Be a Boss Ass Bitch

By: Brianna Panasiuk

“Stop being a bitch.” The use of the word “bitch” is one of the most commonly said insults; however, this word should not have to be an insult. The word “bitch” originated in the year one thousand, and it was defined as “a female dog, fox or other beast,” according to the Oxford English Dictionary. Somewhere along the way the word made its transformation in the fifteenth century to mean “a lewd or malicious female.” Since the fifteenth century, women have been degraded through the use of “bitch.” Calling a woman a “bitch” is a way to strengthen male supremacy. By allowing people, both male and female, to use this word as a weapon of mass destruction we are taking away the progress women have made toward equality. The history, along with today’s usage of the word, traps women, preventing them to be honest in society. The word is contextualized through its usage by women toward other women. By using certain insults from woman to woman, it permits men to use it again women. Women need to reclaim the power in the word “bitch” in order to free themselves from male oppression. When women use the term in an empowering way toward other women, men will lose the ability to use “bitch” against them.

The scholarly journal article, “What Is It About ‘Bitch’ That Makes Us Laugh?” by Li-Hsiang Lee explores the idea of women being degraded by being called “bitches.” There is a double standard used with vulgarity against women through the use of derogatory words in relation to females and males. The article discusses this double standard in relation to movies and television shows. When a man refers to a woman as a “bitch,” the audience responds with laughter; however, if a woman were to call a man an “asshole” or “bastard,” the joke would suddenly lose its humor (549). The use of “bitch” as a joke endorses the degradation of women. However, cinema is not the only one at fault in this situation. Women are guilty of promoting the oppression of women by laughing at their own expense. Lee does not find humor in referring to a woman as a “bitch,” and neither do I. Laughing at jokes that support female oppression will allow men to believe it is acceptable to use this term toward a woman. Movies and television shows that use “bitch,” not “asshole,” as a joke are advocating for women submission to men. The negative connotation of the word leaves women vulnerable to men’s verbal violence. On the other hand, women can alter the meaning of “bitch” by reclaiming it for themselves.

“Bitch” is a contextualized word, but it is possible for women to take back the power of the word. By using it as an empowering name, it will no longer be considered derogatory. Similar to the word “nigga,” commonly used among the black community, “bitch” is used among women. The name “nigga,” when used from one black person to another, is a sign of familiarity. According to Lee, “African Americans call themselves ‘niggers’ to try to reclaim the word, and to turn its negative meanings into positive ones” (550). Women can do the same to the word “bitch.”  Like “nigga,” the word “bitch” is used from woman to woman. By women referring to other women as “bitches” in a positive way, as opposed to negative, the power of the word will once again rest in the hands of women. Both terms, “bitch” and “nigga,” appear appropriate when used among the same social group.  However, when used by someone outside of these groups, a malicious connotation is associated with the word, resulting in the power of the word being lost. If women denounce the negative connotation of the word, “bitch” can be transformed. Feminist, Camille Paglia was quoted in the article saying, “It certainly would be permissible to call the Virgin Mary a bitch” (549). If the word was no longer seen as an insult, it would be acceptable to be called a bitch, but because women allow negativity to surround the word, it will never be seen as a compliment. Ignoring the strength behind “bitch” makes women seem submissive and weak, and men will remain supreme. When women alter the connotation of the word to the point where it is no longer an insult, men will lose the power to keep women oppressed and under the control of male dominance.

Women and blacks are similar in the sense that both are trapped in their own bodies because of history. In his book Between the World and Me, Ta-Nehisi Coates discusses the oppression black people face today as a result of slavery and racism. He says that, “Various other acts meant, first and foremost, to deny you and me the right to secure and govern our own bodies” (8). With recent black rights controversies, Coates writes about how he does not possess power over his own body because of black history in America. The dark history of slavery and racism cause blacks to feel alienated from whites. Similar to the black community, women are trapped behind their own history. Women have the unfavorable stereotype of being seen as domesticated. The word “bitch” is a reminder to women about their domestic pasts. Women were dedicated to caregiving and tending to the man’s needs. Once women joined the workforce, men saw this as a threat, resulting in the use of demeaning terms in order to keep the “bitches” in their place as wives and mothers. “Bitch” is nothing more than a result of the male ego being threatened. When male dominance is endangered by a woman, the woman becomes a “bitch.” Women should not see “bitch” as a threat used against them for breaking free from their domestic lives, and women should not be branded a “bitches” for being as successful as a man.

“Bitch” is a man’s weapon to use against any dominant woman in order to keep her success beneath his. In her article, Li-Hsiang Lee says, “To succeed in business a woman must learn how to live in a man’s world, which can be ruthless and cut-throat. Yet a ruthless woman is called a bitch, not to praise her, but rather to degrade her success” (550). This double standard, mentioned by Lee, is another way to keep women subordinate to men. Women should not have to conform to a “man’s world” in order to be successful, and they should not have to worry about having the stigma of a “bitch” for being too independent. Men are intimidated by female self-empowerment, and will do everything in their power to gain their masculinity back, including the use of vulgarity. Related back to Coates’ argument of being stuck in the black body, women are trapped behind two parts of the female “bitch” spectrum. If a woman is too powerful, she is a “bitch,” but when a woman is dependent upon a man she continues to be considered a “bitch” because of her submissiveness. This concept can be compared to Morgan Prenetta’s idea of “slut shaming” and how women can be seen as two different sexual beings. When a woman is sexually active and enjoys sex she is seen as a “slut,” but a woman who is not promiscuous is a “prude.” No matter what decision a woman makes about her life, she will always be shamed by a man. A woman is either too strong or too weak, too sexual or not sexual enough. Men will find a way to belittle women in order to gain male supremacy. Pop culture today promotes the male way of thinking, and women endorse it whether they realize it or not.

While reading the book Bad Feminist, I came across the quote, “Rappers like Jay-Z use the word ‘bitch’ like punctuation” (Gay ix). This quote led me to look at misogyny in rap music. From the Encyclopedia of Sex and Gender, Rachel Raimist describes rap music as “a hypermasculine space filled with filled with braggadocio, sexism, and strict gender roles for women” (1251). It is one of the most common sources for devaluing women. In the rap genre, there are numerous songs that not only refer to women as “bitches,” but also “tricks,” “hoes” and “freaks” (1251). When I searched the word “bitch” on Spotify, there was what seemed to be an endless list of songs with the word “bitch” in the title. It was appalling to see how many artists encourage the use of this term as a means of demeaning women. What was more horrifying than the amount of “bitch” songs was the number of likes each song received. The majority of listeners liked each “bitch” song. This number of people includes the female population as well. Without conscious knowledge, women are promoting the exploitation of other women. Lee writes, “In buying into the popular ‘bitch’ culture, don’t we again make women into vulnerable targets of violence and humiliation” (550)? Women are publicly humiliated by rap music and “bitch” jokes in movies and television. They are made to be seen as objects rather than human beings with emotions and opinions. As women continue to listen to offensive music and watch offensive movies and television shows, they are allowing the word “bitch” to own them and hold them back in society. The continuation of the objectification of women prevents the female population to be taken seriously. Because women endorse insulting media, they are making it appear to be acceptable for a woman to be laughed at and degraded. All progress toward equality is lost by a simple laugh at the word “bitch” or an utter of a misogynistic lyric. Women can resist male supremacy by standing up against the abusive language used in the media. More importantly, women can transform “bitch” into a compliment rather than an insult.

The inspiration for my topic came from the Brave New Voices slam poetry video, “Bitch Does Not Belong to You.” This video is two women describing the two different interpretations of the word “bitch.” The women start off the poem talking about female submissiveness in relation to men. They describe “bitch” as, “a five-letter cage to keep me(women) confined” (YOUTHSPEAKS). The “cage” relates back to a “bitch” being a female animal. Women are seen as animals or objects to be restrained by men. “Bitch” is used to keep women in their “place” below man. “Man should not act like a bitch,” because “bitch” is “timid, weak, inherently female, a pushover, held down, and domesticated” (YOUTHSPEAKS). Being a “bitch” is a sign of vulnerability. Men use it against other men in order to destroy strength and assert dominance, similar to using it against women. The two women in the video do what all women should do: reclaim “bitch” to be in favor of the female. A “bitch” should be considered a woman who is forceful, strong and opinionated. In the video, the women protest against female oppression by men when they say, “thicken our skin when you use the word against us” (YOUTHSPEAKS). One solution to “bitch” being used as an insult is to treat the name as an honor. Women should consider the “bitch” to be an independent woman. Being a “bitch” should be a sign of power because a “bitch’s” opinions cannot be silenced. A “bitch” is self-entitled and is equal to man, that is why men find it necessary to reassert their dominance through the degradation of the word. If women declare themselves as “bitches” in an empowering way, then men lose the power to hinder women.

“Bitch” is a tricky word because of its long history of use and the context in which it is used in. It is difficult for women to claim the word as their own when media, along with the female population, endorse “bitch” in a disgraceful manner. “Bitches” are trapped behind history, double standards and sexism. Women can declare ownership of the word “bitch.” I am not against the use of the word bitch; however, I disagree with its use as a derogatory term toward women. I believe that women should call each other “bitches” in order to build self-confidence and independence because the word itself can be powerful. If its definition is changed from something negative into something forceful then the power of the word will be in the hands of women. Women should consider the history of the word itself- a female dog, fox or other beast. Once “bitch” is accepted as a compliment rather than an insult, men will no longer have the ability to underestimate the “bitch.” Men do not have the right to use “bitch.” Women have ownership of the word, but they permit men to use it. When it comes to the word “bitch,” women should embody the belief that, “Bitch does not belong to you. I do not belong to you” (YOUTHSPEAKS).

 

Works Cited

“Bitch.” Oxford English Dictionary. 2015. Print.

Coates, Ta-Nehisi. Between the World and Me. New York: Spiegel & Grau, 2015.

Gay, Roxanne. Bad Feminist. New York: HarperCollins Publishers. 2014.

Lee, Li-Hsiang. “What Is It About ‘Bitch’ That Makes Us Laugh?” Peace Review. Dec 1998.

549-51.

Raimist, Rachel. “Rap Music.” Encyclopedia of Sex and Gender. Ed. Fedwa Malti-Douglas. Vol.

  1. Detroit: Macmillan Reference USA, 2007. 1251-1252. Gale Virtual Reference Library.

Web. 22 Nov. 2015.

YOUTHSPEAKS. “#BNV13 Finals Denver.” Online Video Clip. YouTube. YouTube, 12 Aug

  1. Web. 26 Nov 2015.

 

Photo by Emmma Peel

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