That’s Bitchin, But Life’s A Bitch

If you say, “That’s bitchin!” it’s good. But if she’s bitchin, she’s annoying. If “Life’s a bitch,” things are difficult. If “She’s a bitch!” she’s difficult, she won’t give ground. (He thinks that’s bad.) If “I’m a bitch!” I stand my ground. (I think that’s baaad – but in a good way!) But if “She’s my bitch” or “He’s my bitch,” that bitch is submissive.

So which is it? Does a bitch stand her ground? Or does she submit? I guess the words “a” vs “my” make all the difference. Taking someone who stands her ground and making her succumb is, apparently, a huge triumph.

The contradictions continue. Two sitcoms, “Don’t trust the B— in Apt. 23” and “GCB” were first pitched as “Don’t Trust the Bitch in Apt. 23” and “Good Christian Bitches.” In fact, “Good Christian Bitches” was transformed to “Good Christian Belles” before finally becoming the non-descript “GCB.” So network execs shun the b-word in series titles even as actors spew those same words on air.

The networks like the hip, cool titillation the word suggests.

Titillation, as in: “bitch,” defined as a woman who will have sex with anyone – “except me.” (And earlier, defined as a female breeding dog.) Bitch being quite different from a stud (a male breeding horse).

Bitch as hip and cool? It’s cool to demean women, as in “the Bitch in Apt. 23”? Or, it’s cool that women celebrate their independence, as in “GCB”?

Women reclaim this word that has been used to debase and dominate them. But others still use it to insult and control – and then say, “Well, you women use the word yourselves.” (Blacks use the n-word themselves, yet few non-blacks think that grants them the same permission.)

This shape shifter may reflect our society’s contradictory views of women. On the one hand women are strong and amazing; on the other, women are belittled and demeaned.

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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 April 30, 2012, in feminism, gender, psychology, sexism, women and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 18 Comments.

  1. I do believe that women are devalued and disregarded in our society (and in most societies that I’ve read about in my anthropology classes), and that men are the history makers and always in the limelight. And boy am I tired of men after this quarter of classes in humanities, womens’ studies, and cultural anthropology! But I think it is for that reason that I am not terribly bothered by the television programs that are named after “bitches,” understanding that “bitch” was in the original show name and the networks later changes the names to be less obvious.

    I rather like that there are finally some shows about strong women, and so having “bitch” in the show title puts it out there in no uncertain terms. I know nothing about either program, but just judging by the advertisement shown in the blog for “Don’t Trust the B___ in Apt. 23,” the female lead actress looks confident, smart, classy, and fun. It might actually be a show I would watch.

    I’m famously a hater of “chick flicks,” as I cannot stand to see good actresses in weak roles in pointless movies. Typically such movies have no message and are stuffed with a lot of whining and crying. I can only hope that these “bitch” stories on television have good scripts for the female roles with something interesting to say. And no whining.

    • Thanks, but keep in mind that men aren’t the problem. Patriarchy is (a system in which men rule and men are more valued).

      Many men are feminists and I also know many women who are patriarchal.

  2. A Bitch is……..Being In Total Control Herself. At least, that is how I like to think of it. However, I am guilty of referring to my friends as “My bitches” and I often say “Hey Bitch, what’s up”, even though I do not like to be called a bitch. My cousin refers to all women as bitches, while I try to not do that anymore, it is still something that I often say. I try to refer to women as well…women. Or I say girls, ladies, females. I think our culture has a double standard for basically everything, including use of the word bitch. I used to tell my ex- boyfriend that he was acting like a “lil bitch” when he would talk about his feelings a lot. I read a book called “Men who love Bitches” and it basically said that a “bitch” is someone that has boundaries and will not put up with any BS, they demand respect. I try not to act like a bitch, but I know that I can be one, so I try not to take it personal. It doesn’t bother me quite as much when another woman says it, but it really gets to me when a guy says it about me. I think your analysis is correct, that it pretty much comes down to the words used in front of the word bitch.

  3. Kelsey Walker

    I grew up in a household where swearing was not even remotely allowed and it has had a lasting affect on me in that I don’t tend to swear myself. (Okay, maybe occasionally at my computer). However I’ve never had an issue with other people swearing. So while I will not refer to my friends as “bitches” in an endearing way I don’t mind it if they do so to me. I know it’s not intended to be harmful so I don’t really care. I don’t think that when a girl calls her friend a “bitch” that she’s thinking about how she’s empowering women by taking back the term – it’s just a slang term.

    When used in a negative sense towards an individual or women as a whole it poses a larger issue. There’s no male equivalent of the word and so nothing for women to really strike back with. To call a man a bitch in return insults women at the same time and “son of a bitch” works doubly so.

    • While many women began using the term “bitch” as a way of owning a word that had been used to oppress them, that doesn’t mean all women are doing the same now. That said, so long as they use it in an endearing form, it still has that effect even without the intention.

      On lacking a male equivalent term, check out this woman’s reply to a different post, which I filed away to perhaps use in one of my own subsequent posts:

      I’m not one for “an eye for an eye” in terms of this topic because my general idea is that if we don’t want to be degraded, why make the problem worse by degrading others. But the other day, sitting watching a tv show with some guy friends, I couldn’t help but feel annoyed because I heard the term “bitch” used almost every time a girl was on the screen, and always in a negative, degrading way. I don’t understand this NEED to constantly show superiority over women. It could have to do with the fact that men feel somewhat threatened by women’s sexuality or their beauty and feel they have to conteract it in some way. While we sat there, after the 4th or 5th time hearing this term, I had to speak up. I said, “You know, I’ve been researching and I think I came up with a good term for men: Hogs. It’s a male pig, which is also an animal.” And literally the guy never said it again and shut his mouth. SCORE: One for the bitches!!! lol

  4. Weiyi Xia (Klark)

    I found this article very interesting because I have never thought of what this word “means” before. Yes, of course I know what it means, but after reading this article I realized that this word is much more than what it literally means. Unlike other words, “bitch” has some cultural content in it. I believe some people use this word without thinking how this word may hurt some women that feel offended; however, some other people do like to demean other people to feel superior, and by feeling superior, this word becomes “hip and cool”. I think there are two reasons why this word is used so frequently: one of the reasons is (as talked about in the article) that some males think that because women use it, it grants them the same permission; another reason is that because in American culture women have been suppressed and disempowered, it causes people to emphasize the importance of gender equality, others still keep insulting women like they did before unconsciously. This is culture’s fault, but it is also people who use the word’s fault. Hurting without knowing does not make you innocent.

  5. lesliegrayyy

    I guess it really does matter when you use it. I rarely hear “That’s bitchin” anymore which is they only way I can see it being used in a positive way. I don’t necessarily like the word “bitch”, it describes someone who is weak, submissive, rude, mean, annoying, etc. If someone really wanted to say describe someone as mean, or rude, they don’t have to use the word bitch, they could just say “wow shes being really rude” or “she is so inconsiderate”. It seems like nowadays to make a situation seem more intense or dramatic, they’ll use the word “bitch” or other terrible ones such as “cunt” because just using the word “mean” isn’t strong enough, or doesn’t get people’s attention. What people don’t realize is it’s just reinforcing words that demean women as a whole instead of a gender neutral negative word, such as “inconsiderate”.

  6. There’s always various reasoning for using derogatory words. I’ve heard people say that when they use “bitch” or the “n-word” it’s showing that the word has no more power to it. Or they are taking away the power from the word and showing others that it has no effect on them.

    In my opinion, I feel like people should just drop these words all together. I mean, it’s fine if it has no effect of yourself, but there will still be others who will take it the wrong way. However, if you speak up your opinion on using such a word, people might get the wrong impression or think you’re too serious.

    • On your last point, research has shown that when women tell men they don’t like sexist comments that were directed at them, the men feel bad and actually like the women more, at least when she told him privately. I’ll have to write up that researach.

  7. The funny thing about language is that is always changing. Language evolves, meaning people’s ideas change and we start to see how people’s talk changes. We can see the time that we live in how freely we use the word bitch. Women have come far but still equality is far from our time. My grandmother didn’t choose her husband, he was chosen for her. People talked differently then. My mother was a single mother and people talked bad about single parents all around us. I got into a huge argument and almost got into a fist fight for defending my sister from her father for insulting her and freely calling her words like bitch. It was then that it hit me how hurtful the word can be. I have misused the word before and society made it ok for me to misuse it. I now have daughter and I also see how the youth try to use the word into a positive way. I like that because it can be a step in how we might be evolving.

  8. Daisy Valenzuela

    To me this word has always been one or the other; it has always been a positive or negative term. When men use this term towards women, it always turns into a negative reaction. Even when women use it towards each other, it can also be an offense. The only way that I have heard this term used in a positive way is when a women refers herself with the term. It’s just like the situation with the “n word”, but it is a lot more acceptable when African Americans use it towards each other. I think since the majority reaction to using the “b word” is negative, it is also demeaning when women use the term towards themselves.

  9. Throughout my lifetime, I have determined that the word “bitch” has both a negative and a positive connotation. When used in the phrase “That’s bitchin'”, or (by a woman to other women) “Hey bitches”, it is obviously a positive statement. However, when the word is used in phrases such as “You’re such a bitch” or “She’s a total bitch”, it is meant to be negative. It can either be used to define a woman who is nasty and cruel, or to define a woman who stands her ground and doesn’t take crap from anyone. I think that this is mostly due to society’s way of thinking about women. On the one hand, strong women are admired (mostly by women, but still by some men), and it shows a sense of strength in womankind. But, on the other hand, strong women are “bad” and there always has to be a way to negate even positive things about women, so as they don’t get the wrong ideas and start thinking about “equality” and “women’s rights”, because those are “bad” things. So whereas women have adopted the term “bitch” as a way to empower themselves and diminish the amount of insult that the term portrays, the word is still used against us as a way to disempower what power we have claimed as our own. Even though African Americans have adopted the “n word” to empower themselves, I think that whites don’t tend to use the term because it was, in the past, a term used to disempower those who at one point did have at least a small amount of power, and it can be coined to a specific period in time. However, the term “bitch” was not used as a way to disempower those who had power, because women were never granted power. They have always been disempowered and made submissive. So the word “bitch”, as horrible as it is, does not seem as bad coming out of someone’s mouth as the “n word” would, because women have always been powerless. Even now, we still struggle for empowerment as more and more people try to take it away from us.

  10. I believe that 1. We give meaning to words.2 Through time and cultural changes words develop into a whole new meaning. So we have many different ways to us the word Bitch. Its use as an adjective to describe anything can be offensive or funny or just descriptive depending on the context. So when calling a woman a bitch because you are upset gives you the power to offend that person which is your objective. Using the term That Bitchin could be that great. The intent would be to describe a great thing. In my opinion the intent in using the word is what gives it power giving it power is what gives it meaning in a particular setting. If all woman find the term bitch offensive then woman would be walking around all day pissed off and being offended.

  11. I’ve got a better vocabulary than to ever need to use the word “bitch”, other than to refer to a female dog. At the very least, this word used otherwise is in poor taste.

  12. As a feminist, I am hugely conflicted with the word “bitch.” I love that word. I love using it to describe myself, as a term of endearment (me and my bitches), and as a way to address my close friends (“Bitch, please!”). I’ve heard it used as an empowering acronym (Babe In Total Control of Herself) but also as a huge put down that degrades women as dogs.However, I know how hurtful that word can be and I understand that by using it in an empowering manner, I am perpetuating its negative use.

  13. The word “bitch” has always been…”diverse?” for lack of a better word. You provided many examples of this, “Life is a bitch”,”That’s bitchin etc. I guess you could say that the intended meaning lays in the context of its use. I’ve always used it in context of “Stop bitching” or complaining. In the wrestling room or gym I’ve heard the phrase “don’t be a bitch” (keep in mind that when used in this context I’ve never heard or understood it to be degrading women, rather they mean “dont be submissive or a push over, weak etc.)

    As far as I know I’ve never used the word to degrade women as whole.I could be wrong, but I have never meant to. One thing that has always confused me is why women call each other “stupid bitch” as a term of endearment and then behave in a way that is very….difficult? and make life difficult for other people and a man uses the word then suddenly it becomes a degrading word. Its the same idea with African American and the n-word. They use it casually among themselves, but as soon as someone else uses it its suddenly offensive.

    Kinda hypocritical don’t you thing? Please correct me if I am wrong.

    • Groups use words that have been used against them to empower themselves… to take the hurt out of the word. It’s not completely successful in that they’re still offended if the word continues to be used against them in its original meaning. And then it’s also confusing because people outside the group come to think they can use the word, too. Or that they can use it in a demeaning way.

  14. I really think the view on any particular word having an actual “power” over someone like it feels you give to the word bitch, the n-word, the c-word, whatever you wanna mark as taboo, is a bad idea. I was raised in a household where, from a very early age, I was told I was allowed to swear, as long as I kept myself from using it in bad ways. As I grew up, and went to college, I made a friend who’s view on racism and some of the words that follow it, were only as powerful as we make it, and I agree. The biggest reason that words like the use of bitch among females only, or nigga among black people, continue to hold the same power, is because we allow them to.

    One of the top reasons I believe in my friend’s viewpoint is because he’s black, but also not quite dark-skinned enough to be, as he put it “real black”. Throughout his life, whatever the current racial hot topic was, (immigrants from mexico, oakland riots, etc), he was always THAT race. He likes to joke that he’s not black, he’s “ethnic”, which makes him suffer the brunt of a lot of racism that he doesn’t remotely deserve. Most people are taken aback when they find out he’s actually very smart, well spoken,and well mannered.

    I know this is a very out of place viewpoint, but I think everyone is equal, and making anything taboo from one group but not another forces lines among the groups that shouldn’t be there.

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