Thanks to the sheer volume of famous people on Twitter, reality T.V. shows are no longer the only place you can witness celebrity fights and tiffs. But the latest Tweet-based scuffle between Demi Moore and Kim Kardashian was about much more than the standard, “I’m calling you a skank because you slept with my boyfriend/ate my peanut butter/vomited in my new Gucci bag” fare that makes celeb-reality tv what it is. It was about the word “pimp” — what it has come to mean in pop culture and what is really means for hundreds of thousands of modern-day slaves in America.
The offending Tweet was posted by Kardashian and featured a photo of her and some girl friends, charmingly labeled “Big Pimpin’.'” Moore responded to Kardashian with the following message: “No disrespect I love a girls night out but a pimp and pimping [refers to] nothing more than a slave owner!… if we want to end slavery we need to stop glorifying the ‘pimp’ culture.”
To which, Kardashian eventually responded along the lines of “Everyone uses that word. LOL.”
In a sense, both women are correct. Yes, the word “pimp” in pop culture has come to mean cool, rich, sexy, well-loved, and a host of other positive adjectives. A lot of people use the word in ways that have nothing to do with actual pimping. Point, Kardashian. However, real pimps do exist in the world. Real pimps exploit women and children, steal their money, abuse them, enslave them, and rape them. I’ve seen cases of child sex trafficking where pimps dressed up like police officers to gang rape 14-year-old girls in order to convince those girls to never escape to the police. I’ve seen the tattoos and branding pimps use to mark women as their property, their slaves. There is nothing cool or sexy about actual pimps; they are too often modern-day slave holders. Point, Moore.
If I was a scholar of etymology, I could tell you how the word “pimp” has come to be a synonym for “to improve” or “cool.” Well, I’m not an etymologist, though I noticed that it began to enter into popular usage around the time MTV began airing “Pimp My Ride.” What I can tell you is that the glorification and glamorization of the word “pimp” and the concept of pimping is doing real harm to young girls and women. They grow up associating the concept of pimp with someone idyllic and heroic. They think of a pimp as the guy who has the nicest things, the most respect from his peers, and the universal admiration of women. Who wouldn’t want to be with someone like that, especially if you’re a teen girl with low self-esteem and a rocky home life? Imagine their surprise when their hero, the man proclaimed as a symbol of happiness and success in pop culture, rapes them. Or forces them to take drugs. Or beats them bloody for failing to bring home enough money one night. That is how the glamorized idea of “pimp” in pop culture and the reality of a pimp often collide.
As long as we glorify pimps and pimping in concept, we glorify them in person. And while you and I might be able to draw a firm line in the sand between a fun adjective used to describe a girls night out picture and someone who is profiting off the exploitation of women and girls, there are many people who can’t draw that line. And they are the ones who the pimps target, presenting themselves as the coolest, sexiest parts of a music video, and hiding the reality of the violence behind the word “pimp.”
My call on the winner of this celebrity Tweet-off? Well, let’s just say that when it comes to understanding how pimps and pimping are portrayed in pop culture, I think we all better be keeping up with Demi Moore.
Photo credit: kaloozer