Written By Imi Beale
Historically, societal expectations placed upon women were to refrain from engaging in sexual activity until they are married. To be a virgin was seen as the ideal. However, many women these days find that there is actually a feminist pressure to do the exact opposite.
When I tell someone that I have been in a relationship since I was 17, the first thing I seem to be asked is: ‘do you think you will get married?’ I’ve been asked this by parents, grandparents and even friends, and if I say ‘yes’, I have found that there is a certain level of judgement based on my lack of experiencing the ‘hoe phase’. Given that marrying your high school sweetheart used to be seen as every young girl’s dream, this reaction has provoked me to ask whether the hoe-phase really is something that every woman ‘must’ experience.
The ‘hoe phase’ has come to be seen as a form of female empowerment. Articles such as, ‘6 reasons why every girl NEEDS a ‘Hoe Phase’,1 amongst many others, portrays having multiple casual-sex encounters as something that should be seriously encouraged. Experimenting is a form of liberation, an escape from the patriarchy, which allows women to become more ‘in tune’ with their own body. A women can find out what she likes and dislikes, whilst becoming both increasingly self-confident and sexually confident. It supposedly fights against the stereotypes which deny women the right to casual sex. The ‘hoe phase’ allows women to make their own choices and effectively free them from worrying about what everyone else thinks. So far, conceptually, it sounds ideal.
And if we are speaking honestly, there is a fear that comes with meeting someone at such a young age. The worry that you will become too comfortable as they’re all you know, therefore neither of you will ever want to leave your ‘safe-haven’ of a relationship. These fears and judgement expressed by others, stems from the perspective that if you do choose to stick together, sooner or later, one of you will get bored. The worry you may find yourself wondering if maybe you should have experimented and got yourself out there when you had a chance, perhaps even to see if you could have found someone better. The idea of ‘missing’ one’s chance to find someone is particularly prominent for women. It links to the idea that we have an expiry date, and our attractiveness being seen as the only valuable thing about us.
After watching countless episodes of reality TV, not that I would consider myself a relationship expert, it is evidently not uncommon for couples to break up because of these concerns. Arguing they fear they will become unfaithful down the line if they don’t get ‘it’ out of their system now. ‘It’ being the desire to be single and sleep around.
So, given the ‘hoe phase’ nowadays is presented as something that is not only necessary in order to maintain a healthy relationship down the line, but is also a form of female empowerment that women are encouraged to embrace, the question is therefore how empowering and necessary is it in reality?
One-night stands, casual dating and drunken hook-ups are all considered key parts of university life for many. The classic line: ‘I don’t want a relationship whilst I’m at university’, is one that you will hear repeatedly around campus. However, when you dive a little deeper in these conversations, particularly with other girls, you will find that the majority do not tend to enjoy these casual hook-ups, let alone get anything out of them.
A study conducted in 2011, which aimed to explore the intensity of feelings of regret after casual sexual encounters. The experiment studied 138 female and 62 male Canadian university students around the age of 21.2 The findings revealed that most participants reported feeling regret over engaging in casual sex, with women feeling significantly more regretful than men, especially when they were under the influence of alcohol. The study concluded there was a significant relationship between casual sex and poor mental health, which utterly contradicts the idea that the ‘hoe phase’ is sexually liberating and empowering for women.
It is important to note the reason why women tend to feel more regret than men and why girls in general don’t always enjoy casual hook-ups. Firstly, there is a large discrepancy between the experiences of men and women given women are often judged for having a high body-count, and sadly many girls tend to be cautious of who they sleep with purely because they are conscious of being known for having a certain ‘reputation’. However, these concerns do not span across genders. Men compete over body-counts and are praised upon their return from a one-night stand.
The term ‘hoe-phase’ itself is extremely gendered in its definition and connotations, due its painfully obvious double standards. An article which discusses the double standard of ‘hoe phase’, highlighted how there is no male equivalent to the female ‘hoe-phase’. Men are categorised as either single or in a relationship. Women on the other hand, face three options: single, in their ‘hoe phase’, or in a relationship.3 The period in which a woman wants to experiment is restricted to a phase, whereas there is no judgement around a man choosing to sleep around, it is just expected until he is effectively ‘tied down’.
We live in a patriarchy and so women are subject to different rules and expectations. Even girls are guilty of ‘slut’ shaming other girls for choosing to date and sleep with multiple men, even if it is just a ‘phase’.
So, it appears women are faced with a lose-lose situation. Either you will find yourself having a divorce, or you will be slut-shamed for experiencing a period in your life which will supposedly save your marriage… make it make sense!
Why, if a woman chooses to have a ‘hoe phase’, must it be restricted to a certain period, when a man can act as sexually free as he pleases, whenever he pleases? It feels as though it is impossible to win when feminist pressures encourage you to be sexually liberal for both
you and other women fighting against patriarchy, but others in society (including those same women) cast judgement. In order to escape from this vicious cycle of never-ending judgement, women need to lead the charge. This involves stopping the shaming of women having a ‘hoe’ phase and also stopping the claim of being in a ‘hoe’ phase altogether. You are not hoeing around; you are living and existing just as a man does.