The 90s and the Normalization of "Bitch"

It seems as though a word that has popularly become associated with feminism is “bitch”. Shirts with “bitch” printed across the chest are not uncommon, and girls have a difficult time recalling the first time they were called a bitch or the first time they called someone else a bitch. The association between feminism and "bitch" was especially strong in the 90s, at the same time that several important feminist moments occurred. 1992 was called the "Year of the Woman" because more new women were elected to Congress that year than ever before, Gwen Stefani sang with No Doubt about the oppression of females in “I’m Just A Girl” in 1995, and there was a decrease in shaming women that had sex before marriage. This seems progressive, right? Allison Yarrow would say otherwise. In a podcast by RadioWest, she uses the term “bitchification” to explain how women who achieved or reached for power in Hollywood, politics, or other respectful positions were deemed a “bitch”. This connotation reduced women to their sexual function. The term originated in Ancient Greece and was associated with women who begged for sex like dogs; it was a worse title than whore because whores were paid. By using phrases like “boss bitch” and “resting bitch face”, society takes something that is insulting and degrading and normalizes it in a nearly humorous way. By taking a step out of the nostalgic lens that is used to look at media from the 90s, one can see how this “clouds our critical minds”, as Yarrow puts it.

Consider the TV show Friends, for example. Ross, Rachel, Chandler, Phoebe, and Monica started their daily meet ups at Perk in 1994, stopping only when the show ended in 2004. Friends became an American icon from the 90s, and was one of the first in a wave of popular television shows to include single women in their late 20s to 30s (depending on the progression of the show) that independently support themselves in an urban city. However, Rachel, Monica, and Phoebe were still less than a size 0 and were often seen more as objects than Joey, Ross, and Chandler were. Monica’s throwbacks consisted of her being overweight and were only intended to be humorously encountered, yet Chandler is the one that is often found watching TV to get out of cleaning and Joey is the lazy one out of the bunch. Many in the 90s thought as Ross did when he said, “WE WERE ON A BREAK,” when they thought that Friends was a halt to anti-feminism, but this just demonstrates that the 90s did not solve everything and there is still a problem among us.

There should not be a need to demean a woman and call her a “bitch” because of her initiative to take action and contribute. The casual manner in which this word is used is not intended to assume that the women beg for sex like dogs, but it does demonstrate that many women in power are not taken seriously.