Amber Rose's new book How To Be A Bad Bitch dropped yesterday, and already the white girls are circling, having taken issue with some of the advice Amber gives in the book. While I do think that some of the excerpts from the book are troubling (or at least, don't speak to me), it bothers me that mainstream feminism (read: white feminism) always seems to reserve this kind of intense scrutiny for women of colour. It took conservative media outlets to call Lena Dunham out for the problematic passages in her recent memoir (while feminist publications defended them) and white feminists are still passing around the deeply racist quote from Tina Fey's 2011 outing, Bossypants as a self-empowerment mantra.
Now I'm not saying that Amber shouldn't be criticized. She should. Feminism has never meant that women shouldn't be held accountable when they fuck up. Sometimes we as women make mistakes and I consider it our duty as fellow women in the feminist struggle to help course correct each other when we stray. But we need to be consistent about holding each other's hands to the fire. It's just another unfortunate side-effect of the racial divide in feminism that sees us demonize women of colour when they fuck up, but grasp at every straw imaginable to give white women a pass.
At the very least, we should try not to condescend to each other and try to give criticism in good faith. Refinery29's review of Amber's book took an incredibly nasty approach, upbraiding Rose for what they saw as feminist failings. The intro to the piece discloses that Amber abruptly cancelled a scheduled interview with the publication, and it's hard to see the harsh language as anything more than retaliation for the inconvenience.
Pointing out that gay men are not accessories is fair game. Whatever her intentions, that passage is unlikely to absolve itself of the idea that people from other marginalized identities are just here to help women play dress up. Paying feeble lip service to the idea that gay men being good with fashion is just a stereotype, doesn't make it less an invocation of that stereotype, and it's perfectly acceptable, (necessary even) to call her out on that.
But the thing is, Amber is new to this. We have all been there. We have all been in a place where our feminism was new and we were still slowly unlearning our internalized misogyny, unraveling the lies we tell ourselves about ourselves from the ones the patriarchy tried to make us believe. The only difference with Amber is that she's doing it all in public; struggling to be taken seriously as a woman of her own, existing outside the confines of her two most high profile relationships. We need to give her the room to make mistakes and fail so that we can show her how and why things need to change.
This idea that it's okay to tell women to "take a women's studies course before you talk about feminism" is fucked up. It's both classist and racist and it drives me up a wall. You can't say that feminism is for everybody and then turn around and decide it's actually only for the women who can afford a college education in women's studies and feminist theory. Because guess who those women are disproportionately likely to be? (I'll give you a hint: they often respond to "Becky" and love a pumpkin spice latte.)
But Amber is not a woman who has ever had access to the ivory towers of higher education, and there are many women just like her who have had very similar experiences whose lives have revolved around using their bodies as currency. Amber's feminism is going to be framed by her life and her past. It's going to be framed in proximity to men (at least at first) because for someone with her life experience, navigating relationships with men and adjusting to their desires has literally been a survival skill. Even today, much of her career is based on male desire for (and presumed entitlement and access to) her body. We can't expect her to write an academic tome about feminist theory when she's been open about having to strip as a teenager in order to support herself and her family. It's not wrong for her to speak from that context. Her feminism is lived and it is valid. So, it's fine to critique Amber's approach to feminism, let's just not pretend that she is somehow more dangerous to feminism than the plethora of white women who are proud to let you know they'd rather be a rebel than a slave.
Why aren't we more upset about far more widely influential self-appointed feminist ambassadors like Emma Watson, whose feminism up to now has revolved entirely around men? She gave one speech about making sure that men feel safe and welcome in the feminist movement (a tempting but useless tactic) and the mainstream media acted as though she'd single-handedly saved women everywhere. But for Amber to write a book and say to women "if your body is your currency and you have to deal with men's egos, here's how to survive it" the world just EXPLODES with vitriol.
Here's the thing, why didn't it occur to anyone that Amber wrote a book for women like her? For sex workers and strippers and video girls? For all the women that the feminist movement routinely discards because they're too sexual or not respectable enough, or too poor, or just plain too black? Don't those women get to have feminism too? Or are we kicking them out of the club, mean girl style?
So when one of the slides in R29's piece critiquing a passage about navigating blowjobs delves into a parallel argument about heteronormativity, it reads to me as petty, and frankly, anti-intersectional. No, not all women are into men, and no, not all women want to find a compromise to performing a sexual act that they don't enjoy. But could it be that Amber wrote this book for the women who's wealth and health depend on sexually pleasing the men around them? The men who hold the power and wealth that they do not have access to? The women for whom competence at blowjobs might be the only way they can ensure their bills get paid?
Or another slide that rebuffs her for saying that "all men cheat" by responding (and I shit you not), "not all men cheat."
Not all men you say, white lady? Hmm... where have I heard that before? No, #notallmen cheat, but coming from the world that Amber does, it's a safe bet that a cheating significant other is something you'll have to deal with when you're left to depend on men who expect women to be as disposable as their incomes. But thank you for your rigorous defense of the male sex. I'm sure they are grateful.
Or yet another that calls her a hypocrite for advising women not to be a "hater" after having gotten into an online feud with Khloe Kardashian, while conveniently leaving out the fact that the feud was precipitated by Amber's advocating for the sexual safety of Khloe's own sister Kylie, who was at the time, a minor child dating a man six years her senior? Somehow Amber became the scapegoat of that incident even though she was speaking from her own experience of having been exploited by much older men at a young age.
Why is it so hard for us to imagine that this book may not be for us? That is speaks to an experience than many of us may never have? We who are lucky enough to be safe and warm with access to education and employment we enjoy? Why doesn't it occur to us that all those women that we look down on need someone to look to, to help them navigate the realities that many of us refuse to even acknowledge exist? Is it really still this difficult to understand that different women are empowered by different things and that everyone's feminism is different? Why are we so determined to find ways to create a hierarchy within the movement that values some women over others?
Can we just let a bad bitch live?