“Women should avoid dressing like sluts in order not to be victimized.” was the ridiculously archaic statement made by a Canadian police officer following a rape taking place at a Toronto university campus in 2011. Since then efforts globally have been processed to re-contextalise the word ‘slut’ and its hugely detrimental effect to women. Of most recent Amber Rose organised a Los Angeles march named ‘Slut Walk’ to express our cultures current obsession with shaming anyone but the heterosexual man for their sexuality. As a bastion of enormous hate from famous men who she was once involved with, Rose has taken these horrific acts and prejudices and used them to bring women together against the growing apathy towards shaming people for enjoying and displaying their sexuality.
Photographer Alexis Gross went to Amber Rose’s Slut Walk last month in Los Angeles where she took photos of this hugely empowering event and we spoke about the day. Her photos display the unity experienced on the day and a new form of accessible feminism.
Reba Maybury: Alexis, you went to the Slut Walk in Los Angeles last month, how did you find out about it?
Alexis Gross: Through social media, Amber Rose was posting about it.
R: So the Slut Walk was arranged by Amber Rose to raise awareness of her own activist work against the shaming of women?
R: And why were you interested in going there?
A: Because I think I’m trying come to a common ground with these women who carry themselves differently to myself. I’m also interested in the influence of celebrity culture on feminism. Especially in how women are reclaiming how they want to be seen as sexy and then how they want to be treated for it. I don’t dress a certain way “quote on quote” this is what these people are trying to contradict, they’re like ‘it doesn’t matter what we wear, it doesn’t mean we want it” so I’m just trying to understand the correlation between that you know?
R: Do you think this culture of slut shaming is a big and dangerous part of our society at the moment?
A: I do think its dangerous, I think it’s a part of our society, not a big part, there are a lot of worse issues going on but, beyond being called a slut, I think it goes under the umbrella of bullying which is a larger problem that we have. Slut shaming is a form of bullying. People commit suicide over being bullied everyday, and or kill people over being bullied every day. But it is obviously prolonging and enforcing misogyny.
R: Why do you think of Amber Rose is creating this?
A: It’s because she was publically slut shamed.
A: Twice, once by Kanye West…
R: These are essentially men who were supposed to have once loved and cared about her doing this.
A: …the other one is Wiz Kalifa, who is her Baby Daddy. During the day after the march she threw a massive gathering of DJ’s and other performers. In but in between DJ’s, she made a speech about what and why she is doing what she is doing and publicly forgave these men for what they have said setting the example for being the bigger person.
R: How many people were actually at the march?
A: I was expecting a legitimate march, throughout Downtown, with supposedly 13000 people but there were far less than that and it was only for one street block.
R: I guess what’s interesting about this march is that marches like this usually attract a certain class of person, but these people seem to be more actively interested in celebrity and came from a more, younger and marginalised background.
A: I felt like these people in attendance believed in what she was standing up for.
R: Totally, but what I’m saying is, I don’t think these are the type of people who usually go on marches
A: No, me too. That is why I felt comfortable.
R: It’s much more accessible idea of politics
A: Exactly. Thats why Amber Rose is great! I think it’s important having someone every day people can connect with
R: It’s so important because it’s a new form of interaction
A: Yes. It’s a really cool way for people who have similar views but have never had the space to project them coming together.
R: Did you feel that you were surrounded by a new form of feminism? Maybe a form of feminism that didn’t have a dirty name?
A: I don’t know, feminism is simple, it’s just like fighting for equality.
R: But I mean I think the problem with feminism for a long time has been that a lot of women haven’t wanted to associate themselves with that word because they find that it makes them unattractive to men. But I think that’s why the Slut Walk is interesting because that’s what its doing, Amber Rose is turning feminism more into the mainstream discussion in a way that’s more accessible and desirable for people and that’s fantastic.
A: A little bit more relatable to the movement..
R: Yeah, you know feminism wasn’t always this academic, middle class venture that only white girl feminists feel like they have the upper hand on?
A: But I’m a white girl…
R: Sure but you’re not trying to fit into this current feminist fashion-abilty where women are desexualising themselves or plastering themselves with prepubescent and nostalgic aesthetics…
A: That’s why it’s hard for me to identify with the movement sometimes. I was going through my zines the other day and came across this one zine called ‘The Chapess’. I read a think piece that explained how women are embarrassed to be public about their feelings because for as long as women have existed we are supposed to be owned by men, like that’s the mentality, like we are suppressed, if you think about all the things we’ve had to deal with in our lives, like cartoons and movies, we’ve always been exposed to this pre-requisite of a women ‘not being’
R: Well it’s this idea that the ultimate happiness for a women is to be married isn’t it?
A: That’s right. And if I’m being honest with myself, I do not see that in the books for me. I see that happiness for a woman is to be able to do whatever the fuck they want to do when they want to do it. The right to be me. The right to be slutty if I want to be.
R: It’s not even about being ‘slutty’, in the sense that you can sleep around, its just the right to be forward about your own sexual desires… anyway I want you to tell me about what kind of people were at the march?
A: There were people there who just wanted to have their boobs out and there people who were carrying signs with rape stories on it, at least something extremely personal. There were certain guys there too who were standing up for their rights..
R: Gay men?
A: Yeah there were gay guys you know, one guy had a sign that said “my anus, my choice” which I thought was funny, but I don’t know if its supposed to be funny…
R: I think there’s definitely a sense of humour to it but its still got a serious message.
A: Amber Rose also had placards made, four of them so people could just pick whatever they were most comfortable with.
R: What was the age range of women and men?
A: All types of people were there. I really couldn’t pin a particular type of person.
R: Do you think the women who went are usually politically active?
A: I think that they think they are, but they’re not, maybe they are, maybe they’re not, I don’t know I didn’t really get to speak to them on that level, but everyone was nice.
R: Would you say that these were the kind of women who don’t necessarily have a fundamental understanding of popular feminist theory?
A: No, they see it on the Internet and this is the power of social media, they see other women out there who are dealing with this shit
R: Sometimes I feel that to be taken seriously as a feminist is all about being academically well read which to an extent I think is a load of shit. All that really matters is women helping other women and I think what Amber Rose is doing is that. She is speaking to women who don’t usually think about feminism in a way where they think they can change the reality of being a woman. Amber Rose has created this very powerful and emotive situation that women of all ages are coming to talk about what they need to talk about. Some are about rape or maybe it’s about sleeping with someone and the guy rejecting you afterwards or trying to embarrass you, these are things that have been normalised to us but are a reality of the patriarchy. She’s getting to a new audience of women who actually deserve to think about it more than the more privileged. I want to know if you saw people getting upset there?
A: No, I wasn’t around for the cry fest when she made the forgiving Wiz and Ye.. I went for a bagel. I mean people had serious faces on, some people were super smiley, they get how serious this is, but they don’t take it very seriously. I was bothered that there was no Planned Parenthood or anything. Now that is a huge issue going on in women’s rights currently.
R: Were there lots of young mothers there?
A: There were people from all over, I met a girl who had flown over from Alabama!
R: And why was it important for her to be there?
A: She loves Amber Rose and she loves to dress slutty “quote on quote” she just likes cute outfits and she doesn’t want to get shout at and this was an opportunity to meet other people who felt the same way, so she flew out for 4 days, got a hotel…
R: But isn’t that just incredible?
A: Yeah she’d never been to LA, she was in the tiniest little outfit, it was like so crazy
R: I have so much respect for her
A: Me too
R: So its about her rights about who she wants to be
A: Yeah I mean she came all the way out there to recognize that in herself and stand with others who also feel that way.
R: What were the police’s reaction to the Slut Walk?
A: The were respectful, and even taking photos with the people marching. Clothed or not.
R: Tell me about the girl hula hooping girl in front of them.
A: Having your breasts out is not allowed in LA so surprisingly, they were accepting. You can see some of the police are looking away and one slightly enjoying that present moment. It makes me smile. My favourite sign was one girl who had just printed out a picture of fat cells and written over the top “Is this worthy of shame, fear, assault, prejudice, degradation and shame” I just thought it was so good. It so simple and strong!
R: I’m also a big fan of the photographs that you’ve taken of the singular men spectating on the streets. They are older men who have a totally different memory of feminism. Amber Rose’s women are so contemporary in their womanhood that it must seem alien to them. In fact, more I look at these photos the more they seem like the march turned into something more than just about sex or slut shaming, it became about women being proud of who they are, whether or not they are stereotypically beautiful or not.
A: Yeah absolutely it was a safe space for these people to all come and feel comfortable and confident whatever they are wearing and be surrounded by other women who want to be positive. None of these girls want to hate on each other, it was just all people who wanted to get along and love each other and their bodies
R: Also you know women don’t like other women, which is something people don’t really feel comfortable talking about, but it’s true and it’s this idea of sisterhood that she’s really re-enforcing. A woman who has become famous from this stigma being attached to her and then being slut shamed so deeply and publicly, it’s incredible how she’s turned it around, nothing bad can come from this.
A: You would think that. As I was leaving the Slutwalk, there was an infamous man from a Vice TV profile I recognized. Brother Dean Saxton. I wasn’t too bothered by his presence until he revealed the sign under his arm he was waving proudly moments before I arrived which read YOU DESERVE RAPE. A wave of disgust quickly came over me and the flip switched from not being bothered to being extremely bothered. If the police weren’t there…I’m not sure what I would have done.
R: It’s interesting because without social media, Amber Rose would not have a voice at all, she’s actually created this social media identity out of the relationships she’s had with men and then she’s taken people into an actual physical space together to actually experience something inherently positive. What music did they play? I hope they played I’m Every Women?