“Can I interrupt y’all right now because I gotta tell ‘ya–I met Amber Rose!”
A pal of mine came charging up to me and a guy I was speaking to, busting in on whatever we’d been discussing to tell us all about her celebrity encounter.
I leaned in eagerly, wanting all the details. She had been hanging out near an Austin-area business during SXSW when a black SUV with tinted windows rolled up. Out popped Amber Rose. She was on hand for a scheduled appearance.
“I don’t really care about famous people, but I wanted to meet her,” she said. She got in line quickly but still waited for an hour to meet Rose. “[Amber] was just so real,” she continued. “She took the time to talk to every person and said something personal to everyone that waited for her.”
I asked her about Rose’s shoes, her sunglasses and her ass. “It was amazing,” she reported, regarding said ass. “You can tell it’s real.”
I squealed like a teenage fan-girl when she produced pictures of herself, grinning from ear to ear, standing with Rose. Throughout our exchange the guy I’d been chatting with–a 30-year-old musician–remained silent, his face a mask of bewilderment. “Isn’t she famous for being someone’s girlfriend?” he asked.
The awesome force that is Amber Rose was totally beyond him.
But it’s not lost on a lot of women.
To be fair, many men and women still do not know the full breadth of Rose’s work. I think this is partly because the media has a tendency to label her in terms of her “ex-statuses”–such as ex-stripper, so-and-so’s ex-girlfriend, whomever’s ex-wife. In addition to her “ex” past, Rose is also a mother, author, activist, philanthropist and entrepreneur. She is no stranger to the readers of Playboy.com, for a variety of reasons.
Rose’s work generates an array of reactions. She is an outspoken feminist advocate, specifically tackling the sustained and egregious double standards women face regarding gender and sexuality. She’s a woman who–to borrow a phrase from one hater–“basically started a movement to protect hoes from getting called hoes while they go out hoe-ing.”
So Amber Rose basically started a movement to protect hoes from getting called hoes while they go out hoe-ing, & yall supporting it, smh…— February13th. (@SheLovesTwiz) March 15, 2016
Her recently released book, How To Be a Bad Bitch, is an empowering treatise–or, it’s complete and utter garbage, depending on the reviewer.
Regardless of the reaction, Rose gets people talking, often about subjects that are difficult if not outright dismissed, and what she stands for has our attention.
A DIFFERENT KIND OF FEMINIST
What feminism is and who it’s for continues to be a source of contention, and there is no need to rehash those battles here. Rose’s manifestation of feminism banks on calling out gender inequalities related to sexuality while giving zero fucks about judgment from others. “When you really stop caring about what people say, that’s when you really start living,” Rose recently said.
As a millennial woman, Rose’s persona resonates with others who wonder why it’s OK for men to play the field but not women.
Double standards about women’s and men’s sexual and social behaviors are nothing new, but having such a vocal and visible champion for women’s sexual empowerment, in whatever shape that sexual empowerment takes, is new. And people react to Rose’s brand of all-forms-of-sexual-expression-are-viable-and-valid feminism in a variety of ways.
As we recently discovered when Kim Kardashian got naked a few weeks ago, there is still a double standard when a woman owns her sexuality, and for some guys, a woman owning her sexuality is a turn-off—a chance to make a bad joke on Facebook (“I bet her dad is proud” is common). The hostility that comes a woman’s way for not being shy about one’s sexuality flows from both men and women. All of which makes Rose a cultural lightning rod.
SHE CALLS OUT INCONSISTENCIES
Another thing we love about Amber Rose is her zero-tolerance policy for sexism. Rose, almost to the point of infamy, has snapped back at chauvinism thrown in her direction and has publicly attempted to start conversations about women shaming other women, as she did with Pink.
Megan Church, a sexuality educator, points out that Rose is vocal about calling out whorephobia and slut-shaming, which Church admires. But while Rose’s penchant for calling sexism to task inspires a lot of admiration, her in-your-face attitude also causes some people to pump the brakes.
When her ex Kanye West stripper-shamed Rose during a ridiculous Twitter spat with Wiz Khalifa, Rose hit back hard—and took heat for doing so. Sexuality educator Church wasn’t alone in her sentiments when she said, “She did call out Kanye about butt stuff in an uncool way.”
And for some, the #FingersInTheBootyAssBitch hash tag was all it took to write off Rose.
For Kanye West, whose list of curious head-scratching public utterances is now legend, the behavior was par for the course. But for Rose, in an oddly sexist twist, one hash tag was all it took to give otherwise approving people pause. But there was a flipside to all the shade thrown her way. Refusing to sit still while West belittled her (again) only made others love her more.
“She just basically was like ‘Oh, I’m a whore for letting you inside me, but I’ve been in your butt so who are you to judge?’” journalist N’jaila Rhee told me. “She basically said that if he wanted to discuss their sexually history, it was fair game for her to as well.”
SHE IS A WORK IN PROGRESS, AS WE ALL ARE
Another thing people love about Rose is the fact that she’s messy–whereas some public figures seem to only present a polished finished product. She shares her emotions, embarrassments, successes and failures. In a very raw and public exhibition of emotional pain, Rose cried while addressing the crowd attending the SlutWalk she organized in Los Angeles this past October.
In a world where public figures’ non-response to deep emotional wounds is standard fare, people connect with Rose’s willingness to share a wider scope of experience. She owns it all–the imperfections, the beauty, the quirkiness and the mistakes.
In many ways, as real as she may seem, none of us actually knows Amber Rose, not really. But what she shares with the world connects with a lot of people. And for many women out there, the public figure of Rose embodies a new version of confidence–one that’s messy and pure, a process that we get to witness, rather than one delivered as a polished product, one that is safely packaged and homogenized, and does not feel real.
Chauntelle Tibbals, PhD, is the author of Exposure: A Sociologist Explores Sex, Society, and Adult Entertainment. Twitter: @drchauntelle.