Rethinking “Bitchiness”

The other day I was scrolling through Twitter when something caught my attention—a male acquaintance of mine had tweeted several reasons why he had disliked a movie and listed his main reason as the main character’s “BITCH of a wife.” Now, obviously, I hadn’t seen the film , so there’s a complete possibility that this particular female character may have been angry, rude or manipulative. However, despite this rationalization, I couldn’t ignore the strange feeling of discomfort in the pit of my stomach that had risen upon hearing the word “bitch” used by a male as an insult directed at a woman. The connotation of the word seemed so different than when I use it, and I couldn’t quite put into words what seemed so off about his use of the word. It made me, as a woman, feel small and insignificant. I didn’t like feeling small, and I began to deeply question how the word “bitch” is used by both men and women.


Why is it that when women use the term “bitch,” it’s more and more commonly used as a term for empowerment? Women have reclaimed the word and have transformed it into the definition of a strong woman. To me, when a woman calls another woman a “boss ass bitch” or any other variation, usually with the word “bitch” preceded by a positive adjective, she often means that this other woman is a force to be reckoned with—she’s confident, in-charge, and assertive. For example, I posted a selfie on Christmas Eve and called myself a “classy bitch” because I felt sharp, pretty, and like I could rule the world with my matte red lip. When I call someone a bitch, it’s never with a negative connotation, and it always portrays a feeling of deep admiration. So why is it that when you flip the situation around to have a man calling a woman a bitch, it has such negative effects?


In my own experience, I could probably count all the times I’ve ever heard a guy call another woman a bitch in that “oh-my-god-you’re-so-awesome” type of way. It seems to me that men typically use the word “bitch” to look down on a woman and belittle her. I’m not saying that men consciously sit there and think, “I’m going to call her a bitch so she can feel demeaned and small.” Rather, I think that it’s an effect of societal influences that men don’t necessarily realize because they don’t experience the unique brand of loss of dignity that a woman feels when called a bitch. This connotation of the word strips someone of every other characteristic, presenting them as one-dimensional people whose principle personality trait is whichever one that irritates the insultor most. The recipient of the insult is given no room to explain themselves or prove themselves to be more than this flat character. Once you’re called a bitch in a derogatory way, there’s hardly any chance to disprove the insult—any attempt to defend yourself might even be perceived as bitchy. “Bitch” is a hole that someone else dug for you and then threw you into while holding captive every possibility you may have had of climbing out of it.


It’s important to note, too, that “bitch” is an intentionally feminine insult. There’s no male equivalent; “asshole” is thrown at anyone regardless of gender, “dick” might be more masculine but it’s less impactful and less defining. Even when men are called bitches, it’s meant to demean them by insulting their masculinity in pointing out any stereotypically feminine traits they show. Thus, the word “bitch” inherently suggests that femininity is inferior.


So how do we begin to change the way women are perceived, particularly by men, through the word “bitch”? Though the problem doesn’t stem from most women’s use of the word, I have decided to begin trying to actively choosing to find better, more positive words to use when referring to myself, friends, or other women. I’m not sure how much this will change my perspective of the word, or if it will subconsciously affect others around me, but I hope that it will turn into an empowering exercise. Maybe it will affect indirectly cause change—maybe a man who constantly hears women calling each other bitches and thinks, “Well, if they call each other bitches then it must be okay for me to call them bitches, too,” will stop hearing the word and indirectly stop using it. If anything, though, the most direct solution is to educate your male friends who use the term negatively. If someone uses “bitch” as an insult, calmly ask them what it is in the situation that deems the term necessary in a specific situation and don’t be afraid to call them out on sexism, whether it be unintentional or not. Spread awareness and promote consciousness of the problem.


Finally, remember that women are allowed to empower themselves and each other in whichever ways they are comfortable with. If you want to be a boss ass bitch, go for it. Own it. Empower yourself before someone else tries to tear you down, and always know that the words of others do not define who you are. You are the only one in charge of your identity, and if you know that you are a strong, beautiful, and complex woman, no one can take that away from you.