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?