It’s easy to see why the word “thot,” one of the endlessly changing and inventive slang terms that’s emerged from hip-hop, has spread like wildfire: It’s fun to say, like saying “hot” with a pleasing “th” sound to give it added oomph. As an insult, which is absolutely what it is, it satisfyingly rolls off the tongue, as all invective should.
But as pleasing and innovative as the word is linguistically, it’s all too old-fashioned in its sentiments. “Thot” stands for “that ho over there,” and it’s yet another in a long line of words concocted to shame and control women by using their sexuality as a weapon against them. It’s yet another example of a conundrum that has haunted pop music for a century, in all its permutations. Pop music has so much power to be a force for liberation, but all too often it’s used to churn out the tired repressive forces that it should be freeing us from.
That “thot” is purely an insult isn’t in dispute. Unlike words like “bitch” that are both used to insult and are also reclaimed as terms of power, “thot” has little ambiguity in its use. It’s just a fancy new way to call someone a “slut” and to implicitly argue that women who embrace the same kind of sexual freedoms that men take as their right should be ashamed of themselves. In “THOT,” a song bragging about having sex with “thots,” rapper The Game makes this quite clear, saying he intends to “expose these bitches for who they are.” In the tune “Macaroni Time,” Chief Keef is skeptical of the ambitions of so-called thots, rapping mockingly, “I know this bitch a thot she wanna meet my momma now.” In the thot anthem “Beautiful Ones,” Juicy J describes the woman in question with, “She only get out of bed, so she can twerk on Vine.”
If you’re not obviously sexual enough to be called a “thot,” then you’re simply going to be disparaged for failing to be sexy enough.
None of which is to say that these are bad songs. God knows if misogyny was a deal-breaker when it came to assessing how great a song is, most of rock and country would have to be hastily abandoned. But the emergence of the term “thot” really demonstrates how women who are drawn to pop music and all the subcultures that spring up around it are put in an impossible situation. On the one hand, the point of the music is that it’s sexy. But if women actually embrace the sexual freedom that seems to be on offer, they get slapped down and accused of being loose and worthless. Women feel like they have to put forward an image of sexiness, but they also know that being sexy means you can quickly be shamed for being too sexy.
A recent battle between Rihanna and the members of TLC showed how headache-inducing it is to try to figure out what women are “supposed” to do when it comes to both being sexy and somehow avoiding the term “thot” or any of its synonyms of the “slut” or “whore” variety. T-Boz denounced Rihanna for her love of walking around half-naked in an interview during TLC’s Australian tour, arguing, “We sold and became the biggest girl selling group of all time, with our clothes on,” the implication being that Rihanna is somehow desperate and grasping because of her breast-baring fashion sense.
Rihanna, as is her tendency, went to Twitter to respond, calling T-Boz an “old thot” and temporarily changed her background photo to an old picture of the members of TLC topless with their hands covering their nipples. It’s completely understandable that Rihanna was annoyed by T-Boz’s statements. Accusing a woman of being an attention whore because she celebrates her sexuality is just the same old sexuality policing, even if it is dressed up as a feminist statement. It’s particularly silly to concern troll Rihanna in this way, as Rihanna, like Madonna before her, has so much command over her public image that it’s hard to read her in-your-face sexuality as more artistic provocation than money-grubbing. It’s also understandable that Rihanna would lean on accusations of hypocrisy. After all, it’s not a bad thing that pop music sells because sex sells. Being sexy and pushing an agenda of sexual liberation is a huge part of what pop music is, and that’s a good thing.
But, by calling T-Boz a “thot,” Rihanna also exposed how even she falls into the same trap of using a woman’s sexuality as a weapon to demonize her. That goes beyond calling T-Boz a hypocrite right into the territory of leaning on tired old sexist tropes about how a woman can have “too much” sex and that this somehow makes her used up and worthless. This could be a chance to have a real dialogue about how pop music can be a safe and fun place to push sexual boundaries, but instead it just circled the drain, with both women involved flinging accusations that the other somehow is oversexed.
The whole incident also showed that, just like with the word “slut” before it, any woman is eligible for accusations that she is oversexed and used up simply by virtue of being female in public. That was amply demonstrated during the recent feud between rappers T.I. and Azealia Banks. No one looks particularly good in this feud, with Banks launching attacks at T.I.’s wife on Twitter and T.I. calling Banks a “musty mouth thot” on Instagram. But the appearance of the word “thot” in the whole mess shows how much it’s morphed into the same kind of word as “slut”—a catch-all way to put any woman in her place by suggesting that she’s somehow too sexual. But, of course, it’s a game women can’t win, because if you’re not obviously sexual enough to be called a “thot,” then you’re simply going to be disparaged for failing to be sexy enough.
The cruelty of this became evident after a video where 2 Chainz embarrassed a female fan trying to finagle her way backstage went viral. The woman wasn’t guilty of anything more than being an overly enthusiastic fan who was willing to bend the truth a little in order to meet some of her favorite rappers, but suddenly her face was online with the caption “#isthisyothot” underneath it. The woman was obviously upset at being called a “thot” by this famous rapper, and went on Instagram to complain. “For the record I’m not a thot, I reset my account because I had family on it. Tauheed Epps aka 2 [C]hainz you will definitely be hearing from my lawyer,” she wrote.
“Thot,” “slut,” “whore”: different words, but they all invoke the same trap laid out for any woman. You have to be sexy, but remember that your sexuality can and will be used at any point in time to disparage you. If you dare express an opinion or try to assert yourself, then you run the risk of having your gender and sexuality invoked to put you in your place. Women have been drawn to the glittering promise of sexual freedom that pop music seems to offer, but all too often they find that retrograde notions of what women are allowed to do crop up instead. “Thot” is a funny word and fun to say, but isn’t it about time that we offered women an opportunity to be themselves without having their sexuality used against them for it?