Fever was a long-awaited gift for rap fans, (literal) hoes, and anime fans alike. The first full-length project from Houston native Megan thee Stallion (Megan Pete) is a 14-track thrill ride that starts high and only continues to ascend. My personal favorite on the album is the third track, “Pimpin’”, three-and-a-half minutes of Juicy-J-produced greatness, positively dripping with the sexual aggression and braggadocio traditionally reserved for male rappers relaying their conquests and bank balances.
Throughout the album, Pete gives us quotable gems such as:
“Damn, I want some head, but I chose the dough instead. I could never ever let a nigga fuck me out my bread,”
“Call him a trick and he don’t get offended. He know he giving his money to Megan,” and,
“Nigga actin’ like he player when he really just a play. It’s some hoes in this house and they goin’ through your safe, ah.”
On its own, the lyrical content of Pete’s music is fun, raunchy, and ratchet. It’s nothing more than a good time on an album of certified thot bops specifically created to cater to an audience of “Hot Girls” and “Hot Boys” looking to turn up all summer long. But Pete’s persona, crafted or real, is one clearly derived from the work and subjugation of sex workers and women.
As much fun as it is to quote lines about Pete, a woman, calling herself a pimp, it’s impossible to divorce the word from a long history of violence and brutality against sex working women and femmes. Perhaps an argument could be made for reclamation of the word “pimp”, but Pete is not a sex worker of any kind. It’s not her word to reclaim.
Moreover, it’s an inherent contradiction within her persona of female empowerment and sexual freedom to refer to herself as a pimp, ignoring the bloody taint of a word used to describe a man (or less often, a woman) who exists to steal the earnings of sex workers and often to beat them into submission for stepping out of line. Pimps are notorious for violent, misogynistic behaviors like “breaking” and “turfing” and the full-on trafficking of children and vulnerable populations. (“Breaking” or “turning out” refers to a combination of rape, starvation, sensory deprivation, psychological manipulation, threats, physical violence, and isolation a pimp subjects new victims to in order to destroy resistance. “Turfing” refers to the violent enforcement of territorial boundaries and can include physical violence, kidnapping, imprisonment, and rape.) Co-opting the aesthetics of an already marginalized population while casting yourself as the perpetual antagonist of the same population is, at best, an ignorant misunderstanding, and at worst a violent contradiction that glamorizes a major source of the never-ending violence visited on sex workers.
I’m not inclined to believe the worst of Pete just yet. She’s quite young—yes, 24 is young—and clearly still learning to reconcile the sex positive, pro-woman ideology she touts with the violent misogyny she’s internalized. The irony of rapping about “fucking on” men that have the requisite bank balance or dick length while being concerned about arbitrary measures of purity like “body counts” hasn’t even begun to sink in for her yet. Pete’s lyrics are patently ridiculous juxtaposed against her comments about willfully disregarding the boundaries of a relationship for recreational sex. The same woman that casually instructs listeners to “bust it open like a freak” while Juicy J brags that “shorty wanna take the pipe all day and night” is so concerned about being seen as too promiscuous that she will gleefully take an ex to bed regardless of his relationship status? The rapper that flew to the top of the hip-hop charts with lines like “Drinking Henny out the bottle, let’s get ratchet, shake that ass for a shot, get it clapping, pop that pussy for a nigga, don’t be acting” wants to keep the “mileage” on her vagina low? I am confusion.
Snort-inducing contradictions aside, there’s no need to “cancel” Pete—at least, not yet—for what could be little more than internalized misogyny and base ignorance. But it is the perfect time to ask why it’s so much fun to pick up the hoe/heaux aesthetic for part-time wear with no meaningful effort to appreciate or understand the work that sex workers put in or the constant stigma they face. Hooking, ho-ing, whoring—whatever you want to call it—full-service sex work is not a hobby that can be picked up and put down whenever the need arises. Ho and heaux are not casual identities available for cosplay needs or summers of self-discovery. One can’t identify as an “art heaux” or a “part-time ho” without furthering the whorephobic, misogynistic notion that having casual sex or running up a “body count” makes a woman less valuable. There is no low-key way to be a hooker when stating as much results in closed bank accounts and seized assets, a lifetime label of sex offender, state sponsored seizure of children, and the censoring and flat-out deletion of social media accounts—one of few methods of safe advertisement post-SESTA/FOSTA. Not to mention that simply being a hooker often leads to brutal arrest, rape, and/or murder—by cops, clients, or hateful civilians.
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Megan Pete rapping about her sexual prowess and free sprit to her largely female fanbase is fun and empowering and every sex positive buzzword snatched straight out of a Buzzfeed listicle. But following up the somewhat progressive, albeit basic message with talk of needing to keep her body count low makes the whole spiel fall flat. It’s essentially meaningless. And yes, Pete responded to critics by clarifying that “Women can do whatever they want with their vagina,” but even that is a lukewarm take. It does no good to qualify your message of sexual freedom for women and femmes with a trans-exclusionary justification for perpetuating misogynistic rules for how many dicks are too many.
I’m not so dense that I can’t acknowledge that rappers have been lying about their past and present behaviors for as long as the notion of “cred” has been around. But this is more sinister, the effects more far-reaching than Rick Ross lying about being a cop. It’s hard enough being a sex worker, but being a hooker places someone firmly on the bottom of the whorearchy.
If we’re being honest, Pete is not the first person to market the idea of being a sex worker while simultaneously denigrating the profession. It’s an unfortunate fact that our culture perpetuates the Madonna/whore dichotomy with gusto. It’s also an unfortunate fact that sex workers are the easiest characters (and caricatures) to place firmly in the “whore” slot.
One-off “rapper” Iggy Azalea’s early tracks features the lyrics “Never been a smut, I don’t care who like me, I can count on one hand all the dudes that’s piped me”. Azalea’s most recent album, however, features the contradictory lyrics “Nudes broke the net, I hate to be the one to say it, Barely show shit and they still pay their last to graze it.” Interesting that Azalea would capitalize on the relatively popular practice of selling nude pictures after her own leaked nudes forced her to leave social media. She quickly returned to Instagram and began posting pictures of herself and friends in Pleasers, that stripper staple shoe. Perpetually terrible person Nicki Minaj claimed that she felt responsible for her young female fans selling literal sex online in the most slut-shaming way possible after coasting on a career of…selling sex, or “sex appeal”, as she puts it. All I can do is echo her Minaj’s words back to her and say, “If you know your pussy worth a Benz truck, Don’t let homie fuck unless his bands up.” And it’s not just celebrities who use our aesthetic for capital gains either. All around garbage clothing brand Dolls Kill has a history of firing employees outed as sex workers and blocking sex workers who question their silence on issues like SESTA/FOSTA despite selling poorly constructed knockoffs of Pleasers on their site. The hashtag #notastripper was started by women taking pole dancing fitness classes as a way to elevate themselves above the strippers they steal their sartorial inspiration and dance moves from.
Having said all of this…I get it. Honestly. The hoe/heaux aesthetic is fun and empowering and all of those other things that you read in Salty’s newsletter. But there are actual people behind the language, clothes, and flashy nails. (I do just want to take a moment to appreciate my cousin for calling my acrylic nails “dick grabbers” the last time I got them done because she’s absolutely right.) If you’re going to use us as cultural keystones, you have to be willing to acknowledge our humanity and our complexity too. You can’t put a “Sex Work is Work” sticker on your Mac if you’re not willing to have a conversation about why marginalized groups are overrepresented as sex workers and what that means in this capitalist hell. You can’t click your knockoff Pleasers together in your Instagram story and then accuse strippers of trying to steal your man. You don’t get to call your boyfriend your sugar daddy for funsies if you can’t acknowledge that anyone engaging in sex acts for money is a constant target for abuse and harassment.
If I’m honest, I absolutely love Megan thee Stallion. I think she’s funny, socially conscious, stunningly beautiful, and insanely talented. But I hope that Pete uses her time in college to learn more about the culture that she’s misrepresenting for her own financial and cultural gain.
I hear a lot about “reclaiming” words. But.. honestly, it almost never works. There are invariably more assholes that either use the current version of the word to denigrate everyone involved, or who actually define the current usage through their abuses and bad behavior than there are those fighting to take it back. Unless, and until you have a way to overcome *that*, and successfully beat back those who fit the current definition, to the point where it is no longer far more likely that they are what the word has come to mean than anything else, there is little point. And.. maybe it isn’t something to be taken back anyway. When, ever, has the word pimp meant anything other than what it does now? Because, lets be serious, when sex work came to “most” of America (not including the east coast, where it likely did exist, and was *still* exploitative, it was run by women, for women, and helped found the west. And none of them used the term “pimp”, that I am aware of.
So, what would you be actually “taking back”, and do we even want it? Isn’t it better to strive for a point in which either a new word is used, or better yet, the only word that actually applies is the correct one, “employer”?
Great article. I don’t think I have ever seen a proper representation of sex work in media period so I am not surprised by any of it. We only get to see people at a snapshot in time. Lots of girls say they never hoe’d but all that ratchet shit doesn’t come from thin air. They are dabblers so they can have the street cred to say xyz. Real sex workers never have the privilege of such.
In addition you have to look at the cultural component of the promotion of sex work in hip hop that is not labeled as such. For her she may feel that she is just telling a regular story