Like African leaders who blame their citizens for not working hard enough instead of providing a favourable environment where their hard work will shine through. Like Buhari who calls his youths lazy – at a time where minimum wage is 30,000 naira and a bag of rice is 27,000 naira. How hardworking can the alabaru’s in Mile 12 get? How hardworking can Lagosians who leave their homes at 4am and get back at 11pm get? How hardworking can an average Nigerian who works from home but takes on 2-3 jobs just to make ends meet get? How hardworking can a new mother who is forced to resume work after the birth of her baby get? How hardworking can people who are juggling school, work and family get? How hardworking can you get in a system that is already rigged against you if you are from a poor home or lack access to basic resources?
It is okay to advise people and encourage them to do better, what is not okay is insinuating that “nobody wants to work anymore.” Perhaps it’d be helpful if Kim Kardashian – and other accomplished women who chant the words “hard work” – teach us, using their own experiences, what it actually means to work hard.