Rhymes with Witch

“Bitch.” My body tenses as the cold, sharp word hits me. The rounded “Bi” sound curls into something ugly as the sour clap of the “ch” sound reverberates in my mind. “Bitch.” A word that has become so casually personal and impersonally degrading yet again stings my ears with its rank resonance. Regardless of whom this word is being directed to, or in what context, I take personal offense at its carelessly demeaning connotations.

Many will argue that “bitch” has been reclaimed to mean something other than its original use as an insult. During what is known as the “second wave of feminism,” women tried to redefine the word to mean a strong and independent woman. In 1968, Jo Freeman published “The BITCH Manifesto,” and in that she successfully separated the “bitch” that meant an annoying or mean woman from the “bitch” that meant a tenacious and liberated woman. Unfortunately, this reclamation did not last, as seen by Hillary Clinton, a woman who embodies a “bitch” if using the second wave definition, but who is often called a “bitch” as an insult. What makes this insult unique, and almost worse, than all other insults most politicians face is that it is gender-specific. Would a male politician ever be called a “bitch”? No. We are used to seeing strong, stubborn men in politics, but because we aren’t used to seeing authoritative women, we assume their power is innately different than a man’s. That difference is translated into something negative, and because of that we have a desire to undermine and degrade her by calling her a “bitch.” Ultimately, the word is all about power; in the 60’s it was reclaimed to be empowering, but now it is meant to belittle.

Many will also argue that when a girl calls her friends “bitches” in a playful and ironic way, it does not have the same effect as when someone says “bitch” in an abusive way. To this argument I have two responses. First, I have never felt like a strong and independent woman after my friend has greeted me with a “hey bitch” or has made a comment like “this is a great view, bitches.” Therefore, it would be unfair to say that we reclaimed the word like the second wave of feminists did. They were making a statement by owning the word, and acting like it is an ironic joke is not the same thing. Second, using “bitch” in this context essentially gives people permission to use the word by making it so commonly used, so casual, that we become numb to it. So numb that we don’t notice when at lunch a girl is trying to make a point, she is shut down when someone turns to her and says, “don’t act like such a bitch.” We don’t notice when a boy is being pressured to do something because he is afraid of being called “a little bitch” if he doesn’t act masculine. Calling someone a “bitch,” in any context, is silencing because it takes someone’s power away from them, and then labels that person as powerless.

The curdling sound of the word “bitch” stings the most when used by male rappers in songs glorifying sex, money, and misogyny. Every time I hear it in a song, I cringe as if I am swallowing carbonated water with a sore throat. At the school Spirit Dance in October, “Make it Nasty” by Tyga was played. Proving that the word crosses boundaries in a subtle, yet potent way. I felt disgusting just listening to it.  In the song women, “bitches,” are treated as sexual objects whose purpose and actions were solely focused on giving men pleasure. And because of the commonness of this message, we don’t even hear songs for what they truly are; instead we ignore the lyrics and dance carefree. But it is painfully obvious to me.  I couldn’t dance with my friends anymore without feeling like I was submitting to someone else, like I was objectifying myself as just another “bitch” in the song. I lost my power to dance how I wanted to; I lost control over how I was seen and how I wanted to be seen. So I pretended to go to the bathroom. Further silencing myself.

Many of my peers still do not understand why I have taken such a strong stance on something that seems harmless to them. They have heard it so often that they have forgotten the word’s meaning, and most importantly its impact. Every time someone says the word “bitch,” he or she gives whomever listening two options: silence or objectification. Since I refuse to be involved with either of those two options, I stand up to the word and create a third option: resistance. I do this because I know the word is not just benign slang. No matter how often it is used, or in what context, it eventually leads to the same thing –degradation. I will never accept degradation as a societal norm, therefore, I will never accept to word “bitch.”

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