“Whore”: The W-word?

Do women see the word “whore” the same as African Americans see the “N-word”?

At Wednesday’s California gubernatorial debate, Tom Brokaw suggested the two were equivalent, asking Gov. Jerry Brown why he had not expressed outrage at his aide’s suggestion they brand Meg Whitman with the term for catering to law enforcement in exchange for an endorsement. 

Brown retorted, “I don’t agree with that comparison,” and added a weak apology. 

He went on to ask why Whitman wasn’t outraged that her campaign chair had once called Congress “whores” for similar dealings with public employee unions. Whitman strangely called that “a completely different thing.” 

Now Salon columnist, Joan Walsh, has asked: Is “whore” the N-word for women?  

The fact that no one says “the W-word” to avoid saying “whore” suggests that people don’t find it quite so offensive.

But then, our society is more offended by racism than sexism: People are more upset by racist than sexist jokes.  And few complain about calling women ho’s in rap music because they don’t want to sound racist. But sexist is fine.

Maybe it’s not as offensive. But maybe it should be.

Georgia Platts

Relevant posts: Why Are We More Offended By Racism Than Sexism?

About BroadBlogs

I have a Ph.D. from UCLA in sociology (emphasis: gender, social psych). I currently teach sociology and women's studies at Foothill College in Los Altos Hills, CA. I have also lectured at San Jose State. And I have blogged for Feminispire, Ms. Magazine, The Good Men Project and Daily Kos. Also been picked up by The Alternet.

Posted on October 15, 2010, in feminism, gender, sexism, women and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 18 Comments.

  1. lol too funny! thanks

  2. What I have read here is what I have thought for years. Especially with rap music. Why are women still seen as ho’s and bitches, and why do we accept those roles? For some reason, we are able to look at rap music and give it some sort of glamorous social context and forgive it for being vulgar and sexist but for the life of me, I don’t know why. I do know that I am extremely aware of my feelings about rap music and I am also aware that I am white, middle-aged and a woman. Knowing that these three qualities are not hip in rap, I almost feel like I have to apologize for being who I am and feeling how I feel. Do I have a right to feel this way? Do I have a right to express my opinion? I’m not the fist-shaker, the squinting and disapproving “Oh, those darn kids and their music today” figure. But it makes me sad. I worked so hard to try to equalize the playing field for men and women. So many of my generation have tried to pave the way and with just a few videos of girls shaking their butts at the camera and literally bowing down to these male rappers, all of our work has just been paved over and we have to start again. I have tried to find the good in this medium, I have tried to be open to it, but frankly, I don’t see the seriousness in rap that so many others seem to accept as rap’s due. In fact, all I can think about is the fable of the Emperor and his New Clothes.

  3. I am torn. My first reaction to reading this is that No, it’s not the same thing to be called a whore or the n-word.
    I am of african descent and I am a woman. Both of the words, are targeting me in a negative way. Both of the words are completely wrong. Yet, they are still widely used today. Bitch, Whore,Slut etc etc however being used more openly and casually. To say the n-word is more taboo to say out loud, especially when you are not black. I would be utterly offended if anybody called me either of the words, because both are very offensive to me. The n-word is very offensive to me because it’s a word that stirs up a lot of emotion and it makes you think of slavery and somebody really putting you down. I agree that the word bitch is doing the same, it’s making you feel less than you are. However, I use the word too sometimes! I feel that it is more of a adjective that can describe someone’s character or you can even say that life is bitch! This was a tough one… Neither is right to say. I guess people should just stop saying bad things to women all together so that women won’t say it to each other. It’s so okay to say it nowadays that it’s become one of the most overrated words in the world..

  4. Whore to me is a word that goes both ways. It’s a meanign for one sex but i feel that it can be meant for wither sex. it seems that hteir are so many words to demean women but not enough for guys even though they deman us. If a guy has sex with alot of women he is scene as the man.but if a women does it she is a whore.Why is that?? well, i think it’s because people feel that women should be conservative they should be perfect.and let’s face it any guy looking for anyone to be perfect they shoudl look at themselves first.

  5. So…..

    I was at school, this girl called me a good for nothing “Player” (someone who has sex with multiple women for no respect for them) and I told her she’s a whore. I got suspended for hurtful/offensive words, or profanity as they called it, and she got off with nothing. I’m tired of hearing woman complain and use equal wording to men simply for the fact that we are men, and the majority don’t really give a crap to make enough drama about it. That said, someone call one of my sisters a whore, and I’d tear them up.

    • “Player” is generally thought to be a good thing. However, the way she said it probably wasn’t. But you didn’t have an equivalent “weapon” to fight back with since there is no generally positive term for girls who have sex that you could use in a negative way. All the words that describe women who have sex are deeply negative, deeply cutting. So you called her the much more negative term, “whore.” Which is likely why you got punished, but she didn’t.

      But you’re right. Girls shouldn’t be able to call boys names either. Best really for everyone to stop using weapons against each other.

  6. I don’t know if the “n” word will ever compare to the “w” word for some people, but I think whore is a very hurtful word and it could hurt a women just as bad as saying the “n” word to a man or woman. I have been called a whore before and it sounds like just a word to some people but it really hurts your heart, especially when it is coming from someone that claims they “love you” to me it hurts way more coming from someone that knows you and cares for you and loves you versus someone you don’t even know. So from my experience with the “w” word I would think “n” word would hurt just as bad.

    • Christine – I am very proud of you – you have the ability to put your feeling into words. Never stop! I agree with you and I have 5000 women and girls in my group who feel the same. the “w” is our “n” word.

      And you are right when it comes from that loves you – it is like a hot knife in your heart. When I read that line- I felt the pain shoot through me. It happened to me too. Like the other article stick and stones- well broken bones heal – but words they stick in your mind forever and it hurts and leaves a scar where love should be.

      Keep you honestly Christine- never give it up!

  7. The “n” word hasn’t always carried the same approbation over time. So perhaps there will come a time when the “w” word will be widely recognized as carrying the same demeaning, purposely hurtful effect as the “n” word is today.

    Even though I agree with the philosophical validity of Emily’s comment for an individual, “If you don’t give it a meaning, it won’t mean a thing.” , the fact remains that in the actual experience of many blacks or women, the saying of those two words brings back feelings of when they were used in an intentionallly hurtful way.

    If we reach a time when it matters to us whether we intentionally cause emotional pain to another (whether it be blacks or women), then we will not choose to use those words, because we are aware that…for many people… the words are associated with past pain and debasement.

    I think a part of the evolutionary process that occurred before the “n” word became something that was not considered acceptable to say, society had to be educated over and over that the word has been associated with purposeful debasement and causing of pain. And of course, we also had to care enough for the well-being of others that we have chosen to say “Don’t say that word. It causes hurt to others.” I suspect a similar process must occur before the “w” word becomes unacceptable to say.

  8. Personally, I tend to believe that words are just words. A good friend from high school once told me, “Words are nothing but frequencies in the air. If you don’t give it a meaning, it won’t mean a thing.” And ever since he told me that, I try to live my life as such.

    Given that I am not an African American nor have I ever been called a “ho”, “whore”, “cunt”, or “bitch” but I have been called some Asian racial slurs during high school. When that happened, I lived by my friend’s saying. I didn’t mind words like “twinkie” but I guess you can argue that it is not as bad as “nigger” and in ways I agree.

    Though it seems that within the same group of friends and same ethnic background, using such words seems “okay”. Words like “nigger”, “nigga”, or even “boy” seems to be okay amongst same group of friends with same background. Inter-racial though, seems to be a definite no-no?

    Which in turn makes me wonder when it’s “okay” to call people “whores” or “bitch” or even “cunt”

    Guess we must all live by “Words are nothing but frequencies in the air. If you don’t give it a meaning, it won’t mean a thing” to really live without hatred and judgment for such words.

    Maybe some day.

    • Thanks for your perspective.

      I’ll have to do a post on how words direct our thoughts – make us see the world and ourselves in particular ways. And even in ways that we aren’t always aware of.

      • Anytime, love reading the blog.

        Looking forward to a post about our thoughts.
        Have a good day and stay warm!

  9. I respectfully disagree with your thoughts about the desensitization of slang words for women, as compared to the racist “n” word. If one is a part of the black community, the “n” word is so frequently used that it’s become commonplace for black people to use that word in conversation; specifically the social groups which are focused on rap music and R&B. In fact, when Jay-Z and Alicia Keys played together before one of last year’s World Series games, Jay-Z sang the “n” word in front of millions of people, which obviously included many cultures.

    If a Caucasian were to say that “n” word, it would have a substantially different effect.

    Whore is a less frequently used word and its implications definitely do not reflect Meg Whitman, former CEO of eBay. The literal definitions of whore, listed below, mostly describe the sexual practices of an individual, although the third, which most likely applies, (according to the Brown campaign) still doesn’t reflect Whitman.

    – Work as a prostitute
    – Have unlawful sex with a whore
    – Compromise oneself for money or other gains; “She whored herself to Hollywood”
    – Prostitute: a woman who engages in sexual intercourse for money

    In my opinion, Whitman has not shown any behavior which would compromise her integrity and certainly no actions suggesting that she’s a prostitute. When most people think of the “w” word, they interpret it in the most derogatory way possible, which was clearly the intent with Brown’s campaign.

    Furthermore, all women should be absolutely outraged that the President of NOW (National Organization for Women) actually endorsed these comments by saying “Meg Whitman is a political whore”.

    As a man, I was embarrassed for Brown and his campaign and by his lackluster apology to Whitman. When Brown commented regarding the “w” word not falling into the “n” word category, the audience’s reaction was very telling – as they reacted unfavorably in concert.

    The same argument could be made for those who are a part of the gay community. Personally, I would no more use the “f” slang term for a homosexual than I would refer to a woman as the “w” word.

    If women are not offended by this term, than I agree with you; they should be.

  10. A few comments from my fb page (the first three are from men):

    Whore can be used as a verb and has applied to both genders for the past three centuries. As a man, I don’t see the word as being as powerful or as synonymous as the n word

    ‎”whore” is an offensive word; its suppressive appeal subjugates wo/men in contemporary street use. And when explicitly applied to exchange, it’s merely a rationalized version of “slut” – both words doubled-edged for women. As for it being synonymous with “nigger/nigga” – ‘oppression is not a competition.’

    (Your) barb is very good. I was making reference only to the fact the “n” word is used by people as a direct synonym for a whole people whereas the “w” word as it is now to be called really is a judgment about the way in which women (and now men) are perceived to act. Even total creeps wouldn’t call a granny a whore unless they were commenting on some action or perceived predilection, whereas if she happened to be black, I am sad to say that a certain percentage of the white population where I live might entertain the N word in an unguarded moment. I don’t use either word, but I have been known to use the verb whoring when making reference to people and politicians who prostitute themselves and their values.

    As a woman, I would be hugely offended to be called a whore.

    ‎”Whore” by itself I would agree is offensive, but it’s much less so, and definitely applies to both sexes, if a qualifying word is attached: “media whore,” “attention whore,” etc.

    When we can find the culturally equivalent to the word whore for men – and it is considered an insult rather than something to be proud of it will be ok to use whore. Even gigolo does not carry the connotations of whore.

    (From me): When men are called whores, they’re called a “man” whore – like what’s normative is for women to have that epithet.

  11. Maybe somebody should ask a women and then accept her answer as valid?

    Ask me!

    I will tell you point blank- ho, whore , cunt and bitch are just as degrading to me as nigger! These words enslave and degrade and humiliate me and my daughters and granddaughters and certainly should feel the same to every woman of any color. How dare anyone tell me I can not say nigger but I can be called whore.

    What kind of a women of color doesn’t mind being a slave so long as she isn’t a black one? SHAME!

    As John Lennon wrote in a song “Women are the Niggers of the world”

  1. Pingback: Words: Sticks and Stones? Or Shaping How We See Ourselves? « Free Us Now Weblog

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