5 Major Lessons From The Amber Rose SlutWalk LA
On Saturday, October 3, I participated in the Amber Rose SlutWalk LA, held at the historic Pershing Square in Downtown Los Angeles. And it was a glorious, magical day filled with radical, critical knowledge, fierce advocates, creative activism, political art, talented musicians, feminist royalty, inclusivity, solidarity, cute AF pasties, and Muva Rosebud holding the sign, "Strippers have feelings too."
Amber Rose has become a powerful, impactful voice in pop culture and media, speaking out against slut-shaming, rape culture, victim-blaming, sexual violence, and gender inequality. The SlutWalk marked one of the first actions organized by The Amber Rose Foundation, "a not-for-profit organization that aims to promote discussion about women’s rights and equality issues. The foundation is specifically geared towards women empowerment and fighting against victim blaming."
A major portion of the SlutWalk was the educational panel, where Heather Jarvis, one of the founders of the first SlutWalk in 2011, spoke about the protest's mission. SlutWalk began in Toronto, Canada after a police officer said that women shouldn't "dress like sluts" if they don't want to be raped. Jarvis and other women took to the streets and chose the name SlutWalk, using the police officer's language because, according to Jarvis, "We are going to talk about the language because it's the language keeping us down." The movement is now global, with SlutWalks occurring worldwide. Jarvis continued,"It's about necessity. It's not about choice. We're fighting for our lives."
Here are some of the most important things I witnessed at the first Amber Rose SlutWalk LA:
1. Amber Rose's Empowering, Raw Speakout On Her Experiences With Slut-Shaming
A portion of the rally was dedicated to stage time for attendees to share their stories of being slut-shamed. Amber Rose spoke last, sharing her personal history with slut-shaming, which began when she was only 14 and still a virgin: "My friends and I had started making out with boys, and we were playing Seven Minutes in Heaven. I was in there with some boy, Darnell." Rose went on to describe Darnell saying "You should get on your knees." She didn't understand, as oral sex was not yet something on her radar, so she said no. He repeated the request, and confused by what was going on, Rose got on her knees, and Darnell opened the door. Rose's friends responded with laughter and shock, and it was only then that Rose realized Darnell had pulled his penis out in order to make it look like Rose had been giving him head. Still, Rose didn't really understand what was going on. As she said to the crowd, she was only thinking, "Wait, why is your dick in my face?" At school the next day, it seemed that everyone had heard about Amber "giving head," and she was endlessly harassed and slut-shamed to the point of desperately wanting to change schools.
Rose then fast-forwarded a few years to talk about when she began a relationship with "a very famous man," Kanye West. I'm sure we all can remember the horrible things the media said about Rose during this time — that she was a gold digger, that she was "nothing but a stripper." Rose told the crowd, "I was just a regular girl from Philly... I never asked for fame, I never dated a man to become famous. I dated a man because that's what my heart told me to do." Of course, Rose went on to discuss West's recent disgusting "30 showers" comment, which she flawlessly combated with a "F*ck yo 30 showers" picket sign and with the playful retort that he must have needed that many showers "to wash all [her] sexy bald-headedness off him."
As if Rose hadn't already been open and honest with all of us, things got even more real when she began discussing her past marriage to Wiz Khalifa, who she referred to as the love of her life. Following the separation, Wiz released a song, Rose recalled, in which he raps the horrific line, "I fell in love with a stripper/ But I fell out of love quicker." Rose then broke down and had to stop talking, but was met with all of us — her hundreds of supporters — chanting her name; her mother also ran out from backstage to comfort her.
Once Rose was able to speak again, she described the profound pain and heartbreak that she felt when the man to whom she had given years of love and a beautiful son still only saw her as "just a stripper." After years of slut-shaming, Rose told us that this was the moment when she knew she had to be a part of SlutWalk: "I had to do it for you, for women like me who have gone through sh*t." Rose said that she forgives Kanye West and Wiz Khalifa (who she also said has apologized to her for the awful lyric) because, "You have to be the bigger person... you have to forgive and move on so that you can help other people who have gone through the same thing... We have to be positive role models for each other." It was a devastating moment turned into an empowering call to action after witnessing Amber Rose's strength and the solidarity and empathy among so many strangers.
2. Frenchie Is Still Killin' It
You may remember, 14 years ago, Frenchie Davis was dominating the second season of American Idol with her booming, otherworldly vocals and powerful stage presence — until a producer dug up years-old topless photos that she had taken when she was 19 in order to pay for college; she was disqualified and made to apologize on national television. Davis co-hosted the SlutWalk and spoke about the disgusting slut-shaming that she experienced on the show, and mentioned that since Miss America finally apologized to Vanessa Williams, maybe American Idol "will finally do the right thing" by apologizing to her. However, as the fab Frenchie continued, she "did the world a favor" with those photos, gesturing toward her body, and she has since gone on to much success. Davis also blessed the crowd with incredibly moving covers of "What's Up?" by 4 Non Blondes and "We Found Love" by Rihanna.
3. It Was The Biggest SlutWalk In The Nation
Elizabeth Renteria, 24, a volunteer working at the Educate Yourself booth — where pamphlets and volunteers were available to explain the rally's mission and language and to answer any questions — told Bustle that the Amber Rose SlutWalk is, so far, "the biggest SlutWalk in the nation." #AmberRoseSlutWalk also became the number one worldwide trending topic on Twitter during the event. Rose told the crowd that, in two weeks, they will already start planning meetings for next year's SlutWalk, and "let's try to make it as big as Coachella." Having gone to the first SlutWalk LA in 2011, it was incredible to see the significantly higher turnout and attention.
4. The Panel Discussing Inclusivity, Reproductive Justice, Mental Health, And Men's Roles In The Movement
The SlutWalk also featured an incredible panel, moderated by Lori Adelman of Feministing.com and Planned Parenthood Federation of America, in which serious knowledge was dropped re: trans inclusivity, ableism, racism, healthcare access, and intersectionality, among other important issues within the movement.
The panel began with Jazabel Jade of Brown Girls Burlesque, a burlesque troop based in New York City, speaking about the radical, transformative power of burlesque performance — especially for women of color: "...Burlesque plays with the dialogue that women can be smart and sexy... You don't have to be a certain body type... And black girls and women of color — we have a history of our bodies being colonized," and burlesque performance, Jade shared, is a way to reclaim them.
All of the panelists discussed a prominent issue within mainstream feminism, which is its lack of inclusivity. Kim Katrin Milan, a queer artist, writer, and educator from Canada, gave a rousing anti-victim blaming speech in which she also discussed the social hierarchy that allows certain kinds of people to be considered more valuable than others. She told the crowd, "This movement is about disabled women, migrant women, trans women... Women, we need each other, so let's go hard." Matt McGorry, Amber Rose's co-star in the perfect "Walk of No Shame" sketch, also addressed trans inclusivity when speaking about his recent feminist education: "When you Google feminism and it says it is about men and women... gender equality is about more than men and women. It's about trans people, gender fluid people... It doesn't just stop at gender, because how can we just arbitrarily decide who is valuable and who isn't, as [Kim Katrin Milan] was saying."
Juana Rosa Cavero, a leading reproductive justice and reproductive rights advocate, spoke about how race and gender discrimination affect access to reproductive healthcare and general healthcare within the very city where the Slutwalk was taking place, as well as nationwide:
"When I talk about the ramifications of stigma, the ramifications of discrimination, it is killing us. Here in Los Angeles, do we all know that maternal mortality is four times higher for black women? It is 2015, and for black women, infant mortality is two times as high. It is the year 2015, and 27 percent of trans people report that they are being turned away from a healthcare provider. 1 in 3 trans people had delayed or avoided preventative care because of the stigma, because of discrimination, because of the hate. This is killing us and it is killing our bodies."
Cavero also responded to the recent attacks on Planned Parenthood with an exasperated question: "Why? Because women need access to healthcare?"
The SlutWalk also featured a booth called the #NoJudgmentZone, organized by Dr. Napatia Tronshaw, MD, a Chicago-area psychiatrist who focuses on de-stigmatizing mental health treatment and removing the silence surrounding trauma. Dr. Tronshaw also spoke on the panel, sharing her many experiences working with survivors of sexual assault and sexual abuse. She spoke of the frequency of sexual abuse in the foster care system where survivors often have no advocates and don't seek help because they are ashamed about something that wasn't their fault. Dr. Tronshow then explained how slut-shaming and shaming survivors can lead to suicide:
"Most people think that murder kills us more than anything else, when the truth is suicide is more common than murder. It's the tenth leading cause of death in this country and murder is the sixteenth leading cause. But you don't hear about that on the news. So every day when I'm in my office and I'm trying to empower someone or I'm hearing someone tell me, 'You know, it took me a long time to come in here because I just didn't know what people would say,' it saddens me. So I'm glad to see everyone here, I'm glad to see that everyone here is supporting each other, and if we continue to do that, then we can continue to make an impact on the mental wellness of our community."
Matt McGorry also discussed his privilege and the responsibility he, and men like him, have because of the space they occupy in society:
"If someone asks me, 'What is it like to go through life as a white heterosexual cisgender male? what is that like as an experience?' My response would be, 'I don't know. I just live.' And not everyone has the ability to speak so simply about that... We need people like me... we need the people who are historically the oppressors to speak out about these things... because we become numb to not speaking about them because we have the privilege of not having to speak about them."
5. There Is Still A Lot Of Work To Be Done
Of course, the day couldn't end without acknowledging that the fight for gender justice must continue after these six hours in Pershing Square. The entire SlutWalk was obviously centered around this fact, but it was easy to get high off of the solidarity, love, safety, and knowledge surrounding us all, and thus momentarily forget how shockingly different things would be once we stepped out of the park. As the festival wrapped up, Amber Rose got on stage to remind everybody to stay alert as we traveled home, since the rest of the world isn't a safe space, and to tell us all to look out for one another.
Even during the amazing event, there were certainly reminders of the ignorance existing beyond SlutWalk, such as the man outside of the park shouting something or other about "whores being against God" (thankfully he was quickly drowned out by the DJs spinning MIA's "Bad Girls" and Nicki & Beyonce's "Feeling Myself"). Plus, there were the reporters aggressively crowding Amber Rose (who told them to step back, of course) and the men with press passes making inappropriate comments toward the beautiful pasty-clad women that they photographed merely in hopes of getting page-clicks — photographers clearly uninterested in what the day symbolized and advocated for. Despite these frustrations, the community and commitment to justice that we all saw on Saturday reminds us that there is hope because, echoing Jarvis's earlier statement, we have no choice but to fight and take care of each other.
Images: Rachel Sanoff (15)