Dear Karrine Steffans,
I ride for you. I really do. Most people have no idea why. Allow me to introduce myself. I’m Dr. Ebony Utley, a writer and an associate professor of communication at California State University Long Beach. I write and teach about popular culture and relationships. When Confessions of a Video Vixen dropped, I assigned it to my hip hop class and made all my students purchase it.
Confessions was important because it forced readers to contextualize a vixen’s life. After my students exhausted all the different ways they could call you a ho, I pushed them to move past their judgments and critique gendered double standards about sexuality. I demanded that they imagine how it would change them if they were sexually assaulted, abused, and abandoned as a young girl. I encouraged them to consider the conditions that lead to escapism through sex, drugs, alcohol, and hip hop fantasies. Your book was a perfect opportunity to discuss how and why women make choices in a man’s world. I asked them to respect the chutzpah of a woman not that much older than they were who put it all out there—haters be damned.
When it came time to build my brand, I modeled it after yours. Your early websites were my favorites. I learned form you that pink is a power color. You taught me how to be sexy and smart. I subscribe to the newsletter, buy the books, read the damn blog. In fact, The Vixen Manual is kinda like an Our Bodies, Ourselves for the hip hop generation. Okay, that’s an overstatement, but the pictures were a nice touch.
Your newest book How to Make Love to A Martian was a birthday gift to myself and it continues your prosex, prochoice advocacy. It was a brave decision to share your abortion story. It was also an important decision in a world where women’s rights to choose are being systematically stripped away.
Baby News: Fuck!
And while Martian is a page-tuner, I’ve got to draw a line. The “love” that you and Lil Wayne have is dangerous. I know you have a niche. I know you have a core audience with expectations. I know you need to make that money, but I can’t ride for you and let other people think that your depiction of love is okay with me. Now, I generally don’t make a habit of telling people they love wrong. I’ve been flying around the country collecting definitions of love from women and children for my research, and I know there are as many definitions as there are people.
For my current project Shades of Infidelity, I’m interviewing women about their experiences with infidelity, and I’ve asked all of them to define love. I’ve learned so much about life and love that this isn’t me passing judgment on your open relationship with Lil Wayne. This is me telling you that a relationship that lacks mutual trust, respect, and honest communication isn’t a healthy love. Here come the spoilers. You define love as “the spirit of caring to the maximum level of shared connection.” Fine. Then you describe love with Wayne:
“Wayne didn’t want to know everything or anything at all, except that I loved him.”
“Wayne was loving me the way he wanted to love me, but I was loving him the way he needed to be loved.”
“He was a jealous and possessive man when it came to the women he loved. He never wanted to hear about other men. Ever. Even though all this women had no choice but to hear about all his other women and accept it.”
All bad, Karrine. Per your own definition, you’re coming up short. Is this what the maximum level of connection looks like? More importantly is this what the maximum level of connection looks like?
I know you’re both working and these representations are part of your jobs. I’m certain they fail to accurately reflect the extent of your relationship, but for all the babygirls that are fans of yours, I need them to know that:
- When you can’t talk to your partner about that time he hurt your feelings when he flew you across the country, holed you up in a hotel, and never showed up to meet you, it’s not okay
- Sleeping with his friend just to make him jealous instead of telling him that his getting everybody pregnant and you hearing about it on the street was hurtful, is not ideal.
- Being in a relationship where there is no reciprocity is not a healthy relationship.
If you were just sexing Wayne for pleasure, that would be fine (although I’m not entirely sure what you see in him), but to call what you describe in Martian as love is not fine. Not. At. All.
I agree. Sometimes a man and a woman have an understanding that even they don’t understand. I have been there. But this is not that. There’s no understanding. He hurts your feelings. You swallow them. You try to move on. Love relationships require communication to achieve that understanding and that maximum level of connection. I need to communicate to you that you deserve better. You’ve been hurt. A lot. But don’t give up on yourself. Learn from your mistakes. Olivia Pope is wrong (but that’s another post). Love is not supposed to hurt more than it heals you. Love yourself first. Tell yourself the truth about this unhealthy relationship. If you can agree not to glamorize the pain anymore, I’ll agree to keep riding for you. Can you and I share that understanding?
Dr. Ebony Utley
The Woman with Ideas