“Bitch”

These days, I don’t think I ever use the “bitch” unless I am characterizing some of the standard sexist attitudes expressed in the mainstream culture.It’s simply no longer part of working vocabulary. And I’ve so successfully excised it from my thought patterns that I’m honestly taken aback when people I’m close to use it in earnest. It’s a fucking useless word, people! Or rather, its only uses are pretty fucking terrible.

Seriously folks, this word and its usage in our society is such a powerful tool for the reification and binarization of gender. It’s fascinating and horrible and sometimes I just can’t look away.

When we call a woman a bitch, at its heart, the insult is usually criticizing her for being aggressive. To be clear, the underlying accusation of aggression may or may not be reasonable, and certainly sometimes women are called bitches when they do things that are worthy of being called out. But here’s the thing: whatever the very specific quality is that renders women to be seen as “bitches”, it’s very clear that it’s a very particular kind of aggression we’re talking about, in that men seem to be immune to the particular character flaw in question – I’ve never heard of a man being called a “bitch” for being too aggressive (though men are sometimes called out on their aggression, it doesn’t take this form).

So, really then the word “bitch” is specifically employed against women to put them in their place with respect to aggression, and mainstream society, in using the word in this lopsided way, implicitly tells us that aggression in women is specifically wrong in a way that aggression in men is not.

Clearly and blatantly sexist.

But wait, sometimes men do get called bitches!

Yes, this is true. I’ve only said that “bitch” in the sense of “overly aggressive” is an epithet used only against women. But bitch has another meaning, too; one that’s used against men.

When a man gets called a bitch, he is usually being criticized of being weak, submissive or passive. But, that’s the opposite of what it means when it’s applied to women. And this is where it gets really interesting for me.

When we call a woman a bitch, we are calling her out for trying to exercise some form of power, but when we call a man a bitch, we are calling him out for relinquishing some form of power. The way that we use the word “bitch”, then, implies the following social power taxonomy:

1) Men. They the most powerful.
2) Bitches. This group contains the weakest men and the strongest women.
3) Women. They have no power?

So implicit in the dual meaning of bitch, we have the idea that all women are weaker than all men, except for those perverted dudes who relinquish power, who might be weaker than some women, but even the bitchy men aren’t weaker than real women.

For reals, when you use the word “bitch” in either of these gendered senses (the word can of course be correctly use to refer to female dogs; this is not problematic), you are implicitly playing into a picture of gender that is exactly this extreme.

– If you use it against women, you are policing them for not being feminine enough.

– If you use it against men, you are policing them for not being masculine enough.

– When you use it in either sense, you’re reifying the idea that the differences between men and women really are absolute, and black-and-white.

There is literally nothing good about any of this.

So, if you’re a person who uses the term to call out legitimate abuses of control or over-aggressiveness, the next time that you find yourself thinking of a woman as a bitch, remind yourself that in fact that woman is really just an asshole (just like you would think a man in her position was).

And honestly, I’m not sure that the way “bitch” is lobbed at men is ever based in a legitimate criticism. So, the next time you think about calling a dude a bitch, maybe remember that it’s not cool to be an asshole who looks down on people who don’t fulfill the masculine ideal all the time?

KTHXBAI!

11 comments

  1. Yes, I’ve often thought about the normalization of the word but specifically the phrase, “I’m make you my bitch.” Huh. A position of involuntary servitude. Makes no sense which the overly aggressive “bitch.” I don’t use the word either. Asshole is a good swear word for jerk behavior. In the law there is a defense entitled “the equal opportunity asshole” — it pertains to a person who is not treating people badly because of their gender, race, religion, etc. but because the perpetrator is just an asshole. (Can’t use the phrase in court, though.) Let’s get back to identifying people who act like jerks, assholes (if you want to swear for emphasis). Men and women have those, it’s more equal.

  2. I always hear the argument that “but a bitch is just a woman who’s being an asshole and I want to call her out on it!” Then I’m like…ok, why can’t you just say asshole? Why does there need to be a special word for mean/inconsiderate/rude people who also happen to be women?

    1. This is exactly my thing, too! If it means exactly the same thing as another word, then you don’t need it, so the fact that it offends other people should be a good enough reason to stop using it.

      And on the other hand, if you think there is a specific meaning to “bitch” that asshole doesn’t quite pull off, then whatever meaning that is, it’s inherently sexist, since it’s either pointing to a character flaw that is only seen in women (i.e. not a real thing), or more likely stemming from women being held to a different standard.

      Either way, it’s pretty much just gotta stop.

      1. Yeah, I’ve also heard people claim that it’s just got more “bite” to it than words like asshole or jerk…but then it’s like, HMMM, why would a word typically used only on women have more power? Like, do people really think that’s just random?

  3. I agree with pretty much all of this. In fact, I’ve been watching TV shows lately and I keep noticing the gendered stuff more and more. “Sorry I was such a bitch” is a phrase two different female characters (who each were on a different ABC Family tv show) recently said, and it threw me out of the moment – why would anyone call themselves “a bitch” in that way?? It just feels off to me. “Sorry I acted the way I did” is what they should say, not something that calls attention to their gender. One problem, however, is that “Asshole” creates a visual I don’t very much care for, and is a harsher swear than “Bitch”, and both “jerk” and “asshole” are a bit gendered toward men and sound “wrong” to many people’s ears when you’re talking about a woman.

    1. Yeah, I’m not 100% in love with either asshole or jerk, either, as alternatives. Jerk particularly, I think is a reference to jerking off, so definitely gendered, whereas I think the societal gendering of asshole could more easily wear away (everyone has one, right?). Definitely open to suggestions, though!

      1. Asshole is a really harsh word that is inappropriate for even TV-14 television shows in the USA… for females the closest equivalent we have is “cunt” which is way harsher and rarely used even in TV-MA/Rated R things. These rating things are all arbitrary and perhaps wrong, but it’s where it currently stands, and it shapes the US culture surrounding what words are okay to say when.

    2. My abusive mother would call my brother a “Son of a bitch” sometimes, which amused my brother and me, despite the seriousness in her tone and abusive actions at the time when it’d happen… that’s an interesting insult to consider too… :P

  4. Personally, I tend to thinkthat instead of saying “he’s an asshole” or “he’s a jerk” or “she’s a bitch” you should say what you actually mean.

    “He’s an unpleasant person”, “she is someone who always criticizes me harshly”, “he’s someone who tries to make people cry”, “she’s not very humble or modest”, or whatever the specific criticism is that you’re trying to throw at someone. It’s not very description to say “My manager is a bitch,” because that could mean, “I wish she was a little bit more tactful in how she criticizes my work habits” or it could mean “She’s bullying me in the workplace so much that I feel emotionally abused and traumatized after it,” or it could mean “She hasn’t done anything specifically to me, I just don’t like her personality” or any number of other things. Finding an alternative word isn’t as useful as addressing what it is one is actually trying to say when they call someone a “bitch”.

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