Amber Rose, Feminism, and Contemporary Pop Culture

On Saturday October 3rd, 2015 Amber Rose held her widely anticipated Slut Walk in Los Angeles. And while I was of course expecting some negativity, I was in no way prepared for the hateful commentary and backlash that ensued. Feminist backlash–which involves a direct, explicit refutation of feminism as misguided and bad for women [1] is nothing new. However, I was personally was shocked at the level to which both men AND women went beyond simply objecting to the Walk to flat out insulting, slut-shaming (ironic, no?), and denouncing both Amber Rose and her brand of Feminism as “trashy,” “embarrassing,” and “an abomination to women in this country.”

Now I understand that not everyone agrees with the concept of a Slut Walk, but it is always worrisome–very worrisome–when a group of people who feel marginalized in society would like to peacefully protest and bring awareness to their dissatisfaction and are instead met with hate speech, degradation, humiliation, and threats of sexual violence. As someone who regularly follows both feminist politics as well as changes in pop culture (because they are so often intertwined), I am trying my best to understand why the reaction to the Amber Rose Slut Walk was such a contentious one.

For many readers who are not familiar with the concept, a Slut Walk is a peaceful protest march that seeks to put an end to sexual harassment–or slut shaming–based on the appearance of a woman’s outfit or dress. The general purpose of a Slut Walk is to draw attention to the fact that shaming or judging women based on the amount of clothing they are wearing is a harmful tactic used to demean and control women and justify sexual violence against women who are “asking to get raped” by dressing in a certain fashion. Slut Walks are thus one of the tools created by and for Millennial Feminists who wish to put an end to the established social norm that women are (and should be) defined by and reduced to their sexual attractiveness (or lack there of) and their sexual behaviors [2].

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The Slut Walk movement began in 2011 after a Toronto police officer who was speaking about rape at a university said that “women should avoid dressing like sluts in order not to be victimized.” Heather Jarvis and Sonya Barnett, who were among many women that were outraged by the idea that women are both responsible and deserving of sexual assault depending on how they are dressed, organized the first Slut Walk. The walk was originally started to protest rape-culture, i.e. a culture which labels, shames and blames women for sexual assault. However, as the movement continued to grow it has taken on the role of drawing attention to unfair standards, everyday sexism, bullying, name calling, slut-shaming and the oversexualized status quo that women are held to in popular media, culture, politics, and entertainment.

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Heather Jarvis, co-founder of the original SlutWalk Toronto at the #AmberRoseSlutWalk (Photo via MIC.com)

Despite what people are saying about the Slut Walk, it is first and foremost a feminist movement aimed at supporting and honoring women who wish to claim sexual equity with men. Millennial Feminists who support the Slut Walk Movement no longer want to be seen as sex objects; they want to be active sexual agents in charge of their own sexuality and free from judgement–just like men. They are tired of having their sexuality seen as something dangerous or shameful that needs to be censored or denied [3], and most importantly: they are no longer asking for permission to claim their sexual freedom, it is theirs and theirs alone. So they showed up en masse to march in solidarity with Amber Rose, the model who has become well known for her unapologetic brand of sexuality where she refuses to feel guilty for being a wife, mother, and public sexual being. For young women who also want to claim their sexuality as not only equal to men, but also as apologetically shameless and uncensored, Amber Rose is the queen of just not giving a damn.

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Amber at the 2015 VMAs in a “slut-shamed” body suit to show she would embrace the shaming

For those of you who don’t know, Amber Rose’s rise to fame has included a disturbing amount of trash-talk, name calling, and public shaming due to the fact that she worked as a stripper when she was younger to keep both herself and her mother from homelessness. Once famous, Amber has been known to do “provocative” things like model nude, dance sexually on Instagram (twerking and otherwise), and post photos of herself semi naked–all while being a mom, gasp! This fueled her image as a “slut” even though she dated only two men publicly, Wiz Khalifa and Kanye West, and stayed faithful to both of them. Ironically they both cheated on her. And even after being a faithful girlfriend to both of these men, and the wife and mother of Wiz Khalifa’s son, Amber has not only been slut-shamed publicly by internet trolls and the media, but also by her two exes.

Kanye–who responded positively to his current wife, Kim Kardashian, posing nude on the cover of PAPER Magazine and has boasted about her becoming famous from her sex tape–has done the opposite in regards to Amber’s past and her “oversexualized” image. In February of 2015 he appeared on a prominent talk show and quipped that (1) “there would be no Amber Rose” if it wasn’t for him and (2) insinuated that a woman “like her” was so dirty that he had to “take 30 showers” before Kim would date him.

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Amber’s mother at the Walk with the now infamous sign in response to Mr. West’s sexist comments

The crazy thing about Kanye’s statement is that he has been linked to numerous women in Hollywood during his single periods and was once spotted sneaking out the back entrance of a Los Angeles nightclub to secretly get into his car with three women. In addition, his wife has become famous through her “oversexualized” image and I doubt he would like it if anyone, including her exes, had talked like that about her. As for Wiz Khalifa, he stooped even lower by making a diss-track about the woman who he once loved and who is the mother of his child, claiming “I fell in love with a stripper and fell out of love quicker.” And yet, after all this, Amber took the high road and forgave both of her exes at the SlutWalk for their hurtful comments. Then, she went even farther by suggesting that her fans and fellow Slut Walkers do the same as part of the healing process.

Below: Amber’s speech where she talks about being slut-shamed and forgives her exes for their hateful comments

What is it then that is so bad about Amber Rose? I personally think she stands on some pretty high moral ground and I would be happy to see other prominent women in Hollywood follow her lead. Unfortunately there are people who think otherwise, claiming that Amber is not a role model because she “encourages young women to dress and act like sluts.” Another more disturbing argument people make is that Amber deserves to be called names like slut and ho because of her past and because she refuses to conform. If you think I am exaggerating, look no further than the young man who wrote one of the most uninformed, sexist pieces that I came across during the entirety of my research. I’m only including a few selections, but they should be enough to give you an idea of the misogynistic tone that generally trails Ms. Rose (but please, don’t take my word for it, read the full article here: Why I Don’t Agree With the Amber Rose “Slut Walk”):

One of my favorite songs is NWAs “A Bitch Iz a Bitch.” This song describes what the word “bitch” means when men use it.

Where I am from “ho” means two things. One, a women that lies about sleeping with men, and 2) a prostitute. What happens when this word loses its meaning? Will every girl that lies about sleeping around be a housewife? Can you imagine if someone threw a thief, murder, or liar walk? Shit would be ALL fucked up!

Also, I believe a lot of women forget that men like porn. No honorable man I have ever known said “I can’t watch porn! Those hos are too nasty!”. They don’t even call the pornstars “hos” or “sluts”…. Its the woman who cheats or lies that get labeled a “ho”. A pornstar can get a man “hard” in an instant. A “ho” has to perform an sexual act to get a man hard.

Another thing is this…Amber you are a celebrity!…If you are not a “slut” or a “ho” then why is it bothering you so much? We knew Kanye was playing about those “30 showers”. This comes with the territory of being a celebrity. Accept it!

If you don’t want to be called a “ho” then don’t act like one.

First, let me just point out the irony of this man’s choice to begin his article with N.W.A’s “A Bitch Iz a Bitch.” N.W.A is a prime example for representing misogyny in rap culture. They had another hit, 1991 song “She Swallowed It” which contains lines like “If you got a gang a niggas the bitch will let you rape her” and talks about gang raping a girl who is “14 and a ho,'” but let’s focus on one misogynist message at a time.

The description of “A Bitch Iz a Bitch” on rap genius explains that the track is a response to outsider and feminist attacks on hip-hop for being misogynistic by often calling women “bitch” in rap songs. However, N.W.A offers a counter message disagreeing with this sentiment, and stating instead that: “not all women are bitches, but sometimes, a bitch iz a bitch” (even though in the actual song Ice Cube says “now the title don’t apply to all women, but all women have a little bitch in ’em”). N.W.A describes it as a “disease plaguing their character”, almost making women victims in the situation, thus claiming that it is not their fault but they should carry the burden anyways (“see some get mad and some just bear it, but yo, if the shoe fits wear it”).

Acting like a bitch in the eyes of N.W.A involves any combination of acting conniving, using men for money, dissing men, gossiping about friends, wearing scandalous clothing, being stuck-up, and even wearing contacts. In a bid to promote street harassment culture, Ice Cube says “bitch, eat shit and die” to women who “don’t say hi” when he says “hi”. Ice Cube does not blame women for being that way, as it is only the natural. But he will not hesitate calling out women for acting in this manner.

By stating that “A Bitch iz a Bitch” is one of the author’s favorite songs (indeed, because it defines how men use the term bitch to talk to women who act in a manner which they are not supposed to) he is asserting his right as a man to call women names like “bitch” or “ho” when they fail to obey the expectations of men. He is also insisting that it is justifiable to define women by their relationships with men and by how much men value them. He puts such emphasis on the importance of classifying women who are prostitutes or who lie about sleeping with men  as “hoes” for punishment and to keep them in their rightful place. He even goes as far as saying these types of women are worse than pornstars because we don’t call pornstars sluts or hoes, as we should rightfully call these lying women.

It’s important to note the double standard here: there is no equivalent to “slut” or “ho” for a man. Perhaps a “player,” but it doesn’t carry a negative connotation, it is actually considered cool and funny to be a player. We even have the expression “don’t hate the player, hate the game.” Men therefore have no punishment for being sexually promiscuous, on the contrary, they are celebrated in modern pop-culture. However, present yourself as a woman with sexual desires equal to any man’s, and as a woman proud of her body, and no matter what your intent you are giving permission to be objectified and, inevitably cast as a slut [4].

He goes on to explain that as a celebrity Amber should expect to be called these names, as it comes with the territory. He implies that it’s all fun and games anyway, as everyone “knew Kanye was playin’ about those 30 showers.” It doesn’t seem like Kanye was playing, and it doesn’t seem like he is either because he finally asserts that if she doesn’t want to be called a ho than she shouldn’t act like one. Wait, didn’t he just say it was a joke? It is, above all else, this “it’s all a joke” veneer which claims that it’s “all in good fun” or that “boys will be boys” that gives sexism such a protected stance [5]. It is this absolute “it’s a joke” insistence that sexism isn’t really harming to girls and women.

So what is a guy like this really saying? Essentially, he’s saying that women must cater to what men want. You are not your own person, you must answer to the patriarchal sexual requirements that have been put in place to appease men. Act the right way and you’ll get praised by men, get called sexy, get the right kind attention, and maybe even get famous like Amber did. Act the wrong way and get you’ll pay for it, like Amber is now. Women who want to express their sexuality on their own terms, are a threat, and can easily be reduced to angry femi-nazis or worse–sluts, deserving of punishment in the form of humiliation, shame, or even worse, rape.

Am I really suggesting anyone would go that far? Unfortunately, yes. There was a man who protested the SlutWalk saying just that: for your actions you deserve rape. In a post written by Sarah Bebb who attended the event, she described a man who stood outside the event and yelled through a megaphone that the protesters “should stay in the kitchen and stop being sluts,” and held up a sign that said “you deserve rape.” And although I can understand that this man seemed to be upset that women were wearing little clothing and dancing in a sexualized manner (though it’s nothing the media hasn’t been telling women to do for years!), I just don’t understand how that ever legitimizes rape. Blogger Sarah Bebb also described a sign at the walk that elucidated: “rape, by definition, cannot be asked for.” She rightfully explained that children get raped, senior citizens get raped, men get raped, sober people get raped, and even virgins get raped. Thus “rape is caused by rapists.”
Screen Shot 2015-10-11 at 2.54.02 PMSo to this man and many others, the Slut Walk Movement has taken feminism a step too far. But isn’t it hypocritical that the media and Corporate America can use sex and woman’s bodies to sell anything, but the minute women try to reclaim some sexual power for themselves, they’ve “gone too far”? Welcome to the world of enlightened sexism, where female sexuality can be exploited to sell products, but must also be policed and punished to keep girls and women in their place [6]. Enlightened sexism has gained a great deal of awareness in recent years thanks to Susan J. Douglas’s 2010 book of the same name (which I highly recommend).

Susan’s book explains why so many women (women who benefit each and every day from the Feminist movement, I might add!) are against Amber Rose, the SlutWalk, and even modern day Feminism: you guessed it–Enlightened Sexism. Enlightened sexism is masked as feminism in it’s outward appearance (of course you can be or do anything you want) but sexist in it’s intent (hold on, girls, only up to a certain point, and not in any way that discomforts men or pushes feminist goals one more centimeter forward). While enlightened sexism seems to support women’s equality, it is dedicated to the undoing of feminism [7]. Enlightened sexism also explains why, in this day and age, some young women have learned to be enforcers of their own oppression by “calling each other sluts and whores, imposing even more ridiculous rules on themselves than the beauty-industrial complex does and mocking girls whose clothes, hair, figures, or social status just aren’t right.” [8]

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Young women, then, are repeatedly getting the short end of the stick. Adolescents, by their very nature, are supposed to be restless, rebellious, defiant of adult society and structures–yet girls and girls alone are expected to conform, to comply, to obey. Thus, if they behave like true adolescents, they can’t be feminine, and if they adopt the mantle of femininity, they aren’t really adolescents–how is that for an impossible place to stand [9]? The Slut Walk, then, is one way young girls are standing up to these impossible expectations and saying NO MORE.

When I look at the pictures and videos from the event, I see young women who are passionate about issues that concern them, and they are, literally, screaming out to be heard. And it’s not just women–men are sexualized involuntarily too! Men are sexualized and learn to become sexual beings by sexualizing women. Thus, men who stand up to stop the sexual degradation of women are, in a way, standing up for their own rights to be masculine and sexual without sexually shaming or demeaning women in the process.

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And finally, there is Amber, leading the fight and I can’t imagine a better voice for young women. Even though she has been a rising voice among modern feminists for awhile, she truly rose to the title of role model, in my eyes, when she give that speech. Sexual equality goes hand in hand with political and economic equality [11], thus, by hosting the SlutWalk Amber has shown young women that taking a political stance on Feminism is necessary in the fight for sexual equality. Amber proves that saying a you’re a feminist isn’t enough, you will eventually have to walk the walk–literally–the SlutWalk, as that’s inevitably what they’re going to call you for wanting sexual equity with men.

And whether she realizes it or not, Amber has done something many other self-proclaimed celebrity feminists have failed to do: instead of peddling the typical and likable message of “feel-good-feminism,” she used her platform to shed light on everyday sexism in the entertainment industry and opened herself up to negative and hateful criticism that comes with confronting the status quo. By doing so, she proved that she fully understands and accepts the backlash following her decision to host a SlutWalk as a necessary evil in exposing sexual inequality and injustices in American pop-culture today. This is what makes Amber the feminist heroine in pop-culture that I feel I’ve been waiting for. She’s ready and willing to take the heat from the cynics and the naysayers if it can help move the feminist agenda forward.

She’s also a proud feminist, and instead of shying away from the word as so many other celebrities have, she is open and unapologetic about defining herself in such terms. In a recent article in GQ magazine, GQ attempted to belittle her and dumb her down by calling her Wiz Khalifa’s baby momma, when indeed she was his wife and has a lot more going for her than just being a famous man’s love interest. She took no shame in posting an photo on instagram saying her SlutWalk “was for ignorant sh– like this” and recently told Women in the World that:

 I’m not Wiz Khalifa’s baby’s mama. I’m an advocate for women’s rights. That’s what the f— I am. [12]

Such disappointing reactions to her SlutWalk prove time and time again how difficult feminist advocacy in today’s pop culture environment really is. As Andi Zeisler (Bitch Media co-founder and creative director) said “Feminism isn’t supposed to be fun.” By that she meant that:

feminism is a movement that at it’s roots is about changing a system and changing values. It’s hard, it demands hard work, hard conversations, and conflict. It’s not supposed t be easy, fun, cute, or sexy. [13]

In this sense Amber “gets it” and she’s ready and down for the cause, even if that means enduring painful ridicule to claim sexual equity with the men in her industry. For this I am so very proud of Amber and glad we have a woman that is ready and willing to carry the feminist baton.

So in the end, it really does not matter to me whether Amber Rose stripped or not, whether she did it because she had to or because she wanted to (who cares anyway, it’s her body). What matters is that when she hit the spotlight and was shamed and bullied to act a certain way in order to conform to what is expected of female celebrities, she did not. She continued to be as sexual as she wanted, which a lot of women have done, but Amber went one step further. She said via her outfit at the VMA’s, posts on her social media accounts, in interviews, and finally through hosting a SlutWalk “you will not write my narrative for me, as a mom, as a wife, as a sexual being, and as a woman.” She told the haters to keep hating because she was just going to be so unapologetically herself if didn’t matter. She took a political stance on Feminism, and she told young women to be themselves, forgive the people who hurt them in the past, and most of all never to be ashamed of who they are–sexually or otherwise. Do I think Amber Rose is a  good role model? Absolutely. Do I think she is good for young women? Hell yes. Cue the backlash.

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[1] Douglas, Susan J. “Introduction.” The Rise of Enlightened Sexism: How Pop Culture Took Us from Girl Power to Girls Gone Wild. New York: St. Martin’s Griffin, 2011. Page 11. Print.

[2] Douglas, Susan J. “Castration Anxiety.” The Rise of Enlightened Sexism: How Pop Culture Took Us from Girl Power to Girls Gone Wild. New York: St. Martin’s Griffin, 2011. Page 57. Print.

[3] Douglas, Susan J. “Sex R Us.” The Rise of Enlightened Sexism: How Pop Culture Took Us from Girl Power to Girls Gone Wild. New York: St. Martin’s Griffin, 2011. Page 160. Print.

[4] Douglas, Susan J. “You Go Girl.” The Rise of Enlightened Sexism: How Pop Culture Took Us from Girl Power to Girls Gone Wild. New York: St. Martin’s Griffin, 2011. Page 135. Print.

[5] Douglas, Susan J. “Sex R Us.” The Rise of Enlightened Sexism: How Pop Culture Took Us from Girl Power to Girls Gone Wild. New York: St. Martin’s Griffin, 2011. Page 166. Print.

[6] Douglas, Susan J. “Castration Anxiety.” The Rise of Enlightened Sexism: How Pop Culture Took Us from Girl Power to Girls Gone Wild. New York: St. Martin’s Griffin, 2011. Page 57. Print.

[7] Douglas, Susan J. “Introduction.” The Rise of Enlightened Sexism: How Pop Culture Took Us from Girl Power to Girls Gone Wild. New York: St. Martin’s Griffin, 2011. Page 10. Print.

[8] Douglas, Susan J. “Lean and Mean.” The Rise of Enlightened Sexism: How Pop Culture Took Us from Girl Power to Girls Gone Wild. New York: St. Martin’s Griffin, 2011. Page 237. Print.

[9] Douglas, Susan J. “Get the Girls.” The Rise of Enlightened Sexism: How Pop Culture Took Us from Girl Power to Girls Gone Wild. New York: St. Martin’s Griffin, 2011. Page 53. Print.

[10] Douglas, Susan J. “Sex R Us.” The Rise of Enlightened Sexism: How Pop Culture Took Us from Girl Power to Girls Gone Wild. New York: St. Martin’s Griffin, 2011. Page 187. Print.

[11] Douglas, Susan J. “Sex R Us.” The Rise of Enlightened Sexism: How Pop Culture Took Us from Girl Power to Girls Gone Wild. New York: St. Martin’s Griffin, 2011. Page 157. Print.

[12] Perry, Jennifer. “Amber Rose: “I’m Not Wiz Khalifa’s Baby’s Mama. I’m an Advocate for Women’s Rights.” Women in the World in Association with The New York Times WITW. Women in the World, 30 Oct. 2015. Web.

[13] “Feel-good Feminism Critiqued.” Interview by Andi Zeisler. WNYC 93.9 FM. WNYC 93.9 FM. New York City, New York, 30 Oct. 2015. Radio.

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Photo credit: Janna Zinzi/jazabel jade.

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Photo credit: Janna Zinzi/jazabel jade.

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Photo credit: Janna Zinzi/jazabel jade.

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Photo credit: Janna Zinzi/jazabel jade.

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Photo credit: Janna Zinzi/jazabel jade.

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Photo credit: Janna Zinzi/jazabel jade.

The following photos were taken from Instagram and can be found here. I do not claim ownership of any of these photos:
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