Many women spend their lives trying to maintain a good reputation—but what happens when that’s not possible? I spoke with former video model-cum-Confessions of a Video Vixen novelist Karrine Steffans and asked her if it was possible to outgrow labels like “ho” or “Superhead.” Her response was complicated.
Over a decade ago, Ja Rule privately coined Steffans with the nickname “Superhead” because of her alleged fellatio skills, a personal pet name that was outed by Jadakiss in his Y2K song “Blood Pressure.” The nickname became a tangled calling card for her after her debut book, which details her childhood sexual abuse, career as a model in hip-hop videos and sexual relationships with celebrities like Jay-Z, Vin Diesel, Usher, Puffy, Method Man, Ray J and more. Her follow-ups, The Vixen Diaries and The Vixen Manual, parsed questions like “Do you have porn pussy?” But learning whether Steffans is personally shackled to the nickname that introduced her to America 15 years ago wasn’t my only focus—her newest book Vindicated: Confessions of a Video Vixen, Ten Years Later does that. Instead, I asked her about ladies like Amber Rose and Kim Kardashian who are enmeshed in hip-hop today—can they shirk those kinds of labels even when they throw them at one another?
In February, Amber traded barbs with Khloé Kardashian after Khloe intimated that Amber was a whore by pointing out that Rose began stripping at 15 years old. Rose didn’t take that lying down.
Then Khloe tried to clean up her coded language, but it was too late. The “whore” was out of the bag.
In June, Kim Kardashian began shilling talks around her Selfish book and fame, in what seems to like an attempt to repaint herself as an intellectual while still cashing in on her fans. It spurred a conversation between my friends and I, as we wondered whether there is redemption for women who do not do traditional sex work and have been labeled “whores.” I offered that if one stops selling their body for profit, sure—redemption can be had. My friends argued that Kim makes millions from her auxiliary businesses—like the Kim Kardashian Hollywood game, Keeping Up With the Kardashians, clothing, diet pills and more—all of which have little to do with the fame she initially leveraged from her sex tape with Ray J. I disagreed that the tape, through which many of us were introduced to Kim, is mutually exclusive from her current fame—they’re intertwined.
With that heated discussion in mind, I asked Steffans her thoughts on Kardashian, Rose and what it means to be a woman who approaches sex like Wilt Chamberlain.
This interview has been edited and condensed.
Do you think a person can outgrow the “ho” label once society has branded you one?
I don’t like the idea that women are always labeled and men aren’t. The thing about sex is that when I’m having it with a man, he’s also having sex with me at the exact same time! When we get up, I’m the ho and he’s the man so I don’t subscribe to society’s labels. I define who I am.
I haven’t had much of a transition, I just have a public persona. For a very long time, when I was signed to particular publishing company, they wanted me to be a particular way because that sold books but that’s not who I am privately. I’ve always been a homebody. You’ve never seen photos of me doing random shit in the club. I go the hell to sleep.
What do you make of Kim’s speaking tour?
I don’t know if Kim Kardashian is super fucking smart—bitch might be an Einstein. But I know that she has some thing to sell and if what she’s selling is her ass and her husband is cool with that and her daughter thinks that’s awesome, then I can’t say anything. But if you want to tell me that that picture of your ass really is about the hardships in America, then I may look at you a little weird because that was not your intent was when you took that photo.
What do you think of Amber Rose’s public persona?
Amber Rose is amazing. I don’t think she’s actually discovered who she really is yet or the power she has. A lot of women find power in their bodies and, like my grandmother says, flesh is for the worms. Take more pride in your intellectual side because your body will eventually sag and drag. Maybe Kim is doing that now? I’m not sure.
I don’t know what happened with Kim in the last year where she felt we wanted to see her vagina all the time. For some women, having a baby makes them feel fat and ugly. Maybe having North West changed her and this is her way of reclaiming her sexiness and saying ‘I’m gorgeous again.’ Maybe her identity is so wrapped up in her body that she doesn’t know how to be sexy without it. Women are taught different languages at different ages. Maybe she was taught, because she was beautiful growing up, that her beauty is her identity.
Is that how you grew up?
Absolutely. When you’re a pretty girl, men start hitting on you and sexualizing you earlier. You deal with sex earlier and it’s different for extremely beautiful girls who live in big cities. You have more chances to get married and divorced, Kim has been married three times. I’ve been married three times. I have more opportunities to have more husbands because I have more people to choose from. It’s not always a good thing. You end up making all of these bad choices because you have the opportunity to do so. I just don’t believe in being labeled because that makes a person more comfortable with me.
How does that feeling play into the nickname you’re most well-known for?
I’m most well-known as Karrine Steffans.
But people also know you as “Superhead.”
People on the New York entertainment scene, on the radio, on…
What do they look like or do? What’s their culture?
I don’t live in hip-hop culture, I live in Hollywood and it’s completely different. [Hip-Hop] is a subculture and what subcultures say don’t count. If they mattered, they would’ve been able to stop me a long time ago and they can’t, that’s not what I’m most widely known as. When I walk into an office building in L.A., do deals and get shit done, no one speaks like that to me. [Hip-Hop] is also a subculture that is suffering in a lot of different ways. They’re suffering intellectually, socially, inter-personally, especially between men and women. It’s a completely degrading culture.
Do you feel like that nickname is offensive?
It’s offensive. Hip-Hop culture is offensive to women in general, so everything they say offends me, from the music to how they believe [and speak] about relationships. The music is especially demeaning to women with a very small percentage of enlightened artists who are helping to push women and men forward.
Well, Common just wants to help, maybe crotchet you some pants, so does Kendrick Lamar…
I’m not afraid of Common, Drake or Kendrick, but I’m afraid of Fetty Wap!
But he just wants you to be his Trap Queen!
I don’t want to be! Can’t I go to college?
But he’s gonna take you to the mall!
That’s so offensive to me! But then again, I’m 36 now. When I was 20-something, I wasn’t thinking about whether stuff was offensive, I was just doing stuff.
Regarding your roles in videos like Mystikal’s “Danger”?
Yeah, you just don’t think about those things because that’s the age to not be concerned.
When I read your first book, I appreciated that you honestly and openly said “I slept with these men.”
And what? Like I explained about “Superhead,” it’s just not my name. If your name is Samantha and I keep calling you Rachel, at some point, you’re going to be like ‘That’s not my fucking name dude, why do you keep calling me that?’ But in everyone’s defense, Karrine Steffans isn’t my name either. Nobody knows who I am, as a matter of fact, I’m not even here.
Owned or not, that nickname seems like a tough thing to shake.
I am a really big girl and I’m not easily offended personally but I am offended for other women who are called hoes. I’m offended for Kim Kardashian and Amber Rose, but I doubt they are offended for themselves. The thing is that if I was a shy demure little girl who’s easily hurt, you’d have never heard about me. I wouldn’t have written a book, much less seven, if I cared. You’re talking to someone who literally doesn’t give a shit.
You have mentioned that your mother was a big influence on your outlook because as a child you were kidnapped for three days and raped and when you returned home, she said you looked like a whore.
She was always talking shit to me, I’ve been called a whore since I was ten because I was a tomboy. I was always hanging out with boys.
It seems odd to be called a whore if you were a tomboy.
I knew that then. My mom used to be buy me dresses and I’d go to my guy friend’s house before school and put on their clothes. I cut my own hair short in my room, I was just doing tomboy shit. Mostly all of my friends now are men so a lot of the ways I see relationships, sex and sexuality are traditionally masculine because that’s who I hang around.
Being called a whore at ten as a little girl who never had sex just because I hung out with boys, [I recognize when] the same thing happens to me now. When I take a picture with some guy, people instantly think I’m having sex with him because people like to over-sexualize black women no matter what.
Does that over-sexualization jibe with your video vixen brand?
That’s never been my fucking brand.
But around the release of Confessions of a Video Vixen, that book was merchandised as representing you and your life.
Branding and merchandise are different. I also did self-help, I’ve been speaking at universities for the last ten years and my book has been taught through seven different college curriculums. My brand has never been that but the merchandise was. But it’s not about that, it’s every single woman who is over-sexualized when they don’t ask to be. As many times as people have said to me “Just show me your ass,” I’ve never posted an ass picture or anything indecent on my Instagram. But I get that all the time, that’s just how it is. I see people mostly doing it to black women but that’s some post-slavery traumatic shit.
Do you think people are still holding on to your image from your work in videos?
Not at all, it’s just I don’t do those things. People say that I’m boring, but I’ve always been this way unless I’m working. Until I started this book tour in June, every Instagram post was at my house. I don’t do anything but write books, this is my fucking life.
People don’t know how to differentiate between person and persona. I don’t talk a lot so I allowed people for a long time to think what they wanted, which is why I wrote Vindicated. I’ve been married since 2009 so I’ve been at home raising two kids, I had a husband.
Darius McCrary who played Eddie Winslow on Family Matters?
That was my ex-husband so don’t worry about that. When that was over, a year later I was married again. I haven’t been out here dating. People want me to be a certain way but when they see that’s not what’s happening, some are happy and some are like “Why aren’t you what I thought? I don’t understand. But Media Takeout, Bossip and all the urban blogs said this…” It was all lies.
How did you make the transition from tomboy to sexy video vixen?
I was just working. When I get off set, I was back with the boys, smoking blunts and drinking, picking up girls at strip clubs. When I’m done doing this book tour, I’ll take all this shit off, put on some sweats, put my hair in a bun and go back to being myself. I’m not that kind of girl but people expect me to be, I don’t give a shit.
Does that public misinterpretation upset you?
It doesn’t piss me off, I don’t have really have feelings.
But you talked about being offended earlier.
For other people, not for myself. I understand that some people are not that smart, some are complete idiots, others are rude, ignorant and fall into every stereotype you’d ever heard of. When I see those people, I just have to move forward. Everyone’s not going to understand or like you, and that’s OK. You find your tribe and you market and sell to your tribe.
So do you think people can outgrow the labels they don’t like? Like “Superhead”?
If you ever owned a label and made it your own, that it makes it harder to purge. I think if you always let things roll off your back, it’s easier to move forward. You can’t let other people dictate who you are, like when I was interviewed by Oprah.
Your hair was really something.
It was amazing, wasn’t it? It was Dolly Parton, it was everything… that I did not want it to be. Bad hairstylist. But I remember people debating online whether I should be on Oprah’s show and I was like “But sweetie, it’s too late, I’m already on Oprah so it doesn’t matter what you think or how you label me, you’re not stopping shit.” That’s how much labels don’t matter.
I apologize personally because I thought you were a ho when I first read Confessions but now I realize that I was unfairly labeling you as much as the rest of society. Dude, my bad.
Thank you! Men are never happy. They want a woman who is good at sex but don’t want you to practice. Everyone’s all screwed and living by rules that don’t really exist. I’m not afraid of my body.
It’s not fair that men get to discuss women’s bodies but women don’t. There’s a vote every few years on Roe vs. Wade by men sitting in rooms deciding what I should do with my body. Men don’t have that issue! No one is deciding whether men should chop their balls off but them! [Everyone’s] deciding whether the female nipple is this horrible thing, but men with these titties are running around just letting their nipples fly out. It’s offensive.
I feel like Rick Ross’s titties are kind of offensive.
Rick Ross’ titties have always been offensive but he just lets them flop out. But if I let my fucking titties show—which I’ve had done, percolated and well-centered—then all of a sudden I’m this horrible person. There are all these double standards that I’m just not here for. I’m going to fuck who I want, when I want, how I want, as many times as I want.
And write about it.
Exactly. I can get married, have kids and settle down if I want or I can be celibate. I can do whatever I want because, and this is a mind-blowing concept, it’s my fucking body and I don’t belong to the world, society or any man. If I want to be really, really good at sex, like so good at the shit that everybody talks about how good I am, great! You can’t shame me.
I’m a grown up, I belong to me and everybody needs to fucking be OK with that. I have a kid who’s almost 18, I have man and more kids coming. Things are happening.
Are you pregnant? Congratulations.
I have more kids coming, I’m living my life. I’m completely settled down in a committed relationship.
With… someone who shall not be named?
With someone who shall not be named because privacy’s actually very important to me in my real life, but I don’t subscribe to the double standards. When I was speaking at Dillard University here in New Orleans with the school’s President Kimbrough, he talked about Too Short’s song about how he had sex with 9,000 women, now that is when I engage the double standard. I do not want to have sex with 9,000 men, we don’t need to compete on that one bro, good luck with your penis.
Live your life.
We’re living in a generation with a lot of women that haven’t had a sexual revolution, there was no Gloria Steinem for them. We had Lil’ Kim, she was our revolutionary. But now I’m talking to 19- or 20-year-old girls who’ve never heard “You can withhold the sex, you can let it go, whatever decisions you make, it’s up to you. The consequences are also yours so think about that as well.” It’s not up to me to tell you what’s right or wrong, figure that out. Try not to hurt anybody in the process.
I cannot believe I’m in 2015 and we’re still having this conversation, “What do you think about a woman having sex with whoever she wants?” Are you nuts? It’s so regressive I’m almost embarrassed to live here. We’re still having conversations people had in the ‘50s! But I’m happy to be a voice in that conversation, I’m happy to say that I can date and have sex with who I want and do my sexual due diligence to know what I want.
Men don’t want you to do your due diligence because the more penises you see, countries you visit or educated you get, the better decisions you make. The more I know what kind of sex I want, the more I can say to a man ‘You’re not good enough for me,’ which is what happened with one of my husbands. We didn’t have sex until after we were married. [When we did] I said ‘Oh, this penis isn’t big enough for me. Your sex is wack, your penis is tiny and I know this because I’ve done my due diligence. Now we have to get a divorce because, sorry I was trying to do it the right way but no, this is not going to work!’ I’ve had sex before and I can judge a penis.
Was that McCrary?
No, Darius was my second husband, also nobody special. But like any education, when a woman has done the work she instantly has more power. It angers people that I can tell a man “You’re not sufficient.”
I’ve dated enough rich men to know what real money is and what it isn’t, but they want to call a woman a gold digger. I have more money than most men I’ve dated. Now I can say, because I’ve dated, traveled and I know what real money looks like, “Sweetie, I know you just got this deal and you think you’re rich, but you ain’t. That’s not real money.” That’s what bothers men the most. Men want to think that they choose you when we choose them and the more educated we become, the better choices we can make over time. I get to choose better now, and I’m like “Your dick is good, your money is good, let’s get married.”
Contact the author at Hillary@jezebel.com.
Image via Karrineandco.com