Who You Calling a B–?
I think every woman has heard it at least once in her life. “Bitch!” Whether or not we were “acting like one.” Men say it. Women say it. I’ve said it more than once.
It starts early.
The first time I heard it was on the school playground, waiting my turn at the monkey bars. A girl cut me in line, so I told her I was next. She called me a “bitch” and walked away.
I was surprised. I knew it was a “bad word” but I didn’t know what I had done wrong or “bitchy.” I would come to wonder, many more times, why I was called that name.
Usually, it was when I stood up for myself. Sometimes it targeted my reproductive system: “Why are you being such a bitch? Are you on your period?” Because I can’t be angry or upset unless it’s that, right? Other times the word ridiculed me just for being female. Maybe that’s why our reproductive system seems especially “bitchy” — it defines us as women.
One of my friends had a boyfriend who constantly called her “my bitch.” Erasing all respect, she became some sort of defiled property as the boyfriend trumpeted his superiority over her, and his control of her. With boyfriends like that, who needs enemies?
On the other hand, I’ve heard guys call another guy “a little bitch” just because he wasn’t being what they considered a “real man.” What better way to question manhood than by calling him a demeaned woman?
So some women are taking the word back, redefining and using it in empowered ways so that it can’t be used to hurt them. Bitch comes to mean, “I’m powerful and proud of it.” Successful women leaders may be called bitches to bring them down a notch, but as Tina Fey says, “Bitches get shit done.”
I’m not sure whether the strategy works. Everyone grows use to hearing it, whether it’s women pridefully identifying themselves or guys saying, “That bitch over there” instead of, “That girl over there.” It’s become a common way to refer to women on college campuses.
In Mean Girls Tina Fey says “Calling each other sluts and whores just makes it ok for guys to call you sluts and whores.” I wonder if it’s the same thing here.
When women are routinely called bitches does it unconsciously sink into our brains, normalizing our degradation? Or does the meaning shift to something more powerful? Or does overuse weaken the word and render it meaningless?
Time will tell.
One of my students wrote this and gave permission to post it.