It was the morning of the Amber Rose SlutWalk and I was having a crisis of feminist conviction.
Amber Rose—current women’s sex rights activist and former stripper, also known as “Muva”—founded the SlutWalk in 2015 in an attempt to turn the clichéd “walk of shame” into a “walk of no shame” and champion women’s sexual liberation.
The inaugural SlutWalk filled the streets of downtown Los Angeles with women covered in little more than body paint, marching and chanting and redefining the word “slut”—or at least attempting to.
Of course, I jumped at the chance to cover SlutWalk 2016 after missing last year’s event. Feminists marching through the streets of downtown Los Angeles in various stages of undress to protest sexual oppression—what’s not to love about that, right?
There was only one problem: I wasn’t feeling particularly sexually liberated that morning. An ongoing fight with my boyfriend about my not-so-sexual fashion choices had come to a head.
He’d taken to nagging me anytime I wore “boyfriend jeans” (in an amusing turn of gender roles, I suppose), unapologetically explaining that he was more turned on by fitted, feminine outfits.
That morning, I assumed the dog park was safe from the “sexy clothes” conversation. I slipped on my most comfortable (read: baggy) pair of jeans, and we headed out.
I assumed wrong. After a few stinging jokes about my outfit and the lack of definition it provided my ass cheeks, our casual outing exploded into a shouting match, complete with tears and the aforementioned crisis of conviction.
HOW COULD I BE SO COMPELLED TO STAY WITH A MAN WHO NEEDED ME TO BE A SEXPOT AT 8:15 A.M.—AT THE DOG PARK?
I was a strong, empowered woman who didn’t take shit from nobody!
I drove home to get ready for SlutWalk, teary-eyed and runny-nosed, debating what to do afterward. It was my boyfriend’s birthday party that afternoon. Should I suck it up and go? Should I skip it and make a statement? I’d planned my outfit a week in advance, one of his favorites: a long-sleeve wrap top, form-fitting jeans that made my butt look amazing, nude heels, and the perfect “tomboy chic” baseball cap.
Over the course of the five miles from his house to mine (and half of a John Mayer playlist), I made my decision. I was going to go to SlutWalk, fuel up on empowerment, head to the party afterward, and demand respect. Don’t like my jeans? Don’t date me!
Unfortunately, SlutWalk didn’t deliver on the empowerment part.
Maybe it was because I was in a bad mood from the fight, or maybe it was because I was wearing a stiﬂing outfit in the 90-degree heat of early October. But as soon as I stumbled upon the SlutWalk starting point—conveniently located next to Dunkin’ Donuts—I wanted to leave.
I expected to turn the corner and join a stream of screaming Walkers, but instead was greeted by a patchy crowd of sign-holding, self-professed “Certified Sluts” crowded around an empty stage. Banners for MeUndies, an underwear company sponsoring the event, were everywhere, and a few women were even wearing special SlutWalk MeUndies boasting phrases like “Whore-able” and “Ho-Nasty.” To my left was a makeshift craft table with a single discarded piece of poster board left among the art supplies: “WE’RE ALL SLUTS GET OVER IT.
As I made my way into the designated SlutWalk area, I hesitated. I hate to say it, but I was embarrassed to join the smattering of lacy-lingerie-wearing ladies before me. I was easily the most covered-up woman (or man) in attendance, and even though I wholeheartedly supported the rights of these women to express their sexuality however they wanted, I still felt out of place.
I went into SlutWalk craving camaraderie; I wanted to march alongside women who empowered me to wear my baggy jeans and rebel against the need to comply with the patriarchy’s idea of sexiness. I wanted to strut down the street, feel comfortable in my body, and fill up on sassy self-confidence.
Instead, I felt like the wallﬂower at the party; not cool or pretty or sexy enough to join in the fun. The women of SlutWalk were certainly confident and empowered, but in the harsh light of my morning mini-crisis, it seemed like a screwy, Stockholm syndrome-esque empowerment.
Black underwear, lace push-up bras, thigh-high stockings, garters, tasseled pasties, sky-high heels—these were the items that the women of SlutWalk felt sexiest in and, tellingly, they were also the items that most straight men found sexy, too. Aside from a woman in a wheelchair and a handful of grandmothers, the sexual liberation of SlutWalk looked a lot like the sexual objectification of the patriarchy.
Where are the nude bras? I wondered. I know all of you wear a ratty old beige bra with a hole in it on an everyday basis. I, in fact, was wearing one that very moment. My next thought was, Jessica, you are a fucking hypocrite. I wasn’t decked out in a bra and panties, but I was on the verge of passing out in the heat because I’d dressed in a weather-inappropriate outfit my boyfriend requested.
SlutWalk was confusing me.
All of a sudden, the attendees stampeded away from the stage, shoving their signs into the air and squealing. Amber Rose herself had just pulled up in a shiny black SUV, and her fans were not messing around. As people pushed past me (some stepping on my shoes, some shouting in my ear), it again surprised me that I was in the middle of a women’s equality march. We’re all equal until Amber Rose shows up—then bitches better get out of the way!
I jotted down some of the more intriguing signs:
“FOOTBALL IS NOT AN EXCUSE FOR RAPE” (Yes!)
“NO SHAME IN NO PANTS!” “NO MORE VICTIM BLAMING!” (Also yes.)
“MY SEX IS SAFE SEX” “MY PUSSY, MY RULES” “RAPE CAME BEFORE MINISKIRTS” (Love, love, love.)
Then, on a professionally printed, SlutWalk-sponsored poster of Amber Rose’s face:
“FEMINISM IS BACK”
Certainly, feminism is trendy now in a way that it’s never been before. Third-wave feminism has become something of a selling point, a fashion statement. A few years ago, the iconic fashion house Chanel even staged a “feminist protest” on the runway, featuring models decked out in $5,000-plus tweed jackets, skirts, and pearls, hoisting up signs that read “Ladies First” and “Women’s Rights Are More Than Alright!”
And certainly, Amber Rose has introduced a larger audience of women to her specific brand of feminism: a hypersexualized protest of oppression. Rose’s feminism aims to reclaim the word “slut”—to remove the shameful connotation and turn it into something positive. It aims to eliminate outdated double standards, like how men who sleep around are praised and women who sleep around are derogated and stigmatized. It aims to end rape culture and victim blaming.
BUT TO SAY FEMINISM IS BACK THANKS TO AMBER ROSE DISCREDITS THE FEMINISTS WHO HAVE BEEN HARD AT WORK SINCE THE 19TH CENTURY TO RAISE WOMEN’S STATUS IN ALL OTHER AREAS OF LIFE:
The women who fought for our right to vote, for equal pay, for mothers’ rights in the workplace, for getting more women into positions of power, for legalized abortion, and so many more issues that don’t attract press.
It crossed my mind that with these “Feminism Is Back” signs—again, featuring a big photo of Muva’s smiling face—Amber Rose was entering into cultural appropriation territory: taking credit for over a hundred years’ worth of struggle, turning that struggle into a trend, and ignoring the origin story.
A giant bodyguard opened the door of the SUV to reveal Muva herself. She stepped out of the car in a lace bodysuit, a waist-defining black corset, fishnet stockings, thigh-high black boots, and oversized sunglasses, her signature bleach-blonde, close-shaved head glittering in the sun, leaving no question as to her identity.
Except... another bleach-blonde, close-shaved head popped out of the car. It was a beautiful, caramel-skinned man; the male version of Amber Rose and the lead member of her entourage. The pair ducked their blindingly blonde heads ever so slightly as the guard led them through the crowd and up to the stage and barked at the overeager Sluts who were trying to reach out and touch Muva as she passed.
Between the fangirls, the dramatic entrance, the doppelganger, and the sponsored signs, it all felt a bit masturbatory.
A DJ introduced Amber to the crowd: “She’s not only a beautiful bad bitch, she’s strong, smart, and empowering all of us!” Amber waved, and as she descended the platform to begin the march, another DJ tried to keep excitement levels up. He kept asking group to “make some noise,” and when that didn’t work he just screamed, “Let’s fuck!!!”
Guided by a drumline, Amber Rose led the way to Pershing Square (the end point of the march). I stuck to the edges of the horde—which had grown quite a bit since Muva’s arrival—riding the line between participant and observer.
Chants started immediately. The women of SlutWalk alternated between “My body, my choice!” and “My pussy, my choice!” I didn’t join in the chants. I claimed journalistic detachment and instead looked around and took notes on the women who were bravely shouting in the streets, demanding attention for their cause.
There was a small group of prostitutes and porn stars holding up signs that read “Sex Worker Pride.” There were a lot of women who used poster board and Magic Marker to open up about their experiences with rape. Even though I felt like the overall approach of SlutWalk was misguided, I couldn’t help admiring these women who felt so passionately about their right to sexual freedom that they bared themselves, body and soul, and invited the world to watch.
And people were watching. At first glance it was actually humorous:
SLUTWALKERS MARCHED DOWN THE MIDDLE OF THE STREET AND SURROUNDING THEM, LINED UP AND DOWN THE SIDEWALKS,WERE MIDDLE-AGED MEN RECORDING THE SPECTACLE ON THEIR IPHONES.
On second thought, it was actually pretty goddamn sad; these onlook- ers were not impacted by SlutWalk. They weren’t appreciating the story SlutWalk was attempting to tell. They were taking in the skimpy outfits and snapping pictures and videos to enjoy later. It physically hurt my stomach to watch a march for women’s sexual equality turn into men’s (probable) sexual fodder.
As I turned around to look at the marchers coming up behind me, I noticed a woman who was at least seven months pregnant, wearing a sheer bra and short shorts, her round stomach fully exposed. Across her belly was written “Amber Rose Slut Walk,” emphasis on “Slut.” I immediately began an internal debate.
That’s just wrong. I don’t know why, but it’s wrong.
But hey, she did get knocked up! Maybe this is refreshing honesty and I’m just not appreciating it.
I went back and forth between my desire to support her sexual expression and my sympathy for her baby, not out of the womb and already, with a hastily wielded Sharpie, branded a slut. I know the whole point of SlutWalk is to reclaim that word, but at that moment I wished we would just remove it from our vernacular altogether.
We approached Pershing Square, and I noticed a pileup of marchers on the corner. They were crowded around two male protesters: one posted next to giant crucifix, and the other next to a huge replica of the Bible. The latter was dressed in full military garb and was yelling into a megaphone: “YOUR DISGUSTING BODIES NEED TO BE HIDDEN. YOU WILL BE NAKED WHEN YOU BURN IN HELL, YOU FILTHY SLUTS.”
I have to hand it to the SlutWalkers: they were not fazed.
Women ﬂashed the protesters their breasts and (basically) gave these men lap dances in the street in an effort to overpower hate with sex. It was mildly entertaining—until it devolved into a race issue.
I’m not sure what triggered it, but all of a sudden SlutWalk’s chant of “My pussy, my choice!” turned into “Black lives matter.” The louder the crowd yelled “Black lives matter,” the louder these supposedly Bible-loving men shouted, “No they don’t,” pairing their words with a thumbs-down gesture.
An admittedly sheltered white city girl, I had never seen something like this up close, and it was hard and heartbreaking to watch. When one of the men broke out of his race-fueled rally cry to yell, “YOU SICK DISGUSTING ANIMALS,” I had to walk away or risk tearing up in the street.
I left the braver, stronger SlutWalkers behind to take care of the religious protesters and headed into Pershing Square, which looked like it had been turned into a pink, Slut-themed carnival.
I was drenched in sweat and almost panting from the intense heat; I didn’t know if I could handle the next step of sexed-up celebration. When I walked up a red carpet entrance and into the official party area, the first thing I noticed was that the music blaring through the speakers was a pretty misogynistic rap song. And that was my last straw.
I didn’t want to be judgmental; I genuinely expected to come to SlutWalk and spend the day marching arm-in-arm with my sisters in sexual freedom.
I WASN’T PREPARED FOR MY OWN REACTION TO THE REALITY OF SLUTWALK.
I pivoted, desperate to get out of the square and into my air-conditioned car. I hurried past the protesters (still going strong) and weaved through the final stragglers making their way to the square, full of excitement and hope and sass and sexuality.
Seeing them, I had to admit that maybe the absolute extreme display of SlutWalk does serve a purpose.
Pushing past comfort levels raises the bar of rebellion for some women—and might give others breathing room—in a world where straight men walking in the streets catcalling women and ﬂaunting their sexual power is a daily reality.
But this realization didn't change the fact that I was still gasping for air. I was dying to kick off my shoes (I was so sweaty that my feet were covered in sweat blisters) and take off my suffocating top; and as I passed more and more scantily clad SlutWalkers on their way to celebrate, I slowly gained confidence. I was fucking hot, and if there was ever a place to take my top off, this was it, right? Right.
As I neared my car, I shyly undid the wrap tie on my blouse. I shimmied out of it, exposing the ratty old beige bra underneath. It wasn’t sexy, it wasn’t “SlutWalk,” but it was just the moment of empowerment I needed.