Since Hugh Hefner’s passing on September 27, media has been rife with opinion pieces that either praise the icon for helping to liberate women as a leader of the sexual revolution or accuse him of demeaning women by treating them like sex objects. Few of the articles consider the opinions of the women who worked with Hefner, as if their ideologies are secondary to his. As if their posing for Playboy was not an autonomous decision made by and for themselves. Many famous women have posed for Playboy over the years, and they don’t feel mistreated, not even close. In fact, they’ve been posting tributes to him on social media.
Just a few examples: Pamela Anderson shared a few memories of Hefner on Instagram, writing in part, “I am me because of you. You taught me everything important about freedom and respect.” Her Baywatch costar Donna D’Errico tweeted, “Hugh Hefner put me in Playboy & ignited my career. I am forever indebted, Hef.” Jenny McCarthy tweeted, “RIP #Hef. Thank you for being a revolutionary and changing so many people’s lives, especially mine. I hope I made you proud.” Nancy Sinatra, who posed for Playboy in 1995, called him “One of the nicest men I’ve ever known.” These are women who made the choice to pose for Playboy, so why is Hefner getting credit (or blame) for their decisions?
Amber Rose recently wrote an essay for Marie Claire about feminism in which she said, “This country loves to objectify female bodies—hell, our president loves to objectify female bodies!—but when a woman takes that power away and exposes herself, everyone freaks the fuck out.”
I believe Hef gave women a platform to feel sexy and feel beautiful and make a lot of money. It’s a woman’s choice to do what she wants with her body. This is the whole point.
She told Playboy that people have been asking her opinion of Hugh Hefner and said, “I believe he gave women a platform to feel sexy and feel beautiful and make a lot of money. I don’t think it was demeaning in any way. I think the magazine is legendary and beautiful. It’s a woman’s choice to do what she wants with her body.” She added, “Other feminists give me a hard time, because I’ll post sexy pictures, like the pubic hair picture. They say, ‘You’re just taking us back hundreds of years!’ and I’m like ‘Are you fucking kidding me? It’s my body. This is the whole point. I am controversial. I’m not a cookie-cutter bitch. I start a conversation, and I’m going to make you feel uncomfortable, and I’m going to throw my bush in your face until you fucking get it.’"
It is the whole point. Rose has made it her personal mission to end slut-shaming and victim-blaming, and as part of her commitment, she runs an annual slutwalk in Los Angeles. Slutwalks first started in 2011, after a Toronto police officer suggested that young women “avoid dressing like sluts” to protect themselves from sexual assault. The word “woman” is often synonymous with that of the word “slut,” so it’s only natural, necessary even, for women to reclaim a negative aspect of everyday vernacular for themselves. A slutwalk is a protest march against rape culture, and some of the marchers choose to wear sexy clothing like Rose’s clingy, cleavage-baring “Captain Save a Hoe” costume.
Amber Rose didn’t invent slutwalks, but when she heard about them, she knew she wanted to get involved. Her nonprofit, the Amber Rose Foundation, held the first Amber Rose Slutwalk in Pershing Square, a public park in downtown Los Angeles, in 2015. This year, it grew into a weekend-long event: On Saturday, the Amber Rose Foundation teamed up with USC’s Center for Feminist Research to host the OPENed Women’s Conference. Sunday, Rose led the third-annual slutwalk through the streets of Los Angeles, culminating in a festival in Pershing Square.
Why does this cause mean so much to you?
I’m a former slut-shamer. I wasn’t always enlightened. After dealing with extreme slut-shaming and being victim-blamed when I was younger, dealing with double standards in society, and taking a lot of punches, I came upon a slutwalk and what it was. I wanted to use my platform to have my own SlutWalk and also incorporate a full-day festival in celebration of women.
What inspired you to expand this year and add the conference?
We had really great speakers the past two years, and we felt that they were getting lost in the sauce of the festival part of it. After the walk, it’s a really fun time. We still talk about talk about deep-rooted issues and all the inequalities we deal with—we have counseling there for rape victims, we have HIV and AIDS testing. It’s a safe place for you to come and tell your story and relate to other women, but it’s also live performances and poets and a feminist fashion show. We felt like the education aspect of activism and feminism was getting lost, so we decided to have a whole day just for that side of it.
What are your hopes for the future of the Slutwalk? Where would you like to see it go in the next few years?
I feel like every year is different and every year we learn something. When you first start something new, as long as you learn from your mistakes, then you’re growing. We definitely grew up this year. The first year was extremely grassroots. We didn’t have any sponsors. No companies wanted to fund it. A lot of people didn’t want to be involved. They were scared of it, and didn’t know exactly what it was. I put in tens of thousands of dollars of my own money, because I believed in it. I asked all my friends for money, and a lot of my fans donated, and we got it off the ground that way. The second year was extreme mayhem. We went from 2500 people to 11,000 people. This year, more than 18,900 people got tickets from our website.
Do you think feminist events like the SlutWalk become more meaningful with Trump in the White House?
I would never give a man that credit. He doesn’t get credit for that. I don’t even want his name to come up at my slutwalk. He doesn’t deserve it. This is a protest about derogatory labels and inequality issues that we deal with as women. I’m not gonna let one man make me so angry that I have to talk about him all day. I refuse to do that.
Is the SlutWalk the Amber Rose Foundation’s main focus?
It takes a full year to get this up and running. We grew so fast, but we are trying to incorporate other things. This past year, I started talking at colleges, and trying to bring education to different cities, because the Slutwalk is only in L.A. We incorporated the OPENed Women’s Conference this year. As we grow, we want to expand and help out in different ways throughout the year.
Why do you think it’s so hard to end rape culture? Events like the SlutWalk help, but what more can we be doing?
I think it comes with education—talking to our fathers, talking to our sons, and also talking to other women that aren’t as aware as we are. Really, it boils down to consent, and getting educated on consent is the most important.
I refer to myself as a slut because it’s just a derogatory word. It’s something men and women use against other women to damn us for our sexuality or judge us on our sexual history—even if they don’t know our sexual history.
What do you wish more people knew about consent?
A lot of guys don’t fully understand what consent is. Even If a woman says that when she comes over, she’s gonna have sex and it’s gonna be amazing, she’s able to change her mind at any point in time, and she doesn’t owe you shit. If she says she’s going to have sex with you, and she passes out, it’s not OK to climb on top of her and have sex with her with her being incoherent. We need to constantly educate and not make excuses and victim-blame these women.
Any advice for taking on slut-shaming on social media? How do you handle it?
There’s not really one answer to that. You have to do what you feel comfortable with. I decided to embrace the derogatory labels so they don’t hurt me anymore. I’ve been slut-shamed since a very young age, since before I ever even had sex because I was pretty and boys liked me. I used to like to play with the boys more often because I was into sports. There were always rumors going around about me, but instead of crying all the time and being depressed and wanting to hurt myself, now I embrace it. I refer to myself as a slut because it’s just a derogatory word. It’s something men and women use against other women to damn us for our sexuality or judge us on our sexual history—even if they don’t know our sexual history.
My goal this year is to go to the Webster dictionary, and get “slut” out of the dictionary. I’m going to find out where their headquarters are, and tell my fans to come and protest with me, because the definition of a slut in the dictionary is a woman—a promiscuous woman. Guys say, “Well, girls call us sluts!” but it doesn’t sting the same. It’s not the same thing.
So often, “slut” is a word that gets used in girl-on-girl hate, and a lot of that seems to come out of jealousy. How do we deal with that?
I’ve done it. I’ve called a girl a slut and a ho because the boy that I liked liked her, and he didn’t like me. I had to make her look bad, so he would like me more, and I had to say, “She’s such a whore. She’s been with everyone. Why do you like her?” It’s just because I was insecure and I was jealous.
If you could talk to your younger self about it, what would you say?
Oh my god, I cringe just thinking about it. It’s just so horrible, but society teaches us to be that way. Even with classism and ageism. You know, I had to talk to my mom the other day, because she saw an entertainer who was dressed a certain way, and she said, “She is too old to be wearing that!” I said, “Mommy, you can’t say that, because she’s comfortable in her skin, and she should wear whatever she wants to wear.” I had to sit her down, and make her understand. She didn’t get it. She feels like at a certain age, you have to dress a certain way; when you’re married, you have to be a certain way; when you have a boyfriend, you have to conduct yourself a certain way; if you’re single, and you’re looking for someone, you have to act a certain way. You really just have to be yourself, and if people don’t like you, fuck ‘em.
Thank you, Amber! Is there anything else you want to say?
Open your mind. Don’t be judgmental. Do your research, and go to AmberRoseSlutwalk.com.