If an eye for an eye leaves the whole world blind, what does a tweet for a tweet do? If you’re talking Khloe Kardashian’s newly minted social media beef with Amber Rose, it probably leaves most of the world entertained, while exposing the fact that even so-called sexual liberation comes with the baggage of race and class.
Monday’s exchange between the two social media empresses quickly devolved into “Who is the biggest whore” among their followers, despite the fact that the professional difference between Rose and “Team Kardashian” is near negligible, save for race and class.
Rose is a bodacious, biracial Cape Verdean queen who grew up hardscrabble in Philly; the Kardashians are the privileged, socialite sisters of Beverly Hills, best known for how they look in bodycon dresses. All of them are basically professional pretty people. All of them have posed in various states of undress—both on purpose and “caught in the act” accident. Both Rose and Khloe’s sister Kim Kardashian have known rapper Kanye West carnally and allowed him to ruin their respective wardrobes.
Their fight was the exact result of the “choose your choice” wing of third-wave feminism, where women are (rightfully) encouraged to be their true sexual selves without being demonized for it, but still find themselves devolving into contradictory absurdities because too many women want to be able to claim the protection of third-wave feminism while using the old-fashioned ammo of sexism to tell their competition to put on some pants and shut up.
In this case, the catalyst was the alleged relationship between Khloe Kardashian’s baby sister, Kylie Jenner, who is 17, and rapper Tyga, who is 25, and what it means to have your stuff together as a teenager.
The drama started when Rose went on Power 105.1’s The Breakfast Club and was asked about the relationship between Kylie and her rumored boyfriend Tyga. (Tyga denies they are a couple.) Rose—who is friends with Tyga’s ex, Blac Chyna—made it clear, true or not, that she thought the relationship was pretty foul.
“She’s a baby; she needs to go to bed at 7 o’clock and relax,” said Rose, which sparked the ire of Khloe Kardashian.
In defense of her sister’s right to “choose her choice” (even if it is the possible choice of dating a guy eight years older than she is when she is still a teen), Kardashian tweeted that Rose started stripping at 15, adding that her sister Kylie has her life and career together at 17—something that is clearly debatable, since, as a child of wealth and privilege, Kylie is hardly self-made. But Kardashian still “went there,” implying that Rose had no place to talk because—as a teenage stripper—Rose could not have had her life all that together.
This is the crux of the problem: Kardashian opened the tragicomic door by suggesting that Kylie Jenner’s actions (real or imagined) as a child of privilege are somehow more mature and logical than Rose’s underage decision to strip to survive poverty. The truth is, at face value, the differences between two teens making questionable sexual choices when they’re still developing are negligible. Things only become complicated when race and poverty rewrite the rules, making one woman’s scarlet letter another’s proud expression of individuality.
White supremacy may see a difference between a 9-year-old Kylie playing stripper for a reality show and a 15-year-old Amber entering sex work when she wasn’t even old enough to drive, but that’s just plain racism and classism rolled into one. Both are learning the same lesson—your worth is intrinsically tied to whether people want to have sex with you—only one had to learn it without a trust fund to fall back on. What’s fascinating is that all the money in the world didn’t stop the Kardashians from reaching the same conclusion Rose was forced to contend with under less optimal circumstances.
Seeing the classist hypocrisy of Kardashian’s attack, Rose quickly burst any illusion of superiority when she tweeted that she would “be that lil whore to support my family like ur older sister is a whore 2 support hers,” referencing the entire career of Kardashian’s more famous sister, Kim. Then Rose dropped the mic with a pithy “#DontPanic” tweet referencing a song by Khloe Kardashian’s boyfriend, French Montana.
Kardashian’s mistake is one a lot of women in her position make. While not being a bad hustle, being “professionally pretty” is a space that is hard to navigate politically. You are essentially trying to flip traditional looks-based sexism to your advantage. As a result, some looks-focused careerists find themselves arguing about or defending sexist nonsense. They fall to the inherently competitive nature of their field, where there is a finite number of ballers/magazine covers/etc. and there’s always someone younger and prettier. So women like Kardashian end up using the same arguments thrown at them against perceived attackers, fighting with the anti-feminist nuclear option, “slut shaming.”
It’s mutually assured slut-struction. It’s like McDonald’s calling smaller burger chain Whataburger inedible. You’re both slinging cheap meat. What are we really talking about here? Khloe Kardashian can’t throw a burger under the guise of “when we choose to do it, it’s clean, but when you choose to do it, it’s dirty because … reasons” and hide her hands.
What are those reasons, anyway? That Amber Rose grew up black and poor and the Kardashians didn’t? And yet for some, that will be the dividing line that determines whose nude pictures, dental-floss bikinis and rapper-dating habits are “classy” and whose are not.
You can choose your choice, but you can’t choose the consequences.
Danielle C. Belton is managing editor of The Root. Follow her on Twitter.