A couple of weeks ago, I was having an argument with a guy that I was seeing. During this argument, he referred to me as a “bitch.” For some more context, his exact words were, “Migena, can you stop acting like a bitch right now; I am trying to have a conversation.” Though my disgust with his choice of the word does not necessarily require any justification, my annoyance and anger were very much warranted during the argument. At the moment, I was shocked that someone I was ‘with’ had called me a “bitch,” but I did not realize the severity of the word — especially when used by a man to refer to a woman — until a few days later.
So what exactly does “bitch” mean, and why do some men, even those who claim to have the utmost respect for women, believe it’s okay to refer to a woman as one?
The Cambridge Dictionary defines “bitch” as “an unkind or unpleasant woman.” However, the historical use of this word suggests a connection between the word “bitch” and the patriarchy. The correlation between these ideas has shifted in modern society, so using the word “bitch” has become normalized when it should not be. This word first showed up around the year 1000 and stemmed “from old English ‘bicce,’ meaning female dog.” While other slurs that existed in this time period have waned, the term “bitch” has persisted and evolved.
This term gained tremendous popularity again during the women’s suffrage movement in the 20th century where it “became the word for women who defied the patriarchy and held a decidedly negative connotation” according to this Vox article. Women were expected to stay within the bounds of femininity. If they didn’t, they were considered a “bitch.” Women who expressed their anger were “bitches.” Women who wanted their voices to be heard were “bitches.” “Bitch” has been the preferred term used by men to describe a woman who perhaps does not adhere to how men want them to act, feel, or react. It is used to silence a women’s voice and diminish her feelings. It is also typically used to describe people who uphold or express qualities that are considered traditionally feminine.
In my case, it was probably the fact that I was deemed “too emotional” over a situation that the other person did not expect or want me to be emotional about. I don’t know and it frankly doesn’t matter. It does not change the fact that it is an extremely demeaning and belittling term that perpetrates sexism and misogyny.
The casual use of this term can also be found in mainstream media and the political sphere. In July 2020, Republican politician Ted Yoho referred to congresswoman AOC as “a fucking bitch,” to which he later excused by citing his wife and daughters. According to Yoho, calling another woman a “fucking bitch” is not a big deal because he has a wife and daughters.
To Ted Yoho’s name-calling, AOC responded: “This issue is not about one incident. It is cultural.” She also later claimed that “in using that language, in front of the press, he gave permission to use that language against his wife, his daughters, women in his community.”
AOC is correct. This term has become so casual, and its meaning has become so diluted that it has become part of our culture to believe it’s excusable to call women “bitches.” By reinforcing this culture, it has caused men to use this term against women without any repercussions. In doing so, they uphold a patriarchal view of women, one that can diminish women’s self-worth and self-perception because they feel like they have to confine themselves to men’s ideas of how they should portray themselves.