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The Battle Over “Bitch”

“Bitch.” It’s a pretty generic word used in many situations from, “Ugh, she’s such a bitch” to “What’s up, bitchez?” Unlike more sexist jargon such as “whore” and “slut,” the b-word is a more ambiguous slur that many unconsciously use despite its demeaning disposition. As co-founder of Bitch Magazine Andi Zeisler puts it, “’Bitch’ is a word we use to culturally describe any woman who is strong, angry, uncompromising, and often uninterested in pleasing men.” She concludes that “bitch” is ultimately a negative word. Instead of respecting women, it deflates them into lesser beings.

Third wave feminism has recently taken back the word (hence the name of the gung-ho feminist Bitch Magazine), believing it better to change the connotation of the word rather than completely censor it into the background. They have chosen a false sense of empowerment. As Zeisler adds, the tricky lack of education behind the word brings us all full-circle back to the central problem of bitch.

In Sherryl Kleinman et al.’s article, “Reclaiming Critical Analysis: The Social Harms of ‘Bitch,’” this reclamation is less a movement than an abstract idea. A bitch is someone who misbehaves, whose sex defines them, and whose anger can be cast aside because of its inconsequence. With all these problematic associations, feminists must find another word to promote that is free of any demeaning sexist connections.

These connections are far ranging. Calling a guy a bitch emasculates him. In prison, being someone’s bitch implies that a prisoner dominates another. It’s also used as a verb. Someone who “bitches” whines and complains. When girls PMS before their time of the month, they are supposed to feel and act “bitchy.” People can justify acts of violence against women by saying, “She was a bitch and deserved it.” Words have weight and meaning, and our language reflects our culture. If “bitch” can be argued as harmless, it can also be argued as perpetuating patriarchy, an institution of male privilege. In the fight for equality, why can guys act like dicks, but women are collectively bitches?

Last November, feminists gave media mogul Oprah Winfrey a round of applause after she announced that Oprah Winfrey Network (OWN) wouldn’t tolerate the use of the word “bitch.” Her actions were commended as a fight against everyday sexist dialogue, but will the symbolic gesture really put a stop to misogynistic language used in mainstream media? The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) does not even censor usage of the word in media, like they do for “fuck” and “shit.”

So collegiettes™, do you think all men and women should refrain from using the “B-word” unless we understand the culturally constructed connotation behind it? If we all take a minute to reassess the meaning behind the word, perhaps we can take one giant step forward for womankind.

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