Serious Question for Women…about the B-Word

I have to admit that for the most part I find the word “bitch” offensive. I have tried to purge it from my vocabulary, but lately for whatever reason I seem to be using it more (especially as a verb). I know there are some women who believe that we should try to reclaim the b-word, but I just don’t find reclaiming the word a project that I want to spend time on. I don’t have any sort of elaborate reasoning, but I just can’t get comfortable with it. What do you think?

This entry posted in Feminism, sexism, etc, Whatever. Bookmark the permalink. 

29 Responses to Serious Question for Women…about the B-Word

  1. Pingback: The Happy Feminist

  2. 2
    Bitch | Lab says:

    I don’t think reclaiming words is a big political project. I just happened to have called my blog Culture Lab originally. Then, one day I was called a bitch and a “potty mouth” by two different assholes who used the epithets to conveniently ignore my argument. I have a habit of mocking things like that, by using humor, in the same way that peasants used to mock the rulers with humorous ditties, songs, poems, etc. (the why behind the domain name, pulp culture, refers to the famous D’Ivrea carnival where peasants through oranges at the feudal aristocracy). Bitch | Lab was born. The lab referring to the fact that I also used my blog as a “lab” or “sandbox” for work-related web design and development projects.

  3. 3
    Denise says:

    I don’t like the use of the word as an insult or as a verb because of its gendered meaning, and when I’m feeling brave I call people out on using it, too. I try to eradicate it from my vocabulary, but I sometimes fail. I’m not perfect.

    I’m not really cool with reclaiming it, either. I don’t want “bitch” to mean “strong, assertive woman”. I want it to mean “female dog”. I want to see the day when an old dinosaur calls a woman a bitch and people boggle at him, what could he possibly be talking about? Is he calling her a dog? Weird.

    That being said, I’m not going to go whine about it at Bitch | Lab or Bitch, Ph.D. I understand the urge to yell at the patriarchy, “Yeah, so what if I’m a bitch? Fuck you!” I do it sometimes myself. Like I said, not perfect.

  4. 4
    Sara says:

    I have to admit, my loyalty to salty language sometimes trumps my loyalty to my progressive sensibilities. Especially if I just stubbed my toe.

  5. 5
    Diana says:

    I have a problem with the word “bitch” because it has a demeaning component. There is no equivalent word to describe a man in negative terms that is equally demeaning. I really don’t like to use the word, and in fact, I really didn’t before coming to a women’s college! Yikes! Wonderful blog, by the way.

  6. 6
    nerdlet says:

    You know, I use it in all ways – positively to describe a tough woman, negatively as a verb and negatively against a women I feel are, well, bitchy. I think it has misogynistic roots but I don’t know what to do with those. A lot of language has bad roots that we’ve moved past. It feels like a case of “I know it when I see it-” and sometimes I’ve seen it used in a misogynistic way, and sometimes not.

    On reclaiming, though: I think the negative use is too widespread for it to ever possibly be reclaimed as a positive word by feminists. Eh.

  7. 7
    bucky says:

    I for one would love to have ‘bitch’ reclaimed by feminists in the same fascinating way that ‘nigger’ has been reclaimed by some. It’s true that bitch connotes misogyny, but nothing could compare with the historic hatred-filled connotations of the n-word. But now, it has become a jargon used by people in the group as an ironic friendly label, but still horrible for people deemed outside the group to use it. Couldn’t you imagine in non-professional feminist settings, greeting your friends with a nice friendly “wat doet je, bitch?”

  8. 8
    EL says:

    I use it as an insult and a verb and a sort of general “type” noun and to refer to the lovely proprietor of Bitch|Lab. I do all with little concern.

    Partly, I like that people seem to be using it for men a lot more these days, so …

  9. 9
    sarah says:

    There is no equivalent word to describe a man in negative terms that is equally demeaning.

    “Dick?” Not “equally demeaning,” to be sure, but perhaps somewhat analogous… or maybe not…

  10. 10
    Blue says:

    I don’t think words can be reclaimed in any meaningful sense, though they can be occasionally used to some effect by the people the word is meant to demean. Does that sound contradictory?

  11. 11
    Achilles and Patroclus says:

    For a male ‘equivalent,’ I nominate asshole

    It doesn’t have the same precise connotation, but it’s the same in that it both describes a forceful-to-the-point-of-rude individual and is sometimes used as a mark of pride by those who consider themselves to be not ‘forceful-to-the-point-of-rude,’ but ‘bracing,’ or ‘honest.’

  12. 12
    debbie says:

    The word bitch operates in kind of a grey area in my community. It’s been partially reclaimed, and is used in that sense, but people also use it very negatively as well. At times, it makes me uncomfortable, but I have also proudly worn it as a label because it is a word that has been used against me many times for being too outspoken, assertive, political, and feminist.

  13. 13
    Q Grrl says:

    Why do we always have to find a male equivalent to what we, personally, find offensive about something. Of course there is no male equivalent. We’re talking about misogyny here. It’s a beast of its own.

    I call men out on it when they use the word. I let women choose how they wish to use it.

  14. 14
    r@d@r says:

    [the son of a feminist linguist clears his throat and proceeds to bloviate:]

    that’s the function of pejoratives – to demean, insult, irritate, hurt, and otherwise muddy the waters by bringing forth an emotional reaction. [if i make you mad, i win! the consummate troll form of argument.] it seems silly to drive ourselves crazy over trying to find pejoratives that don’t hurt anyone. it’s like trying to bring universal peace by loading all the guns with blanks, when it’s better not to fight at all.

    that said, the impulse to throw around the “B” word is sometimes overwhelming, considering our social conditioning. there was a lot of pressure among feminist-allies in the 1980′s to recondition ourselves to view the “B” word as equivalently offensive, and hostile, as the “N” word, but it seems like the younger generation hold a different perspective.

    Q Grrl has it exactly right when she says that a pejorative for women, such as “bitch”, is categorically different from any pejoratives used for men, in the context of a patriarchy; it seems fairly obvious when one looks at how the term itself is used: When directed against a woman, it essentially means one who fails to make the effort to be pleasant, which is an unwritten law of behavior for women under patriarchy – “She’s such a bitch, she never smiles at me when I walk by,” etc. When directed against a man, to call him a “bitch” is to say that he has failed to function properly according to his gender, and is therefore weak, subordinate, and deserving of domination and/or ill-treatment. In other words – under patriarchy – an “honorary” woman.

    it is also interesting to note in response to A&P’s comment, at least from my own anecdotal experience, that in common discourse among my acquaintances (both male and female), “asshole” seems to be reserved for men, while “bitch” holds an almost-equivalent position for women – however, there connatations are clearly unequal, just as women’s status is clearly unequal. although there is definitely the homophobic component to consider, if one wants to get Freudian about it. but to keep it simple, one notes that “asshole” simply means someone who fails to be civil, as opposed to pleasant. in other words, women are expected to make nice; men are simply expected to not be assholes.

    i must confess a fondness for the popular internet-spawned pejoratives like “asshat”, which doesn’t seem to feature any embedded hierarchies.

  15. 15
    David K says:

    I respectfully leave to women the discussion on reclaiming “bitch.” I don’t use it when referring to women, except in cases where I really lose my cool — no excuse, I agree. I do, however, use it in an ironic sense when I, as a gay man, am joking around with other gay men. And in that context, it does, as r@d@r suggests, have the effect under patriarchy of femininizing the person to whom the word is directed — which is kind of the point. In my circle of friends, we use it in a sort of celebration of our freedom to break from the heteronormative male stereotype.

    I appreciate Q Grrl’s position that there is no male equivalent to the word “bitch” under patriarchy and mysoginy. For the sake of argument, however, I nominate “prick” over “dick” or “asshole,” though it may be more equivalent to the “c” word, since it primary refers to a sexual body part. Though it is true that “asshole” is generally used toward men, it doesn’t originate as a men-only word, in that most everyone of all sexes has one. “Dick” doesn’t carry the same weight as an epithet; it is almost comical. IMHO. Still, “bitch” carries the original reference to a female dog, which in itself can be quite an insult when directed toward a human being; if not just weird, as Denise suggests. There is no male equivalent that shares such a double-edge. Which brings me back to agreeing with Q Grrl, only via a different route.

  16. 16
    Suzy Smith says:

    I use the word Bitch. I like the word Bitch.

    I grew up with being called a bitch if I was at all aggressive. So, I use it now. I see being a bitch as a good thing. I’m a woman who won’t let you just walk over me.

    If I use it for myself, I’m taking the power away from the next man that decides to try and use it against me. In other words, reclaiming it, is a good thing.

  17. 17
    ilyka says:

    I’m fairly comfortable with it coming from other women, probably because I grew up with it being tossed around among my girlfriends in a jocular, teasing way, i.e. “You got tickets to see [band]? You BITCH!” That sort of thing.

    For most of my 20s I flinched hearing it from men, however, because it was always used in a hateful, degrading way. Nothing cute, ironic, or funny about that. Anymore, I’m inclined to shrug it off, but I think it took years of cultural desensitization to get me to that point.

    I use the word myself in mainly two ways: As a synonym for “complain,” and to describe women who seem unnecessarily sadistic towards other women. I’m not happy about my second use of the term, as it clearly relates to its traditional use as a shut-down label, and I’m trying to use it less, eventually never; but I ain’t there yet.

  18. 18
    ms_xeno says:

    I don’t like to use the word and I don’t like hearing it. Exceptions made for something like Saffire’s Blues song, “Bitch With A Bad Attitude” or Roberta Gregory’s character Bitchy Bitch. Gaye Adegbalola gets an exemption because she’s a genius. So does Gregory. The guy on another board last month who threw in the towel on an argument about personal injury claims by intoning that I should “Wear the shoe, Bitch”— Uhhh, pretty much the polar opposite of genius.

  19. 19
    petitpoussin says:

    There are so many bitches that I love – Bitch Lab, Bitch PhD, AngryBlackBitch. And when somebody isn’t calling me ‘bitch’ in a loving way (e.g., sister saying ‘I miss you, bitch’), it’s usually because I’ve got them backed up into some kind of misogynist corner. So while it still has a negative connation, I don’t mind too much, because it means I’m making some asshole nervous.

  20. 20
    Steven says:

    It aggrivated me when I was at a party about a year ago. One of the guys was in the backroom getting a blowjob, and when all of the girls left, he was talking about how good the “bitch” was at giving blowjobs. I’m just like… fuck. She’s not a bitch. She was nice enough to give you a blowjob. And the conversation went on and they kept referring to these young ladies as “bitches”. I was quite irritated and spoke up about it (go me). Their excuse was that it was just a word. As if there were no other words that could be used for these kind young ladies.

  21. 21
    lilcollegegirl says:

    I don’t use bitch that often, and as far as I can recall at the moment I’ve never had someone use it against me. However, when I do use bitch, I almost always use it in the sense of “he’s kind of my bitch”, which definitely harks back to the usual connotations, and thus is problematic. (Still not sure what to do about it, because not swearing would be a very difficult endeavor.) However, the “ironic” words I use to address my female friends are most often “whore” or “slut” or when I’m feeling old-school, “wench”. This was pretty common in my high school (except for the wench bit). So where Ilkya would say, “You got tickets to see [band]? You BITCH!” I’d probably say, “You WHORE!”

  22. 22
    Q Grrl says:

    Doesn’t say much about that young man’s sexual prowess if he has to get his blowjobs in back rooms from bitches.

    :)

  23. 23
    Radfem says:

    I don’t like the word, because it’s offensive and because animal terms should really be restricted to animals.

    “Dick”? Isn’t that also a nickname for Richard? Somehow, that doesn’t have the same sting as the c-word but then maybe it’s a matter of perspective.

    When men are insulted through language aimed at gender(and not race, ablism or body size for example), they are often demeaned as being feminine or called terms really associated with women, their sexuality, sexual orientation, through their mothers or through asexual terms as some mentioned here. So even when you are insulting men, it’s often a misogynist act, or misogyny through proxy.

  24. 24
    Bitch | Lab says:

    Sara in #2 — LOL. When that conservative guy called me a bitch that day, he was doing it precisely to be provocative and turn the heat of his own blundering argument. He knew he’d be called out for calling me a bitch b/c the conservatives in that discussion were always going on about civility. I replied to his epithet, ‘bitch’ by saying, “Yes, isn’t it nice. *chortles*

    it completely pulled the rug out b/c, instead of a big war of the word, I stayed honed in on his lousy argument.

    EL — It hadn’t even occured to me that when I called myself that, so many people would find it uncomfortable to refer to me that way. It was an almost an added bonus to watch men squirm or watch lefty men admit that they got a secret enjoyment out of saying it. I’d never realized how uncomfortable people felt about it. What I’ve always appreciated about you is that you and BfP are about the only ones who actually call me bitch. I personally love it.

    Also, what became evident wrt lefty men voicing there concern about me calling myself that name: the freakin’ paternalism and control freakishness they harbor about what women are allowed to do. Not to mention, it also brings out, at times, their contempt for identity politics — that women’s stuff and queer stuff isn’t real politics. If it draws that out of there attempts to pretend they harbor no such feelings: great. I like to know who my enemies are.

  25. 25
    Bitch | Lab says:

    oh btw I actually know the difference between their and there. i really ought to learn how to proofread online. thing is, if i proofread, i correct mistake and then introduce others. ah well. y’all think i’m a dumb ass, then you do. :)

  26. 26
    W. Kiernan says:

    Hah, the second I read this thing I clicked to protest, “what you tryna put down the incomparable ‘Bitch|Lab’?” but I see Kelley’s on the case already… I’m not really into the word “bitch,” though I’m kinda fond for musical reasons of the stretch version “beeee-yotch,” but snit trooly roolz.

  27. 27
    W. Kiernan says:

    btw, snit, re comments 1 and 24, you may know the difference between “their” and “there,” but do you know the difference between “through” and “threw”? (Winky winky)

  28. 28
    Bitch | Lab says:

    WDK –

    ;-p

    YOu’ve read me for years … At least I have Justin to show me up and actually be worse with the typhos and grandma errs. And sometimes, we come up with kewl slippages.

  29. 29
    Bitch | Lab says:

    Also, to explain, W Kiernan is using my old handle. YEars ago, I got on Annalee Newitz’s case on a political discussion list called Bad Subjects. I was a wee bit snippy and she called me “snitgrRl” in her volley back at me. I liked it and started using the handle. But, to reiterate, to me it is not a political project — I mean, for pete’s sake, how much time do you have spend to recalim something. It’s not like it takes up energy.

    But I don’t think the usefulness of this sort of think should be dismissed so lightly since I think the larger point gets missed: when the practice is part of a wider social movement, it has a symoblic meaning. They function as a potential kind of ritual that builds solidarity. Words like that become icons that symbolize one’s larger political sympathies, for instance. I wrote about it here, Shuttle Click.. Rachel may recognize a lot of sociological theory in it. :)