Sometimes a very important lesson can come from a very unlikely teacher.
Amber Rose—mother, author, model, music video muse and social media rabble-rouser—has emerged as a surprising force in the ever ongoing conversation about women owning their sexuality.
The SlutWalk advocate has partially reinvented herself as a feminist mouthpiece, encouraging victims of sexual violence to shed any feelings of guilt or shame, urging women to embrace their sexual appetites and otherwise encouraging her fellow ladies to cast off labels—and if they can't, then to reinterpret what those labels mean. As a former stripper, Rose is also keenly aware of the pitfalls of having one's past held against her.
And thanks to Twitter and Instagram, there's a chance to advocate in front of a huge audience every day. Most recently she went to bat for Kim Kardashian, the two having become a tiny bit closer lately, after Kim was hit with an inordinate amount of backlash in response to her most recent nude selfie. Rose went off on Pink, one of the more famous names who seemed to be criticizing Kim's pic, and then earlier today she invited Kim to be front and center at SlutWalk 2016.
Whether or not that appeals to Kim remains to be seen, but Rose has definitely carved out a little niche for herself among celebs who reliably and prominently speak up for women's rights.
And yet, the debate still rages over whether Rose's brand of feminism is helping or hurting.
SlutWalks started in 2011 in Toronto after, in response to a spate of reports of sexual assaults on university campuses, a cop said (while speaking at a college about the issue), "Women should avoid dressing like sluts in order not to be victimized."
So Rose didn't come up with the idea, but she has embraced it wholeheartedly, hosting a SlutWalk in Los Angeles last October and maintaining a website devoted to the cause. "[We] recognize that shaming, oppression, assault and violence have disproportionately impacted marginalized groups including women of color, transgender people and sex workers, and thus we are actively working to center these groups in this event," reads a statement on the site. "We deeply value the voices of marginalized groups and have a strong desire to find common ground among all of our intersections." There's also a space for people to share their own stories, as well as donate money and "empower your wardrobe" with T-shirts, totes other gear sporting messages such as "Slut? Only When I Want to Be."
If seeing the word slut stamped all over the place rubs you the wrong way, you're not alone, but such is the battle Rose is fighting. The word has been thrown around with abandon and "slut-shaming" is a malicious, offensive practice (and one that way predates social media), and it really should go. The jury's still out on whether the reverse-psychology approach will work, but it's an effort.
Multiple marchers told the Los Angeles Times during the October SlutWalk that they were indeed compelled to join in due to Rose's celebrity, with one saying that she really appreciated how Rose was "not ashamed of her past."
In theory it's of course absolutely wonderful that another celeb is using her famous name to help end the stigma associated with sexual violence, to encourage victims to come forward, to remind women that there's no shame in having sex on your terms and to fight the good fight against inequality and the marginalization of women, members of the LGBT community, minorities and anyone else who's a frequent target of discrimination.
The debate still rages, however, over whether Rose is helping or hurting her own cause by continuing to provocatively flaunt her body on social media, twerking with abandon, sharing thong pics and showing whatever skin is allowed on Instagram.
She's of course free to do as she pleases, and her defense of Kim obviously fit in with her own approach to posting pics, but in some circles her unabashed sexuality has caused more than a few heads to shake.
A photo posted by Amber Rose (@amberrose) on
"I appreciate what she's saying about the SlutWalk...so I think she slayed it on that point," Essence editor Cori Murray said last fall on Essence Live during a mini-debate about whether Rose was getting it right or not. "Where I give her a little shade is, I still don't agree with her Instagram photos, the negligee and the butt thong and the beach pictures...I think she's pushing the line a little bit. Maybe I'm being a little prudish, but I do appreciate what she's trying to do and have a real conversation."
But Rose covering up actually wouldn't at all jive with her message, if indeed who she is is someone who enjoys showing off her body in all its glory—pregnant, not pregnant, nude, clothed, etc. (And yes, if who she is is someone who also enjoys attention, so be it.)
Not all feminists equate superfluous nudity with equal rights, and some would suggest the opposite, but there are plenty of women, including Lena Dunham, Jennifer Lawrence and Demi Lovato and more, who have both banged the drum for gender equality and posed nude. The two aren't mutually exclusive.
While the aforementioned stars have certainly dealt with their fair share of grief (the kind that just goes with being in the public eye, multiplied by having an opinion), Rose, simply, has proved to be an easier target.
And she knows that (and how bullies love to pile on one vulnerable person all at once) hence her taking such outspoken action to do something about it. She has talked candidly about being the victim of slut-shaming and how she's the target of unwelcome sexual advances because of a misconception men and women have about her persona. By doing so she has shone a bright, harsh light on how easy it's become to pass judgment and single out certain people for criticism, as well as the unsettling way in which many people still mistake a woman's clothes for a come-on.
Even ex-husband Wiz Khalifa, father of her son Sebastian, rapped on the Juicy J track "For Everybody," "I fell in love with a stripper/funny thing is I fell out of love quicker." He reportedly later apologized and the two seem to be getting along well lately as they continue to share custody of their son.
Commentary on her most recent Instagram posts and tweets, including the one calling out Pink, confirms that plenty of people are still unsure what to make of her—but they insist on making something of her. Fans are loving her fierceness, while there's still the presence of repulsive comments like "nobody ask your opinion whore!" (And then there's the occasional refreshingly mature comment such as this: "I don't always agree w/ what you do or say but this time i couldn't agree more! Tired of this pettiness btw grown women! <3")
"I was always about girl power, but I didn't quite get it because I did always feel like I had to be completely submissive to a man. I was always very unhappy doing that. I think I needed time to grow up," Rose told Cosmopolitan last year. "You get to a certain point in your life where you really find out who you are, and sometimes that happens when you're 25, but for me, it was 31. I didn't quite know that before. I guess social media did help create the feminist monster that I've become."
Posting slews of sexual pics may prevent some people from taking her seriously, but that doesn't mean her message isn't of the utmost seriousness. Any visual she's putting out there shouldn't take away from the truth she's speaking.