No, Hoe (And Other Gendered Slurs) Do Not Go “Both Ways”

By Gabrielle Noel

I would say I hate the word “hoe” but that would be inaccurate. I love wearing the title like a pageant sash. I ask my friends about their “hoe” adventures and follow their dramatic retellings with an emphatic “yassss!” In its reclaiming, the word “hoe” -- and all of its many synonyms -- celebrates women who are entitled to the ownership and exploration of their sexuality.

Unfortunately, “hoe” has always been used to police women. It is weaponized against all of us, whether it’s women who completely opt out of social expectations for their sexuality or those with merely a toe out of line. It is used to justify rape and sexual assault, and it is reinforced interpersonally. We are prodded about our ‘body counts’, we are told to cover up, we are shamed and ridiculed at the mere suggestion that our bodies actually belong to us. When we hear it socially, or even in popular culture (the lyric, “all I got for hoes is hard dick and bubblegum,” comes to mind), we learn that “hoes” are seen as subhuman, undeserving, not worthy of partnership or respect. “Hoe” doesn’t even need to be a substantiated claim for it to cling, like a stain, to the women it’s thrown at. So while I enjoy reclaiming the word “hoe” (or “slut”, or “thot”), I still hate it as a slur and as a socializing tool. I hate the way it makes women feel.

“Hoe” is applied very differently to women than men

I call out slut shamers unabashedly. I know how uncomfortable it feels to have your humanity challenged via words like “hoe”, especially when it’s backed by our mainstream culture. A lot of women, although we intellectually understand that the concept of a “hoe” is imaginary, still struggle to detach ourselves from the shame of being called one. Slut shaming is so ingrained that defending ourselves against it is a lot about developing the language to describe why it’s wrong -- and not all of us do that. Regardless, having someone stand up for you can be powerful, so I do it. 

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Nestled in among responses that resemble “that’s just how things are” (false) and “I don’t slut shame, nobody does that anymore” (a.k.a “not all men”) is an answer that floors me every time. Both men and women tell me, “I call both women and men hoes, it goes both ways.” and I want to shout back at them, “that’s not how sexism works!”

Of course, the word “hoe” is not applied to women every single time but when it belongs to men, the context shifts. Sexism reflects a systemic power imbalance that favors men, who are given the social capital literally from birth to be hoes. And it thrives on the backs of people who deny its very existence. Pretending the application of the word “hoe” goes both ways gives slut shamers a get-out-of-jail-free card as they continue devaluing women.

Men don’t face the same social consequences when they’re hoes

Men don’t destroy their reputations by being sexually active, they don’t face isolation, they don’t get disrespected or told they’re no longer desirable partners. In fact, for men, hoeing is expected and celebrated until they are ready to “clip their wings” and “settle down”.  When you call men hoes, the meaning might be the same, but the social consequences simply don’t exist as they do for women. It’s like saying, “well I think all lives matter” at a Black Lives Matter rally. It’s a deflection from the actual issue, which is that women aren’t allowed to be sexual beings without criticism.

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Remaining willfully ignorant about the power dynamics involved in words like “slut”, “hoe”, and “thot” allows men to maintain their power. If it goes both ways, it becomes a valid criticism about humanity, rather than a socializing tool to keep women in check. Maybe it doesn’t pretend that women were not subjugated and dominated throughout history, but it often treats that as an aspect of the distant past when it’s something that still actively happens. And there is no easier way to subjugate women than by revoking their humanity and diminishing them via sexual policing. Slut-shaming has real psychological and social effects. It can cause anxiety and PTSD. Also, it’s fucking embarrassing.

So if your excuse for slut shaming is that it goes “both ways,” you are just making excuses for your own toxic behavior. If you think words like “hoe” or “slut” or “thot” aren’t used in heartbreakingly gendered ways, you are wrong. And when you actively abstain from using those words against women -- even when you’re angry, even when it’s someone you don’t like -- you stop backing a system that devalues us. Tell a friend to tell a friend.

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