Quit your bitching.
Setting the boundary on the B word
Picture this: you, a woman, are having a conversation with a male friend or colleague about another woman, and everything is going well until he casually calls her a bitch. There’s a moment where your brain just stops — it’s the perfect example of when real life could use a record-scratch sound effect. Did he actually just say that?? But you know this moment. At this point it’s familiar. In fact, it’s happened so many times that you feel confident in saying that you’ve prepared yourself for it: training your face to not change, to not show all of your respect for him disappearing in that split second. You know that were he to see the disappointment in your face it would lead to an awkward, empty apology, followed by his next conversation with someone else about how you are the bitch. No, better to just stay quiet: let this one slide and pretend you still like him just as much as you did before he showed you his casual misogyny.
Well, that’s bullshit.
Before going any further I’d like to clarify that nothing in this article is revolutionary. I am not gifting the world with any new knowledge here, everything said here has been said before: the first published example of “reclaiming” the word bitch happened in Jo Freeman’s 1968 paper “The BITCH Manifesto” and the sentiment has been echoed by feminist activists since. So why is this still such a normal occurrence? Why do women who are proud to march for reproductive rights, still feel guilted into not confronting misogyny when it rears it’s ugly head into their every day lives?
Maybe it’s fear of being rejected by a patriarchal society. Maybe it’s exhaustion of repeating what’s already been said a thousand times. Or maybe it’s the fact there’s never been a clear boundary set for who can and can’t use the word. Without a clear and concise way of articulating what is wrong with the straight man’s use of the word “bitch,” it is difficult to confront it in every-day life. So here it is, spelled out as clearly as possible:
If your gender and/or sexuality has not been used as a weapon to marginalize or intimidate you, then you do not get to have the privilege of calling another person a bitch.
Honestly, I don’t think I need to say any more.
But I will.
This clear-cut explanation is not something I just came up with one day. It all started a few months ago when I was in a conversation with a group of friends, all of whom are women or gay men, and all of whom say “bitch” often. Afterwards, the one straight man present pulled me aside to talk to me about it, I believe his exact words were “wow they do say the b word a lot.” It clearly made him uncomfortable, and that made me uncomfortable. Yes, it is great that he recognizes that he, a straight cis-gender man, shouldn’t be calling anyone a bitch. But it felt odd that I, a queer woman, or my friends, LGBTQ+ men and women, should be policed on their use of the word. Why?
I spent months on this. Was I just trying to justify why “I can say it but you can’t”? I thought, I read, I held conversations. What solidified this answer for me was the definition of reappropriation:
Reappropriation is the cultural process by which a group reclaims — re-appropriates — terms or artifacts that were previously used in a way disparaging of that group.
Disparaging is exactly what it was: “bitch” has been used as a weapon to belittle women for centuries (around 1000 CE to be exact) and its weaponization against LGBTQ+ peoples was not far behind. Every woman knows the sting of an ill-intentioned “bitch” and reclaiming it as our own is a step to numbing that sting for ourselves, and future generations of women and LGBTQ+ people.
So, back to our original scenario. Since this has been so prevalent in my mind, I have been making a conscious effort to not let straight men’s use of “bitch” slide. The last time that it happened I let him finish his story, and at the end said “I would really appreciate it if you didn’t use the word “bitch” around me. It just doesn’t sit right.” Maybe I should have said more, but that was enough for him, and we left it at that.
I’d like to think the incident made him more aware of his male privilege. In reality, he probably walked away and called me a bitch under his breath.
Either way, I’m proud that I stuck up for myself.
And either way, I’m still that bitch.