Bitching It Out (Out with Bitching)

Alice Stanley drops knowledge like bombs on why you shouldn’t use the B word.

It’s this simple: don’t use the word bitch anymore.

Different words hold different taboos for different people. Sometimes words offend as simple expletives, sometimes they are too sexually graphic, sometimes they are racial slurs, sometimes they are offensive to homosexuals, and sometimes they refer to physical disabilities inappropriately. Most people generally pick and choose which of those taboos to be conscious of. Some of the dirtiest people would never use a racial slur, and some of the most racist people would never drop the big F.

I personally don’t care when people swear or reference things I’ve only read about on Urban Dictionary. I don’t feel much remorse when I use the word “lame” when referring to that Friday night I spent watching High School Musical by myself. But I abhor “the B word.” Let me explain why.

Bitch is directly offensive to women. Some argue and say that bitch is an insult for both genders, but I think that’s actually what makes the word so chauvinist. First of all, the most frequently used version of bitch directed at women makes us think of a boss who is abrasive or a girl who always gets what she wants. Such a term does not apply for men in power positions. Bosses are sometimes called “assholes” and “dicks,” but those terms hardly pack the punch that a cutting murmur of bitch does. In fact, those terms are almost jocular in most cases. Calling someone else a dick makes you feel like a middle school kid. Bitch has transcended the schoolyard.

Instead of bitch being an equal term for cold women and men who command power, it takes on a new meaning for men. While a woman who is a bitch is generally at the top of some social or economic hierarchy, the same term applied to a man means he is weak or subordinate (i.e. “a little bitch”). Even the height of power for a woman is a low place for men. At least, that’s what the word implies.

Language structuralist critics like Ferdinand de Saussure make the semiotic distinction between signifiers (words) and what they signify. Sometimes our definitions have fairly common sound images attached to them. We think we grasp words’ meanings, but they are all more powerful than we can imagine when they spin out to create new social patterns based on their very usage.

The word bitch has created an idea that has attached itself to empowered women. If you disagree, think of the biggest, well, bitch you know. Consider describing her to someone else. What other term could you use? The word automatically comes with a superficial gender-biased archetype of power. To phase out its usage would be to phase out the idea that women in power have different leadership capabilities than a man.

Of course, bitch is used in other ways. For example, one can bitch about something. I find that the verb form of the word tags along with the oppressive meaning previously outlined. Bitching is nagging. For women it’s expected, for men shows weakness. Again, bitch becomes a gender divide. It’s also a popularized term—especially visible in hip-hop and rap music—for women in general. To say that this slang definition is harmless is also ridiculous. I like to think my sex is composed of more than “hoes and tricks.” But, that’s another discussion.

The only usage of bitch I don’t find flaw in seems to be bitchin’ as in cool. That doesn’t refer to any one sex.

So, now you have to decide if you care or not. I urge you to genuinely drop the word from your vocabulary. I would never compare the word’s negativity to “the N word” in terms of the social backlash it creates. However, when looking at racial slurs, some argue that members of a racial group can use certain terms while others cannot. That only creates more of a racial fence in the path to equality. People who use the word gay or retarded to mean stupid are equating a negative idea with a type of person. It doesn’t matter what you mean when you use offensive words, you’re still advancing the words and their confused association.

But, if we all try to make a conscious effort to let go of our bonds to such useless vocabulary choices, we can make an impact in escaping their disappointing societal implications. And that’s pretty bitchin’.

Alice Stanley is an MFA candidate in Dramatic Writing at Arizona State University. Follow her tweets or send her an email. She also has a website.