Problematic Words: BitchPosted: April 26, 2010 at 9:41 pm | Tags: Feminism, Language, linguistics, words
This is the first in which may or may not turn out to be a series on words I have issues with. I am aware of and support efforts in reclaiming language used against marginalised groups and bodies. I support people’s identities and the words they use in describing themselves. This is a post about words that others use and how they are used by others.
Ok, so bitch… lets break it down a little. Initially the word was used to describe a female dog or female canine. Dogs are lower life-forms (traditionally) than people and are belongings. So to refer to a woman or another person as a bitch is a dehumanising exercise, they are now a lower life-form (not human) and are a belonging, whether yours (my bitch) or someone else’s (their bitch).
Its also used in a sex negative context as well, referring to women (and only women) as being like a “bitch in heat”, which suggests that women are uncontrollable when they want sex, much like female dogs.
Bitch is also used to describe certain types of behaviour, such as bitchiness and bitchy. Typically this refers to back-stabbing, gossiping and other unpleasant behaviour. Descriptions of this behaviour is also given to gay men, which suggests that gay men are acting like unpleasant women.
If you are “someone’s bitch” then typically this means that you are their belonging. So if I refer to X as “my bitch” then they’re mine, dehumanised and property. Not such a good way to describe someone. However, I do understand, and do refer to my physical belongings, as bitch from time to time. If something slips out of my hands and I’m frustrated, I’ll say, “Argh! You bitch”, but I’m actually referring to inanimate objects here. And because I don’t like to dehumanise people I’m not going to call someone a bitch.
The Harpies, refer to women sometimes just having to “Be A Bitch”, usually to men, when boundaries are overstepped and there is a need to be assertive or opinionated because the other is not paying attention to your subtext, body language or even polite words about going away. They’ve written about such things here and here and elsewhere on their site. I am all behind assertive behaviour and sometimes just having to be rude if that’s what it takes for you to be safe, happy or unharassed, but I still have issues with calling it “Being A Bitch” because I don’t think that that word should be used to describe a set of allegedly unpleasant behaviours which are clearly just being assertive or opinionated as you see fit.
But I’ve been thinking about men’s fear of women’s anger and power and the word “bitch.”
Bitch, bitching, etc.: these are thrown at women all the time, for any minor “infraction,” from asking for parity in pay or pleasure to daring to stand up for yourself. I have no doubt that those who use it mean to silence and intimidate women. (From The Pursuit of Harpyness)
I’m all for telling people to “shut the fuck up” or to “fuck off” when they harass me on the street, on the internet or anywhere else. If someone calls me a bitch for knowing my boundaries, knowing what makes me feel safe or for turning them down, then that’s their problem and not mine. I’m not going to go home and be upset about it overly, but I don’t think I’ll personally ever reclaim the word “bitch”. I can be assertive, just like men are allowed to be, and that doesn’t make me a bitch. I can be opinionated, just like men are allowed to be, and that doesn’t make me a bitch.
I think the word “bitch” is usually pulled out when women act in ways that we’re “not supposed to”. We’re supposed to be submissive and easy to target. We’re supposed to be soft, gentle and unassuming… and quite frankly all of that can fuck off.