Amber Rose, in a selfie from her Instagram.
Tabloid favorite Amber Rose’s personal and political commitments are perhaps best summed up by her Twitter bio. Rose describes herself as a “badass,” a “MILF (Mom I’d Like to Fuck),” a “sweetheart,” and surprisingly, a feminist and a women’s empowerment advocate. In recent weeks, several famous figures—including Khloe Kardashian, Kanye West, and Wiz Khalifa— have attempted to shame Rose for her past, which includes a stint as an underage stripper. Instead of cowering and remaining silent, Rose has used her platform to illuminate the myriad ways race and class influence societal perceptions of sexuality.
The candid model and actress is using her sizeable social media platforms to “talk back” to those who seek to discredit and silence her for not remaining silent about troubling and damaging predatory behavior. Black Feminist theorist bell hooks argues that “talking back” serves as an act of self-definition.
All of the uproar against Rose began when she voiced her disapproval of rapper Tyga and model Kylie Jenner’s troubling relationship. Tyga is 25 while Jenner is 17. When asked about their relationship during a radio interview, Rose said, “[Kylie Jenner’s] a baby, she needs to go to bed at 7 o’clock and relax. Nah, I’m over that. That’s ridiculous. He should be ashamed of himself.”
Jenner’s older sister, Khloe, used Twitter to degrade Rose for daring to challenge the idea that adults should not be forming romantic relationships with teens. The pile-on continued in a subsequent radio interview with West, who used to date Rose and is now married to Kylie and Khloe’s older sister, Kim. He, too, attempted to denigrate Rose by saying that he needed multiple showers after dating her, and that her career wouldn’t exist if it weren’t for him. Wiz Khalifa then denigrated his former wife in the song, For Everybody.
Confused by all this drama, yet? The tabloids are certainly eating it up. What’s significant here, through, is how Rose’s initial response to Khloe illuminated how race factors into the policing of Black female sexuality. When Khloe attacked Rose for being an underage stripper, Rose used Khloe’s sister Kim as an example of another woman who has built an empire on her curves, as well as her business acumen. Both women use their curves to make a buck: Kim just does so on the cover of Esquire while Rose did in a strip club. Yet, Kim never experiences racialized sexism. Rose is bombarded by it, as are other Black women who are brazen with their sexuality.
Writer Anita Little explains the differences between how white women’s sexuality is framed differently than Black women’s sexuality when she writes, “When you are a woman of color from a lower-class background, all of your choices—especially ones concerning your body—are questioned and closely scrutinized. At the other end of the race and class spectrum, however, you get to claim you’re just sexually liberated.”
One of the reasons my feminism has space for Rose is because I, too, have been shamed for daring to be audacious. When I was an undergraduate student, I often ventured to clubs to escape from a hectic life as a student leader. As a senior, I was balancing 21 credit hours; a job as a resident assistant; and roles as editor-in-chief of my college’s magazine as well as president of our student chapter of the National Association for Black Journalists. I also had a 4.0 grade point average, and was in the running for valedictorian. Twerking at clubs relieved stress until a fellow student leader told an administrator that I’d been behaving “unladylike” at a club. The administrator called me to her office, and lambasted me for not being a better role model for other students. She also told me that respectable ladies “don’t “grind their asses on strangers in dirty clubs” and that I should have more class. I never twerked in public again. Seeing Rose refuse to be silenced gives me the confidence to be unabashedly sexual.
For too long, Black women have been considered inherently hypersexual. As blogger and organizer Ashleigh Shackleford notes:
“Black women are not given the right to display, share, or present our bodies how we please. Black women are not given the right to body autonomy or sexual freedom. And there’s a loaded racist misogynistic capitalist history behind that and that has marginalized Black women to an extreme in which we’re always stuck between denying our sexuality to remain respectable or embracing our sexuality… and yes… being the ho’s society tells us we already are."
In response, some Black women developed strategies to resist this uninformed stereotype. Scholar Evelyn Brooks Higginbotham identifies one of those strategies as the “politics of respectability,” or a radical attempt to create hegemonic representations of Black womanhood to gain access to social power, citizenship and humanity. The politics of respectability intersect with the “culture of dissemblance” to impose silence around Black female sexuality. The politics of respectability and the culture of dissemblance were enacted to protect Black women, but instead, created a narrow conception of respectable womanhood
Given this, Black women’s sexuality is described by Hortense Spillers as “the beached whales of the sexual universe, unvoiced, misseen, not doing, awaiting their verb.” But there are a multitude of Black women critics and theorists, like Joan Morgan and Kaila Story, who are invested in making sexuality and pleasure Black Feminist priorities. Amber Rose is in that lineage. She is an example of a feminist who is making space for a feminism that is rooted in pleasure, and sees the gaze as a place for empowerment rather than immediate denigration. In a text message dated February 18, Rose wrote “I’m sick of men being praised for being sexual beings but us [women] being downed for it.” She is also organizing a slut walk in an attempt to reclaim her sexuality.
Amber Rose is a proud mother to Sebastian Thomaz, the son conceived and born during her marriage to rapper Wiz Khalifa. Rose has maintained her sexiness, and often advocates for women who are mothers to not lose their identities because they’re adding a new responsibility and role. Culturally, Americans have developed an unreasonable idea that women who are mothers are no longer entitled to pleasure. Rose unapologetically disrupts those perceptions. We see her traveling, twerking and enjoying her life, while also balancing the responsibilities of motherhood, and she refuses to apologize. That is the very definition of being carefree.
Amber Rose is electric, and she knows it. No, she isn’t a perfect feminist. None of us are. But she is an important representation of what it means to have a complex feminism that prioritizes pleasure.
Related Reading: Six Annoying Character Tropes in Black Romantic Comedies.
Evette Dionne is a race and culture writer whose work has been published at the New York Times, Clutch Magazine, The Root and a multitude of other digital and print publications.