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

A girl I know from school is now the manager of a restaurant chain. We ran into each other in our home town and stopped to have a nice, long chat to catch up. Hanna* has always had a strong personality and an impatience for those who didn’t seem to be at her level. I can remember her being truly horrible to the younger cheerleaders on the squad who couldn’t keep up with her routines. Back in middle and high school, Hanna definitely would’ve been someone who carried a B.I.T.C.H. card proudly.

As we were catching up, I mentioned that I write for a site on women in business. Hanna immediately launched into a tale of workplace drama. It involved her ousting another employee she didn’t get along with by pitting a group of people against the other woman. Basically, Hanna thought that the other girl wasn’t smart or confident enough to manage a shift at their restaurant, even though the woman hadn’t had much time to prove herself. Instead of speaking to the girl or helping her, Hanna instructed various staff members to “test” the woman’s strength by calling in to shifts or making the job harder than it needed to be. She said she wanted to see how the girl would handle pressure.

When the lady had the audacity to complain to a district manager, Hanna’s defense seemed to be, “No one would bat an eye at a man doing the same thing.” Then, Hanna said something that immediately made me think of middle school all over again. “If that makes me a bitch, I don’t care. I’m proud to be a bitch.”

She was making this declaration as if I was supposed to agree with her. She wanted to me to say that being a bitch was completely okay. Or maybe she wanted to hear that she was just behaving how any business person had to, she was just being treated unfairly because she was a woman in power.

The truth was that my friend just sounded like a bad manager to me. It wouldn’t have mattered what her gender was. And her acceptance of the label bitch didn’t seem like a step forward in women’s rights. It seemed like an excuse to act poorly.

If Hanna wanted to take accountability for being unfair to those she works with, that’s fine. If that’s her management style, it’s her choice. I think it’s a sucky one, but it’s her choice.

Photo via Heidi Isern

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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.