Once widely perceived as little more than Kanye West’s girlfriend (and then ex-girlfriend), Amber Rose has become a fully-fledged, jack-of-all-trades celebrity in her own right. The model, actress and designer had a powerful last couple of years, releasing her book, How to Be a Bad Bitchher own eyewear line and even a set of emojis, but perhaps the most eyebrow-raising initiative in her arsenal is the Slut Walk she organizes, coming in to its second year and due to take place on October, 1.

To outsiders, the event is perplexing, and it has been derided by people who don’t understand its ethos or history as an attention-seeking exercise. Slut Walks, like most protests, are an attention-seeking exercise: they seeks to draw attention to social ills—in this case, slut-shaming and rape culture—in the hope of causing a cultural shift.

The genesis of the Slut Walk is in Toronto in April 2011, when a police offer suggested that “women should avoid dressing like sluts” to prevent them from being raped. The comment sparked a transnational movement of so-called “Slut Walks,” in which women would march in their thousands to protest the idea that anything a woman wears could “invite rape” or make her even partially responsible for her own sexual assault.

Some of the participants of slut walks deliberately dressed in “slutty” outfits – including short skirts, cleavage-heavy tops and stockings – to drive home this point, but others wore baggy hoodies and sweatpants and carried placards that read, “THIS IS WHAT I WORE WHEN I WAS RAPED,” to demonstrate, with heartbreaking clarity, that rapists are motivated by something a lot more sinister than sexy outfits.

Anton Bielousov

The protests were not so much about dressing up in revealing clothing than shifting the idea that clothing is the issue at all; focusing, instead, on returning the onus of responsibility on men not to rape, rather than telling women how to dress, behave or talk in a (demonstrably futile) attempt to avoid sexual assault.

As with most explicitly feminist forms of social protest, Slut Walks were controversial. Some people simply couldn’t grok the idea that women should be able to dress however they like without being held responsible for their own rapes, nor the idea that sexy outfits cannot stand in place of freely-given consent. Others provided criticism that was similarly light on analysis, such as that they “lionized promiscuity” (believed to be an inherently, self-evidently bad thing) or contributed to the “pornification” of society.

There were, however, more thoughtful and nuanced critiques of the Slut Walk phenomenon, and chief among them was debate about whether the word “slut” was ready to be reclaimed. Specifically, many women of color, and black women in particular, argued that they faced a much more damning historical association with the concept of “sluttiness”: black women are more likely than white women to be thought of as inherently slutty (a phenomenon known as the Jezebel stereotype), and were therefore more reluctant to embrace (and, in a sense, validate) the label.

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““As Black women, we do not have the privilege or the space to call ourselves “sluts” without validating the already historically entrenched ideology and recurring messages about what and who the Black woman is.””

Open letter from Black Women's Blueprint

Many black women were on board with the general ethos of the protests, and were similarly keen to dismantle slut-shaming and rape culture, but were dubious about the tactics employed by the largely white organizers.

Enter Amber Rose. Slut Walks took place all over the world in 2001, but the phenomenon had more or less waned in relevance within a year. Then, in 2015, Amber Rose announced that she was reviving the concept, and on October, 3 she held her own in Los Angeles, flanked by her mother and thousands of supporters.

Why would Amber Rose, of all people, decide to revive the Slut Walk? Well, quite plainly, because she is one of the most visibly (and brutally) slut-shamed women in the public eye. It’s difficult to conceive of a couple more famous than Kanye West and Kim Kardashian, and West is in the habit of firing subliminal (and not-so-subliminal) shots at Amber Rose, in what can only be described as butthurt, Mariah Carey_Obsessed.mp3, heartbroken ex-boyfriend bullshit.

During an interview on Power 105.1’s “The Breakfast Club” in February 2015, he said, “If Kim [Kardashian] had dated me when I wanted, there would be no Amber Rose,” and then added, “It’s very hard for a woman to want to be with someone that’s with Amber Rose… I had to take 30 showers before I got with Kim.”

In a Twitter feud with Amber’s more recent ex, Wiz Khalifa, Kanye again dragged Amber into his crosshairs, tweeting, in a listed tirade: “4th you let a stripper trap you… 5th I know you mad every time you look at your child that this girl got you for 18 years.”

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That is, Kanye reduced Amber, once his partner of more than two years, to nothing more than a gold-digging, slutty stripper, one that made him so physically unclean that even his new girlfriend—who, it’s relevant to note, is famous largely because of a sex tape—needed him to be excessively showered for her to even touch him.

Amber Rose is a resilient woman, and she clapped back hilariously at Kanye, shutting him down with a tweet that read, “Awww @kanyewest are u mad I’m not around to play in ur a—hole anymore? #FingersInTheBootyAssBitch.” But her public image as a gold-digging slut, fueled by Kanye’s incessant jabs at her, has taken a toll. At her Slut Walk last year, she broke down in tears and described, in heartbreaking detail, the emotional effects of being publicly bullied in this way.

“Unfortunately, I was extremely slut-shamed,” she said during an emotional speech at the event. “I was called ‘nothing but a stripper.’ [Kanye asked] why would he ever be interested in me, I’m just a bald-head stripper from Philly. I was a gold digger; apparently he had to take 30 showers after being with me. That’s what he said.”

Amanda Edwards/WireImage

As well as referencing the Kanye incident, she detailed a lifetime of slut-shaming that millions of women can relate to: describing a high school incident where she was slut-shamed, despite being a virgin, Wiz Khalifa’s lyrics about her, where he “fell in love with a stripper and fell out of love quicker” and describing the endless name-calling and labels that she and all other women face for being, well, human and female.

Suddenly, there was a very visible, human face behind the phenomenon of slut-shaming, opening up about how it actually feels to be on the receiving end of this kind of constant, low-level abuse for years on end. For many women, it was extremely refreshing—and a depressingly familiar story—and, because Amber Rose is biracial, her Slut Walk had a different dynamic to others: it centered the experience of black women and other women of color in a way that other Slut Walks had failed to.

Amber Rose spoke eloquently and openly about her own experiences, before turning the conversation outwards. “I decided to have this Slut Walk for women who have been through shit,” she said, as the crowd cheered. “Even though I’m up here crying, I want to be the strong person that you guys can look up to, and know that I do all of this for you guys.”

A lot of women have been through shit. One in every six American women will be raped in her lifetime. After they are raped, women can expect to be blamed for what happened to them by their peers, police officers, family members and even the judiciary.

Women participating in ordinary activities that men do freely, like getting drunk and flirting, will face intense scrutiny for how they behaved, and be made to feel like they invited sexual assault upon themselves. It’s not unusual for rapists to face less interrogation on the stand than victims of rape; the latter can expect their clothing choices and sexual histories to be raked through the mud.

Reuters

Most women know what it feels like to be bullied about their sexuality, too. Women toe an impossibly fine line between being considered either stuck up bitches or sluts, and women will be called sluts, thots and hoes for behavior that doesn’t raise an eyebrow when men do it.

These are old, long-established double standards, and most of us are familiar with them, but it doesn’t mean they should be allowed to go on forever. They are causing real harm to real women, and “it still fucking hurts,” as Amber Rose puts it. That’s why she’s marching this weekend, and why thousands of women will be right there beside her.

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Words by Maddie Holden
Contributor
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