The #AmberRoseChallenge is not challenging at all

On Friday, Amber Rose went viral after posting a near-nude photo on Instagram to promote her third annual SlutWalk.

The image showed the model lounging on a staircase, wearing a black fur coat and a bikini top, naked from the waist down. After Instagram removed the photo, Rose posted a second photo, this time featuring only her face and cleavage, with the caption, “When IG deletes ur fire ass feminist post but you really don’t give a fuck because everyone picked it up already #amberroseslutwalk #bringbackthebush.” She then shared the deleted photo on Twitter.

For those who haven’t followed Rose, the 33-year-old’s SlutWalk event and social media presence has focused heavily on “slut-shaming,” as well as what liberals have labelled “body positivity.” In April, over at Refinery 29, Michael Hafford wrote:

“Amber Rose has always been a spokesperson for body positivity. Lately, she’s been no different. Even though The Amber Rose Show is maybe-or-maybe-not coming back, she hasn’t let her feminist message slip one bit.

Often, that’s meant showing off her body in provocative ways.”

Indeed, Rose’s Instagram page features numerous images of her objectified body, and back in 2014, she made waves after posting a video of herself twerking online, supposedly for her then-boyfriend, Wiz Khalifa. Naturally, American liberal media has celebrated all this as “feminist,” because, well, she’s offering up the exact same images the sexist media does, but is calling it “empowerment.” Hafford explains:

“While some sex-negative people consider women putting their bodies on display as an example of self-objectification and subjugation to the male gaze, Rose has always made the distinction clear. The producer of the image and the image’s intent have always been the most important things when considering whether or not a woman is being objectified. If she produces the image, stars in the image, controls the distribution of the image, and helps drive conversation with the image, then there really isn’t a coherent argument to make that said image is anti-feminist.”

Thanks bud! Solid tip.

To be clear, the argument here is that if we choose to present our bodies as sexualized objects that exist for public consumption, the objectification aspect is nullified. (The argument is also that people who criticize objectification hate sex — because bullying women into celebrating porn culture is totally feminist.)

Unfortunately, this logic doesn’t fly. The thing about images is that you generally cannot force the viewer to read the mind of the subject. So what Rose may be thinking inside her head about feminism while photographing her amped up cleavage doesn’t actually impact what her audience sees… Which is just amped up cleavage… Beyond that, I’m gonna go right ahead and disagree with the idea that if you simply think a thing is “feminist,” it becomes feminist, even if that thing is replicating the same old pornographic imagery men have produced and jacked off to since forever.

But let’s get back to the bush. Because, this time, that’s what everyone is freaking out about. In a since-deleted Instagram post, Rose wrote:

“Amber Rose challenge anyone? [P]ost your version of my picture and hashtag #AmberRoseChallenge behalf of feminism, body positivity and not conforming to society norms of how we should live, what we should wear and where we should shave.”

Since then, then hashtag #BringBackTheBush exploded, paired alongside #AmberRoseChallenge. Many of the images posted are jokey, while others are similarly objectifying. Either way, her message falls flat.

Online, Rose has been hailed by young women and men alike as the future of feminism.

Hello Giggles explained that “the Internet has been freaking out about the state of Rose’s natural pubic hair,” failing to notice that there is in fact nothing “natural” about it. Waxed and trimmed and oiled up to the max, Rose’s bush has been tidily coifed. The shock and awe is at the fact she has pubic hair at all, a look rendered unpopular for a good while there, as porn culture dictated a trend towards the Brazilian or no hair at all. Both of those looks are gross and prepubescent-looking, yes, and certainly I’m all for women keeping body hair that exists to protect their bodies from things like infection. I also fully support women pushing back against male gaze-oriented pressure to remove their natural hair more generally, because fuck that. But Rose’s image doesn’t “challenge” anything.

For starters, pubic hair is back, alongside a retro 70s “natural” look. This is a trend (one that I like, but a trend nonetheless — one that has been embraced in pornography, at that). Women’s body hair in general is experiencing a moment, as young women have started (yet again) to let their armpit and leg hair grow. All Rose’s pubic hair says is that she is keeping up with the times, in a very controlled, sexualized, and intentional manner.

Attached to this is the fact the the self-objectified imagery Rose is producing is wholly rubber-stamped by the porn industry. In response to critiques of Rose’s post, Hustler tweeted (then later deleted):

“Why is it that when a women embraces her body, she is called an attention whore? Men do it all the time. Love the skin your in! Embrace you!”

These kinds of images, whether posted by Kim Kardashian, Halle Berry, or Amber Rose are not only self-promotional and almost always have some kind of marketing angle, but also send the very message pornographers like Hugh Hefner have tried to sell the public for decades. Florence Rush noted this particular form of cooptation in an essay published in 1990, in The Sexual Liberals and the Attack on Feminism. She wrote:

“The simultaneous emergence of the sexual revolution… became a convenient, though erroneous, synonym for ‘feminist revolution.’ It offered some free thinkers the comfortable illusion of tolerating feminism without depriving men of their legacy of sexual privilege. They could support issues favoring birth control and abortion; these issues eased sexual access to women without the responsibility for unwanted pregnancy. They could, with good conscience, enjoy Playboy and Penthouse as women-loving feminist publications and still retain the identification of women as sexually available playthings.”

In other words, Rose’s message is one of sexual libertarianism, not feminism. The notion that self-objectifying and producing our own pornified versions of our bodies will challenge the male gaze and the sexist ideas connected to porn culture is naive at best, and destructive at worst.

While I have nothing against Rose and certainly think she means well, having been personally hurt by misogynist men who’ve attacked and shamed her as a “slut,” the message she is sending her fans (many of whom are young women) online and via her SlutWalk event does not advocate an end to patriarchy (i.e. the cause of sexual violence and what some call “slut-shaming”). Instead, it’s an advertisement for neoliberalism that says “choosing” to do whatever we want, whenever we want, will somehow liberate us from violence and oppression. It says pornography, the male gaze, objectification, and capitalism can empower us, if we choose to embrace these systems, ideas, and industries.

Truly, so long as our culture believes women’s bodies are commodifiable products and that they exist to be looked at, we will never overcome the sexualized harassment, violence, and abuse inflicted on us.

Amber Rose’s “challenge” is a scam. Don’t fall for it.

Meghan Murphy

Founder & Editor

Meghan Murphy is a freelance writer and journalist from Vancouver, BC. She has been podcasting and writing about feminism since 2010 and has published work in numerous national and international publications, including The Spectator, UnHerd, Quillette, the CBC, New Statesman, Vice, Al Jazeera, The Globe and Mail, and more. Meghan completed a Masters degree in the department of Gender, Sexuality and Women’s Studies at Simon Fraser University in 2012 and is now exiled in Mexico with her very photogenic dog.