On Sunday, reality TV star and beauty mogul Kylie Jenner confirmed her widely speculated pregnancy and announced the birth of her daughter in a single tweet. In the statement Jenner shared on her social media channels, she wrote: “My pregnancy was one I chose not to do in front of the world. I knew for myself I needed to prepare for this role of a lifetime in the most positive, stress free and healthy way I knew how.”
In addition to her statement, Jenner posted an 11-minute video featuring an assortment of images, clips and narrations that she had curated over the past nine months and felt comfortable sharing with the world. The video told the story of her pregnancy up until she gave birth, and while not all of the details divulged in the video were particularly juicy, they were all connected by one common thread: Jenner had chosen to share them. Throughout all the months that have passed since pregnancy rumors first began to swirl in September, media and onlookers alike have all felt varying degrees of entitlement to knowledge about Jenner and her pregnancy. And in addition to this entitlement, The Cut writer Mariah Smith also pointed out the judgment and misogyny that underlay our collective assumptions about why Jenner chose to stay silent.
“We collectively assumed Kylie’s silence was rooted in shame, in her young age and even younger relationship with Travis Scott,” Mariah wrote. “But shame on us, because reality was far more beautiful. Proving that she’s more self-aware of her position in this world, and what her public image means, Kylie took time to focus on her real life.”
By retreating and taking time for herself away from the public eye, Jenner had the opportunity to reflect and prepare for the life-changing responsibilities of motherhood in ways that she simply would not have been able to otherwise. And in perceiving her decision to recuse herself from the media bubble that she’s spent most of her life in as a publicity stunt and act of shame, we not only inserted our own judgments and implicit, sexist bias into her narrative, but also played into the greater, overarching societal trend of denying women privacy in their bodily decisions.
Often, we discuss and analyze Jenner’s life from the lens of the profound privilege she was born into and continues to benefit from. In most circumstances, such as Jenner’s $70,000 budget on baby clothes for newborn daughter Stormi Webster, it’s important to keep her privilege in perspective. Plenty of 20-year-old women facing pregnancies would not have been able to consider raising a child as an option, or would have faced drastically different circumstances from Jenner upon giving birth. But privacy and complete decision-making power over one’s body and who gets to know about these decisions is not a privilege — it’s a right for all women.
And yet, across the country, this right remains challenged in myriad ways. In states like Arkansas, Oklahoma, Missouri, Rhode Island and others, laws either exist or have been seriously considered that would require women seeking abortions to obtain permission from the father of the fetus with few exceptions. Women could be forced to talk about their pregnancies and deeply personal reproductive health care decisions with men they may have no relationships with, men who may have abandoned them or even men who may have raped them. Thirty-seven states have laws requiring parental involvement or consent in a minor’s decision to have an abortion, also with few exceptions. As late as 2013, the Food and Drug Administration barred women younger than 17 years old from independently purchasing emergency contraception over the counter.
Last year, Oklahoma Rep. Justin Humphrey, the Republican lawmaker who proposed a partner consent law, justified his bill by saying that while “[women] feel like that is their body,” this isn’t the case because “you’re a host.”
This particular quote by Humphrey exemplifies a common perception of abortion opponents that women lack ownership of their bodies. On top of this, the law he proposed implies that society, instead, has collective ownership of women’s bodies. Our laws and culture have created an environment in which the people in a woman’s life — or perhaps not in it — have not only the right to make her decisions, but also the right to know about them.
In a society bent on shaming, discriminating against and punishing women for their personal bodily decisions, this matters. In many states, due to open-ended religious freedom laws, women can technically be fired, evicted or marginalized in other ways for having had abortions or for being sexually active. Research has shown that teenage girls are far more likely than teenage boys to face bullying and ostracism from their peers for being sexually active. It’s no exaggeration to say that the amount of privacy a woman has regarding her bodily and other personal decisions dictates her quality of life and the opportunities available to her.
Bodily autonomy is about more than the ability to choose to give birth or have an abortion without permission from partners, parents, the government or anyone else. It’s fundamentally about whether we can dictate who knows about these decisions, and how and when we want them to know.
Kylie Cheung is a sophomore majoring in journalism and political science. She is also the associate managing editor of the Daily Trojan. Her column,“You Do Uterus,” runs Thursdays.