The Thot Paradox: What We're Really Teaching Black Girls About Sex

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by Kimberly Foster

I can no longer hide my frustration or disgust with the growing use of the word THOT. Particularly concerning is the word's popularity among those who consider themselves to be adults.

The acronym, which stands for That Ho Over There and appears to have originated in Chicago a few years ago, is simply a new iteration of an ancient theme. It is a fresh addition to the long legacy of language created explicitly to demean and degrade women who are seen as promiscuous or sexually irresponsible.

Interestingly, the word is no longer directed only at women thought to exhibit immoral sexuality. Its definition changes at the user's behest; thus, a  woman who does not meet any arbitrary standard  of "acceptable" behavior may be deemed a THOT.

Due to the word's use in Black music and among its listeners, this misogynistic insult is racialized. Though Black women are most likely to participate in these economies that make the creation and proliferation of THOT possible, we are the least likely to reap the rewards. Black men, quite literally make a living from our bodies, and for our participation, we are named.

 We are especially vulnerable to accusations of hypersexualization because there is no space for Black women to have a healthy, public display of our sexualities. Though our objectification is encouraged and incentivized, our attempts to take ownership of those images incur steep social penalties because they defy the expectation that our bodies are public property.

These notions are centuries old; however, THOT represents the current cultural moment in ways that older sexist slurs like bitch, ho, and slut do not. The widespread use of social networking sites, particularly the photo sharing site Instagram,  allows anyone with a smartphone to become creators and distributors of their own images. Twenty percent of Instagram's users are Black, and on the platform, users publish their own pictures of everything one could imagine including their own bodies.

In some ways, these provocative portraits and selfies upset traditional power structures. Even when a woman crafts images of her body that appeal to the male gaze, she occupies a space formerly held by men. She need no longer wait for approval; she validates herself.

More and more women have an opportunity to acquire a modest fame via their self-run social media accounts. By taking this control, they post and profit from their own images. The vast majority of women who publish images of themselves online will not become Instagram Vixens, but they can reap  rewards that are not monetary (i.e. followers, likes, and a self esteem boost). And the desire to be compensated, monetarily or otherwise, for what would previously only been used to benefit men makes a woman a THOT.

The double standard is clear. Men are not called THOTs for seeking to attain power and recognition. There are no linguistic equivalents to humiliate and disempower them. Moreover a white woman like Instagram star Jen Selter (aka queen of the butt selfie) will not be called a THOT despite the fact that she makes a living displaying her body. In fact, Selter's frequent postings of her barely clothed body landed her a feature in Vanity Fair.

Black women openly challenging these sexual mores incites disingenous handwringing and malicious name calling.  Women like Nicki Minaj, Beyonce, and Rihanna are the first crop of young, extraordinarily famous Black women who have soared in the social media age. Each of them use these sites to create themselves.

As as Nicki pointed out in the wake of the controversy that followed the release of her new single cover, when Black women take off their clothes, we're forced to contend with society's spurious stances on sexuality. Though the outraged claim to be concerned by the degradation of women, many will not hesitate to participate in it when expressing their disgust with a woman's actions.

Instead  of tackling the systemic disregard for women's humanity no matter what they have on, concerned parents like's Chuck Creekmur work through their own hypocrisy on the bodies of women like Nicki Minaj. What Creekmur ineloquently expressed was his fear that his daughter, by Nicki's influence, would also become a THOT--an immodest woman undeserving of respect.

This approach, however, does not make the world a safer place for Black girls. It only reinforces the status quo--that when anyone degrades and demeans a woman, it's merely culture. Calling us bitches, hoes, and THOTs is not only commonplace, but it is acceptable and unremarkable.  Words like THOT are tools to compel women to submit to a set of codes of behavior and sexual mores.  And even if you disagree with these particular slurs, demonizing women who enjoy their bodies and take pride in their appearance contributes to the culture that normalizes their use.

Black women and girls deserve better.

Photo Credit: Shutterstock

Kimberly Foster is the founder and editor of For Harriet. Email or

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