By Susie Dummit
If “bad” and “bitch” are both negative words, then why are they one of 2019’s highest forms of praise when put together?
A huge component of modern American slang is using swear words casually, in a range of different instances. They’re commonly used interchangeably to emphasize positive sentences, whether placed as a reinforcing adverb or referring to someone or something as “the shit.” The recycling of these words, however, does not take away the negative connotations behind them when standing alone.
So when a friend told me her New Year’s Resolution was to “be more of a bitch”, I was left a little confused. Maybe she meant to add “independent” or “boss” first? When standing alone, could it really be something aspirational?
With a little more thought, it became pretty clear. “Bitch” usually refers to a woman who is loud, bossy, naggy or mean — in other words, a woman who is blunt, openly opinionated, assertive and, yes, mean. These qualities are often seen embodied by people in powerful positions and white men who are praised for trying to get ahead. While not actually straying away from its original meaning, women have been reclaiming this swear word to symbolize empowerment, and using it as a term of endearment among other femmes and members of the LGBTQIA+ community, specifically.
In addition, the word is often used to insult men, simply because it’s a negative term about women. In the undying patriarchal roots of our society, traditionally feminine qualities are still framed as weak, fragile and needy; therefore, almost all female terms can be used as insults to men (“girl”, “princess”, “fairy”, etc.). Thus, by using this to offend men, it reinforces the idea that ostensibly female qualities are subordinate to male qualities. Reclaiming such a term reframes these ideas which seek to trap women in a box of this defenseless, weak, submissive persona which men have historically expected them to have, and makes it powerful, allowing women to express positive qualities which are typically considered masculine.
Nevertheless, a word with offensive roots, although phrased the same way, can hold the role of a compliment or an insult depending on context. I’ve seen many women and members of the LGBTQIA+ community call one of their best friends or favorite people “my bitch”, in the same manner that they’d refer to a song they love as “my jam”. However, typically when a man calls someone “my bitch”, it seems possessive and, reinforces once again, gender stereotypes that the submissive member of this situation is the person labelled with a feminine term.
Including a discussion of context begs the question: is it wrong for cis straight men to use the word “bitch”? With the consideration that this was a term coined by that group to demean females for their attitudes and attributes, it seems to hold a similar issue to racial slurs: the group of oppressors should be condemned for using terms which insinuate the oppressed group is lesser.
Keeping in mind that women are socialized to be more apologetic and reserved in terms of opinions, maybe we should all have the same aspirations as my friend’s slightly ironic resolution. It’s our time to stand up for ourselves, be direct with people about what we want, find our inner boss, and be a badder bitch.