THOTs and Hoes and Thoughts of Maya Angelou

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by Stephanie J. Gates 


The word buzzes around in my mind like a mosquito. And my attempts to logically swat it away fail; the buzz grows louder and louder. But no matter how much I try, I can’t get away from the blood thirsty judgmental name callers. They just keep biting, drawing blood and inflicting pain.

Since the beginning of time we’ve divided women into two categories: Good & Bad, and once one becomes the latter there is no returning to the former. THOTs are the bad girls of our time. The terminology is new, but the story is old—the Madonna and the Whore. And what’s especially depressing, is that too often women are pitted against each other. We have become some of our own worst oppressors.

As a middle school teacher of students in grades 5 through 8, I am familiar with the term THOT (that hoe over there) because it is frequently used by both male and female students. Any girl rumored to date, have sex with, or give oral sex, to too many boys or men is labeled a THOT. Some students say that a THOT can be a girl or a boy, but the majority of my students think that THOTs are female. There is no male equivalent for THOTs among my students. While I’m disheartened about the cavalier attitude around the word THOT, I’m not mad at my students because they only mimic adult behavior.

Students were preparing to view 12 Years a Slave so that they could learn something about the institution of slavery and its impact on American history and culture. The students were listening to slave narratives read by celebrities, and one of the women in the narrative talked about being married and having 10 children. One of the girls blurted out, “She a THOT.” So, when the narrative ended we had a conversation about the meaning of THOT and rather or not the woman in the narrative could actually be one. The student was not convinced because she didn’t understand why any women would have 10 children.

My students understand racism to some degree, but they are clueless when it comes to sexism. We were working on a series of lessons about the value of girls and women in society. The students in each class brainstormed a list of words that we use to describe females. Words like female, woman, girl, lady made the list as well as derogatory terms such as b!@#$, h@#, s#$%, and the infamous THOT. It made every list in every class, and I teach 12 classes. I was bothered that it made every list, but I was especially troubled that my 5th graders listed THOT as a word that we use to refer to females. What are we teaching our children?

Later in the unit, in an effort to build empathy, I showed my students an excerpt from Freaky Friday and assigned them the task of writing from the point of view of the opposite sex. Some of the stories were hilarious, but some of the stories written by 8th grade girls made me pause. When the girls wrote from the experience of boys, they took on the characteristics of the boys, and their stories talked of hooking up with THOTs, going to the strip club and making it rain. After talking with the students about the assignment, I shared with them my dislike of the term THOT. We had an interesting discussion, and while they probably won’t stop using the word, they will think about it. I’ve been a teacher long enough to know that my rewards come later when my students have had some life experiences. When I run into students later in life, they constantly remind me of something that they learned from my class.

I don’t like the use of derogatory terms to refer to anyone because I think they promote prejudice and misunderstanding, but THOT gets even deeper under my skin. It’s such a nasty word. When I hear THOT, I hear thing; I hear subhuman. I hear justification to disrespect and disregard females for their actions but an acceptance of the same behavior by males. My experiences both in the classroom and on social media force me to continue examining the impact of language on our psyche and how it affects our actions. Thoughts are things.

When Maya Angelo passed away, I read a FB post that said, “All of you THOTs posting Maya Angelou quotes, I’m going to need for you to sit down.” I replied that I thought that Maya Angelou would probably be okay with so-called THOTs quoting her work seeing as that she had worked as both a prostitute and a pimp. A man replied that, that would make Maya Angelou a THOT. Our posts went back and forth, and I inferred from his comments that Maya Angelou’s stint as a sex worker did not diminish her greatness, but that she was the exception to the rule. Songs and social media are full of references to THOTs. And the annoying buzz in my ear is that THOTs are things.

As I read the words of Maya Angelou circulating all over social media, the fact that she used to be a prostitute and pimp made me hold her in higher regard because she didn’t allow her past to define, defer nor determine her future. In an interview following the release of Gather Together in My Name in which she discusses the her work in the sex industry, Maya Angelou said she wrote the book because parents never admit their wrong doing to their children and this book was a way of giving children an opportunity to move beyond their mistakes. “You may encounter defeat, but you must never be defeated.” She went on to say that sometimes that defeat is necessary to know the person you can become.

Just when I thought the buzzing was lessening, I saw the story of the pastor who was speaking to his congregation about cheating men, and when he talked about the other woman, he said, these “hoes ain’t loyal. ”I listened to the entire sermon as not to be sucked into a sensationalized news story. I know how things can be taken out of context. But this was not the case. He made some other derogatory statements as well. But worse than the pastor’s words, was the positive response that his comment received from the congregation. People were standing up, raising their hands, and clapping. And most of the congregation was African-American women being bamboozled and hoodwinked by the words of a charismatic preacher who was once again blaming women for the downfall of men. Though it was clear that he meant that the other woman was not loyal, I was wondering why “these hoes ain’t loyal” didn’t apply to the cheating men who were obvious lying to their wives?

I have a male friend, and we had a heated disagreement about good girls and bad girls. He had a friend who was in a serious relationship, but the friend had a side chick because she did things sexually that he didn’t want his girlfriend to do. I disagreed with the friend, but my friend said he understood because there are things that a man doesn’t want his woman or wife to do. I was livid and called out his hyprocrisy! And my friend had the audacity to ask why I was so pissed off. So, I asked him how does a man explain his logic to his wife or girlfriend when he gets caught, and more importantly, if there is something so nasty and disgusting that you won’t do it with your girl, what does that say about you as a man?

I get it. It’s the way we’ve been socialized, and change takes time, but I can’t continue to accept how easily we throw girls and women away because of their perceived sexual indiscretions and yet we encourage the same behavior in our boys and young men. THOT easily slips off the tongue with little if any regard for how one comes to be a THOT. Does it matter if the girl or woman was sexually abused? How many partners does it take to make a THOT? And if the guy knows that she’s a THOT, what does that make him? And once one becomes a THOT, is one always a THOT? Is there no way back to respectability? I’ve been teaching more than 20 years and I have yet to hear a girl tell me she wants to grow up and be a whore. So, how did we get here? And why are we so quick to classify females as THOTs? Bad girls can be good, and good girls can be bad. So, where are the shades of grey that fill in the colors of our humanity?

Defining females as THOTs not only feeds the rampant sexism but also misogyny. It’s hard for us to own up to sexism, so we’re really not accepting of the fact that in most parts of the word, women are neither liked nor respected. It is a discomforting, but universal truth. And as difficult as it is, the world is changing slowly. When we returned from seeing 12 Years a Slave, the young lady who called the woman a THOT, said to me, “Now I understand why the woman ain’t no THOT.” My 8th graders and I talked about THOTs in a way that my students never considered. Do I expect that one conversation will change the world? No, but it’s a small step in the right direction because my students are the future.

After the multiple references to THOTs on Face book, I read this statement: “Real men don’t talk about their sexual conquests or call a woman out of her name. My father once told me, ‘No matter if a woman is a sinner or a saint when you lay with her you become her equal. So, not matter what you feel about them, it’s also a reflection of yourself.’” Anonymous.

Little things are big. So, I’ll take progress in small doses. A student with a better understanding of how the world works, a man who doesn’t place the blame of sex on the woman, and a man who teaches his son how to be empathetic because he too lives in the world of women. When I read, Charles M. Blow’s column, “Yes, All Men,” I wanted to jump up and swat all the THOT callers with a rolled up copy of his column. Charles Blow said that when he drove his son back to college, his son said, “I believe it’s important for everyone to be a feminist.” His son believed that the word was not fair to women, and we all—women and men—need to combat oppression. Blow was proud of his son’s position, and went on to add that “fighting female objectification and discrimination and violence against women isn’t simply the sound of women; it must all be the pursuit of men. Only when mean learn to recognize misogyny will we be able to rid the world of it.”

Words have power; thoughts are things that manifest into action. So, let’s stop the dehumanization of girls and women. THOTs are things.

Photo: Shutterstock

Stephanie blogs at Stephanie's Epiphany

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