• Fri, Jul 13 2012

Let’s Stop Trying To Reclaim The Word ‘Bitch’

When I was in middle school, my friends and I all had our very own B.I.T.C.H. cards to carry in our wallets. It was nice because our wallets were pretty much empty aside from those little cards. They let everyone know that we were Beautiful, Intelligent, Talented, Creative and Honest. We were B.I.T.C.H.es.

Back then, it felt really amazing to “reclaim” a word that the boys in the cafeteria were attempting to hurl around. We thought that we were engaging in a feminist act, proudly proclaiming our bitch status. We referred to each other as bitches. We didn’t feel like we needed an excuse to act bitchy. “You think I’m a bitch,” we would respond to some jerk, “well you’re right. I am.” Man it felt cool.

Through high school, we continued to that that naive approach to the word. Make it a nice little acronym for actual compliments and it could be considered a good thing too.

Then we went to college. We ditched the bitch card. But we suddenly found a whole word of clever sayings on vintage postcards that made us feel warm and fuzzy about the word “bitch” again. Prim and proper ladies saying naughty things. It’s everyone’s favorite trope. We got some wind back in our bitch sails. We would discuss the word’s linguistic history as we drank boxed wine by the goblet, feeling oh-so-sophisticated.

Every girl I know had this magnet on their fridge in college. Some still do.

In college, being a bitch just seemed like a funny joke. Sure, we talked about historical context, but we also felt so above that nonsense. We were surrounded by our friends and our joint lack of responsibility to anyone who lived outside of our campus that we didn’t really pay attention to the broader usage of derogatory labels for women. I think that’s why the word still seemed easy to reclaim for ourselves.

Then, I experienced a bit of grown-up bitchiness that made me question this whole reappropriation idea.

Top photo via Naff Funny Gifts Shop 

Second photo via Oh Boy!

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  • porkchop

    I can’t even deal with this word. It’s worse that p***ies and c*** combined.

    One of the few times that word has been leveled at me, I wondered, “Is this what THE N WORD feels like?” I have no idea! But I can’t think of anything else as small as a word that could make me feel so much combined depression and fury.

    • http://www.facebook.com/lindsaychartman Lindsay Cross

      Really? I’ve never had such a big problem with the word. I’m not trying to marginalize your opinion, I’m just surprised. And I wonder why I look at it differently than so many others do.

      Can I ask, would you ever want to try to “claim” the title to give it less power?

    • porkchop

      That’s not for me to do, anyway. People say that I speak my mind, but they also see me as very gentle. I could never reclaim this word unless I changed its definition to mean: someone who usually gets their way, but has an almost unerring sense of when to back down.

      I like the idea of reclaiming words, though! But like you said, it’s already been reclaimed by women who are redundantly pointing out that they’re being obnoxious. Do assertive women want their twice-used word? It’s like 90% backwash at this point, having already been in asshole men’s mouths and mean selfish women’s mouths.

      The women I know who are fantastic leaders don’t do anything even in the same neighborhood as bitchy.

  • Lastango

    Men own the best pejoratives; if Hanna was male, we could call her something more useful than “bitch”.

    BTW, maybe “bitch” isn’t the only term that could use some de-modernizing. Consider “The truth was that my friend just sounded like a bad manager to me.”

    My old Webster’s says “friendly” means: showing kindly interest and goodwill. Not hostile. Inclined to favor. Cheerful, comforting. See ‘amicable’.

    Hanna is a friend only on Facebook.

  • Jessica P. Ogilvie

    I love this article, and I totally agree. It seems really childish — as you point out — to take pride in being an asshole because you think it makes you a strong person. Being a strong person means a combination of a lot of qualities (often qualities that are unique to each individual), but you make the point perfectly — rudeness isn’t one of them.

  • lucygoosey74

    In my experience with the corporate world, the higher up the ladder, the “bitchier” they get, and by bitchy I mean RUDE.
    You can do your job effectively and gain the respect of your employees without being snappy, rude, or demeaning. I once worked for a district manager who would come in and throw her paperwork, computer, etc right on top of whatever paperwork I was doing at our one and only desk.
    That was just the tip of the iceburg when it came to her extreme bitchiness.
    I did my job and gave her respect because she was my boss, but inside, I NEVER really respected her. I thought less of her for not treating people like human beings and using intimidation tactics to try to get “respect”…maybe she just wanted people to fear her.
    Whatever. All I saw was a 50 year old woman acting like the queen bee of the highschool cafeteria. At least I learned something from her..how NOT to be the boss.