For those who do not know me well: I am a social media junkie. Not meaning that I spend every hour of my day on Instagram, Twitter, or even Facebook. But that I have a trusted source of media outlets that deliver to me an eclectic mix of ratchet/classy/world-wide happenings. I can go to Hollywood Unlocked, the Shade Room, Industry On Blast, Baller Alert, Fameolous, and of course, TeaTenders (hey Ronis!) to get all the information I need about anything black, pop culture, and newsworthy. In the past week or so, all of these social media outlets converged on the topic of Amber Rose’s bottomless pic. Was it appropriate? Was it feminist? Did being naked on-line advance her cause, or work against it?
Amber Rose is a controversial topic. Like Nicki Minaj (and sometimes even Beyoncé, but never Rihanna), she confuses me in ways sometimes difficult to put my finger on. In part because many of her controversial antics (like forgetting to put her pants on in an Instagram post, oiled up and reclining on a staircase…) are laced with messages of feminism, female empowerment, and body positivity. But also because she is a commercialized product to be sold, as much (if not more) as she is a political activist. Millions of followers = tons in advertisement revenue. While I am sure she is an astute businesswoman who has money coming in from many sources, it cannot be denied that much of her commercial power lies in her ability to keep people talking about her, thus drawing more to the brand.
My confusion surrounding Muva has nothing to do with the fact that she is a pro-sex feminist. A proud former stripper, in a former life she was probably a hippie nudist-exhibitionist who hated the feel of clothes. All good. No harm, no foul. The problem is that women’s bodies are already so sexualized in our society, and that the misogynist “pigs” she is trying to target probably don’t mind her stripping naked. “Go right ahead, Sweetie.” I can hear one say. “Continue to objectify yourself, and we’ll continue to watch. You’re only reinforcing to us what we already know: that women are only good on their backs.” I can hear another chime in: “Just don’t come over here and try to get any real power, ‘Muva.’ Don’t run for office; don’t enter a male-dominated industry to try to change the Status Quo; don’t come and play with the Big Boys. Keep making babies and we’ll continue to run the world.” And after some more beer and a few more bad jokes, the Phallic Club goes to watch Porn (because the pic did turn them on, after all).
My problem can probably be summed up by Audre Lorde in her iconic chapter from This Bridge Called My Back, “The Master’s Tools Will Never Dismantle the Master’s House.”
Those of us who stand outside the circle of society’s definition of acceptable women; those of us who have been forged in the crucibles of difference; those of us who are poor, who are lesbians, who are black, who are older, know that survival is not an academic skill. It is learning how to stand alone, unpopular and sometimes reviled, and how to make common cause with those other identified as outside the structures, in order to define and seek a world in which we can all flourish. It is learning how to take our differences and make them strengths. For the master’s tools will never dismantle the master’s house. They may allow us to temporarily beat him at his own game, but they will never enable us to bring about genuine change. And this fact is only threatening to those women who still define the master’s house as their only source of support. (This Bridge Called My Back: Radical Writings by Women of Color, p. 95)
I quoted Lorde at length because I wanted to bring the full context of the quote to light. Those of us who stand outside the circle know that survival is not an academic skill. We learn how to stand alone, unpopular and sometimes reviled… in order to define and seek a world in which we can all flourish. This I can clearly identify as Rose’s project. She shared her story at the first Slut Walk she had (a clip of which I was able to find and put below), of the first time she was “slut shamed.” She was fourteen, and pulled into a closet to play a kissing game with a boy. He told her to get on her knees, and even though she didn’t know what he meant when he asked her, she did. Then he opened the door. And although nothing happened, you get the picture he tried to paint, and so did everyone else in the room. From that moment on – before she even lost her virginity – Rose was labeled a slut. She is an “outsider” to society in many ways (stripper at fifteen, bald, rapper and fame-affiliated, pro-LGBTI), and she uses her platform to resist a context that insists a woman in her power must be “knocked” back into “place” by sexual violence.
And yet: The master’s tool’s may permit us temporary victory, but will never dismantle the house. Why? Because the same tools we are trying to reclaim to build our house of liberation were used to fashion the bars that kept us imprisoned. A similar conversation arises with talk of the “N- word.” Bill Maher recently got in trouble for using it, and Ice Cube went on his show and told him (and presumably Maher’s white audience): “That’s our word now. And you can’t have it back.” But is it, really? The word is still a contentious topic of debate in the black community. Many “old heads” refuse to use it, and insist that it should be wiped from the lexicon entirely. They knew it was a tool fashioned by the Master to build the house of racism, and at risk of playing a role in the continuation of the project, they resist its use and resent its existence.
Women’s bodies are banal and mysterious. They perform basic functions (repulsive, gross, and normal); dance, cry, sing; walk, run. They enable us to get from “point A” to “point B;” from work to home to soccer games to dance recitals to church and school; to carry on with life. They are the carriers of our life and of life. Just like magic! A woman can create a new being, and while she may not be the sole progenitor of the human race, she has been given the strength to grow it in her womb and nurture its existence – with, or without a partner. The strength of a woman is more than magic, it is divine. And the fact that we have to continually reinforce to society that our bodies are not playgrounds (although we sometimes like to play); that they are not “equal access” (unless we consent); that we have a right to “say no” and that we mean it when we say it is more than problematic. It is oppressive.
Maybe this is part of the reason why Rose/Rose’s message confuses me. She seems to make herself so available to the world through her nakedness… while at the same time preaching the message that women have sovereignty over our bodies and cannot be accessed without permission. But to male chauvinists or people unfamiliar with the cause of feminism, her message may come across as an invitation, not a resistance. She is building her house of liberation with their tools, and the medium used to convey her message may actually be working against her. Instagram has become the modern-day Playboy. No subscription required.
And yet (there is always one of these when I write) who gave men sovereignty over the province of sexuality, any way? Who gave them sole ownership over the tools? Female sexuality is not synonymous with the “N-word.” We all come into this world as potential sexual beings. While not everyone experiences their sexuality the same way, and some are even asexual, this is the one thing about ourselves that we can all agree. Misogynist men (and women) have appropriated female sexuality as a way to denigrate and control us, and the fight over the territory of sexuality has involved the tug and pull of feminists trying to take it back, without the shame attached to it. So maybe Amber Rose’s project is not so problematic, after all.
As a grown woman, I can write this entry and understand what it means. But it takes time to stand in your power, as a woman. It is a difficult process, and without the right tools, it can be a painful one. Full sexual liberation requires a certain degree of maturity, and jumping in too quick can leave scars. This is why I continue to be uncomfortable when grown women (such as Rose) send out messages of “female empowerment” laced with sexuality, knowing that many in their audience are probably not yet mature enough to fully understand the consequences of their decisions. You don’t have to be naked to stand in your power as a woman; nudity is not a requirement for membership in the “club of feminism.” Just live seeking to have those around you recognize what you bring to the table and give you what you are due. Don’t allow people to dismiss or degrade you. And if some slip through the cracks (because you are afraid to confront them or would be in danger if you did), make mental notes and get back. However you can, and as soon as possible (some healing may be required before you do so). Join an organization. Write, speak, stand in your power. Let your presence be known some way some how, and don’t let them silence you. This is all you need to be a feminist. No nudity required.
T. M. G.
Lorde, Audre. “The Master’s Tools Will Never Dismantle the Master’s House.” In Cherríe L. Moraga, and Gloria E. Anzaldúa, eds. This Bridge Called My Back: Writings by Radical Women of Color. Saline: Third Woman Press, 2002.
YouTube Link: The Hollywood Fix, “Amber Rose Breaks Down Crying Over Wiz Khalifa & Kanye West At Slut Walk – 10.3.15.”
On the image used for this post: It’s obviously not the original. But this site is not a place for soft porn, so I didn’t post it. If you want to see the full image, Google it hunny. That’s what the World Wide Web is for.
Source for the image: https://twitter.com/thembi_thabethe.