When I was growing up, the word bitch was not a nice word. It was something said on the playground that would get a resounding “Oooooooooooooooooo” from the crowd. It was a word girls used when they were being catty and jealous.
When I went to college and raised my feminist fist, bitch became something men used to degrade women with power. If a woman was tough and ambitious she was a bitch. In rap music, every chick was a bitch you wanted to sleep with.
I definitely did not want to be a bitch.
But somewhere between the third wave of feminism and the second season of “Girls,” bitch became the thing to be. Trina is the baddest bitch and according to Nicki Minaj, “Bitches ain’t shit, if they ain’t saying nothing.”
In our increasingly semantic world, what we say is of equal importance to how we say it. We know this all too well from the Lisa Lampanelli/Lena Dunham debacle. She exercised her freedom of speech (and freedom to bad comedy) by using a term of endearment that was well… not really endearing.
While everyone was up in arms about her use of the N-word, no one (not even me) batted a false eyelash at the fact that she also called Dunham her “beyotch!”
Let’s get things straight. I love my girlfriends. They are my lifelines, my champions, my mirrors and when I need it most my shoulders to cry on. But they are also my bitches, beyotches, hoes and ride or die chicks.
When we’re together, dishing dirt and listening to music, the word “bitch” rolls so easily off my tongue. You might hear a “Bitcccccccch, no she didn’t” or a sincere “I love you bitch!” And we’ve even coined a phrase for a bratty birthday girl who we tolerate because it’s her big day. She is affectionately called a “birthday bitch.”
Part of me loves the idea of a badass woman taking the reins of a patriarchal term and flipping that shit.
“Oh I’m a bitch? Well I’m going to show you just how bad a bitch I am!”
One of my idols did just that. Kelly Cutrone, who is often called a bitch because of her ballsy, no holds barred attitude, made an empowering acronym B.I.T.C.H: Babe In Total Control of Herself. How genius is that?
But there are occasions when the word hasn’t quite settled so easily in my vernacular.
Listening to my daily get hype playlist, I turn on Big Sean’s “ASS, ASS, ASS” song. Jamming and dancing, halfway through, the word bitch seems to form a cloud around my head. One line in particular “You the best you deserve a crown bitch,” always gets to me. Wait, she’s a queen and a bitch?! .
Or when I hear that Kanye West wrote a song for Kim K entitled “Perfect Bitch” and I’m like, “How the hell is she going to let her boyfriend call her a bitch?”
Or most of all, the times when teenagers, male and female, on the my commute home are calling each other “bitches” and my knee-jerk, womanist reaction is to shake my head in shame.
When I call my lady loves the b-word, I mean it in the most loving way. And when I read about a strong, powerful woman doing her thing and not apologizing for it, my first instinct is that she’s a “bad bitch.” Much like how we (black people) have reclaimed the problematic N-word or how gay people are reclaiming queer, women and feminists have claimed bitch.
But this claiming doesn’t strip the word of its meaning and it doesn’t strip me of the conflict I feel. And while being a bitch may be an empowering, positive affirmation, it can easily be a demeaning and degrading one as well.
The part of me that calls bullshit on my use is the same part of me that relishes in my power to take a word that’s meant to degrade me and use it to empower myself and other women.
Another thing is clear too: My practice of feminism isn’t perfect and neither is the world. Now ain’t that a bitch.