Social activism is no longer the domain of hashtags alone
Hashtag activism has an official rival among the casually conscientious set, because emojis are your new favorite banner to wave at the Man and shout, “The future is female!” Or bi-racial. Or into BDSM. Or sex positive. Or cool with smoking weed. Or, honestly, whatever you’re into.
Emoji’s graduation from personal branding platform to progressive communication tool is being presided over by Amber Rose, a woman who has lived many public lives since she stepping onto the scene as Kanye West’s girlfriend in 2008, and whose freshly released MuvaMoji app has reportedly generated $4 million after just one day on the market.
MuvaMoji takes its name from Rose’s nom de guerre, Muva, which basically means “mother.” (Millennials use “mom” as a term of endearment for their celebrity heroines, but that’s a whole other story.) Her fans are “Rosebuds” and she is their “Muva Rosebud.” The term is all over her clothing line, and now it’s the title of her custom emoji portfolio, which on first release is 900 characters strong and pulling a 4.5 star rating among users. There are fashion symbols featuring images of Rose’s apparel, a gif tab with her popping out of a cake and a broad array of “traditional” expression icons featuring the woman herself.
But there’s also an LGBT tab, in case your current mood feels best summed up by same sex parents with kids, rainbow flags or trans people. The R-rated folder contains all manner of eggplants, zippered panties and a ball gag, and a section dedicated to slogans pulled from her Los Angeles-based SlutWalk from last year has quotes like “My clothes are not my consent”. There’s even a small picture of Bill Cosby holding a card that reads, “I did it.”
The iTunes store warns that MuvaMoji is for customers 17 years and older and contains, “Frequent/Intense Mature/Suggestive Themes, Infrequent/Mild Sexual Content and Nudity, Infrequent/Mild Alcohol, Tobacco, or Drug Use or References, Infrequent/Mild Cartoon or Fantasy Violence, Infrequent/Mild Profanity or Crude Humor.” But really, if your sensibilities are too delicate for such “suggestive themes”, MuvaMoji really isn’t for you anyway.
The lazy comparison for Rose’s app is obvious. Will MuvaMoji out-perform Kimoji, and therefore, will Rose achieve some kind of Pyrrhic victory over Kardashian? But here’s what we need to remember: Amber Rose isn’t an answer to Kim Kardashian. She’s an alternative. Maybe this afternoon you’re in the mood to send a peach with a bite taken out (MuvaMoji) and tonight you’re more of a peach covered in cream (Kimoji). In the Venn diagram of fandoms, the two women have more than a little overlap.
Besides, setting the two apps against each other as opposing forces invites the exact kind of contrived cat fighting that’s so tasty in the trash media circuit, but that measures the value of women by how many resources they can steal from their female peers. Kardashian v. Rose is Jennifer Aniston v. Angelina Jolie is Katy Perry v. Taylor Swift and so on and so on.
And all that speculation just distracts from the quiet triumph of MuvaMoji, which is that it takes the nice-washed emoji landscape, the one with only men being represented as professionals and that defaults to little yellow faces, and features a woman of color doing NSFW things just because she wants to. Rose doesn’t have to be your feminist savior, but the more types of successful women we have to identify with in media, the more likely we and future generations are to dismantle the restrictions of what success looks like, and what it means to be “normal.”
In a way, Rose’s narrative arc is the platonic ideal of celebrity in 2016. While she may have started her public life as a red carpet accompaniment for famous significant others, she has become a fiercely independent figure since splitting from former husband, the rapper Wiz Khalifa, in 2014. She is a strikingly beautiful and confident woman of color. We first knew her as someone’s girlfriend. Then she became someone’s wife, and now Rose stands as a woman all her own. She laid claim to her story as a sex-positive former stripper while embracing single-motherhood, launching an apparel line, and even writing a lifestyle guide called How To Be A Bad Bitch.
Can Rose give you a dissertation on the four waves of feminism? Maybe. Maybe not. But we live in a time when people discover feminism through Beyoncé songs, which means Amber Rose is as much a presence in the conversation around female empowerment as bel hooks. This may not be the world you want, but it is the world you live in. So start taking the Roses and Kardashians of the world seriously, if you haven’t already.
Considering where Rose sits at the intersections of sexuality, race, gender and fame, she is perfectly suited to incur the wrath of conservative detractors, internet trolls and bigots, but her stardom also presents us with an opportunity. How our culture chooses to embrace Rose – or not – reflects our progress navigating a host of incredibly sensitive conversations, like institutional racism, the value women in media and the evolving nature of how we consume celebrities at a time when social and mobile platforms let us participate in virtual versions of our favorite figures’ lives.
And we’re being real here. MuvaMoji is absolutely a financially savvy decision that expands Rose’s brand reach and could literally put her in every conversation you have today. Deciding to sell an app of yourself is not something one does out of pure altruism. But it does give literally millions of people the option to send images of gay parents, birth control pills and a woman’s hand pulling gobs of hundred dollar bills out of an ATM to explain how they’re feeling. And in a world that lacks emojis showcasing women doing anything but flamenco dancing, that’s a definitive improvement in one of the most proliferate lexicons of the 21st century. Language matters, and Rose is giving her fans a new one to passively promote acceptance of disenfranchised minorities. Surprise!
Now you, too, can fight the good fight with an itty bitty image of a leather daddy walking his terrier. And while that may seem frivolous, for anyone who’s ever texted a friend those two creepy yellow boys holding hands with a heart next to them because they didn’t have a better alternative it sure feels like a step in right non-verbal direction.