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Hey girl, we don’t call our sisters “bitch”–or do we?

Is the word “bitch” acceptable? Kanye West posted a flurry of tweets on September 2nd examining his use of the word. He just wanted to think out loud with us today. So Kanye, here’s what we, the girls of SPARK, think about the word “bitch.”

YingYing: As with any other word, “bitch” can only have the meaning that the user gives it. Personally, I steer away from casual use in favor of erring on the politically correct side; secondarily, the verb form of “bitch” meaning to complain or to gripe turns me away from its noun form as well. To me, the word “bitch” will always give me uneasy feelings because like so many insults, it’s so gendered. Only women would ever be compared to dogs in a long patriarchal society. However, I love the positive spins that pop culture has now undertaken to put on the word. Recognizing that powerful, strong women leaders like Hillary Clinton are often negatively condemned as “bitches” is the first step; empowering more women is the destination. If along the way, amazing women would like to willingly call themselves “bitches” in an effort to change the image of women in leadership, I stand 100% with female empowerment.

Georgia: It’s always hard defining a word which can be used in a high-five, pat on the back kind of way, (“Yeah, bitches!”) but also in a derogatory sense, (“she’s suuuuch a bitch.”) To be honest, my main problem with the word bitch is the way so many people use it to perpetuate the myth of girl hate – we’re often encouraged to resent girls who work hard or are leaders, because, as we’re told, for a girl to be so successful automatically makes her a bitch, right? I don’t think so. It’s just another way of, a) turning our own gender on us, and b) owning us (“she’s my bitch.”)

Carmen: I was really anti “bitch” when I first became a feminist. But now bitch is my code word. It’s my title and it’s my biography and it’s my code word. Bitch. A woman who never shuts the f- up and tells you how it really is and passes you on the sidewalk because you’re moving too slow and she has somewhere to be. The woman who looks better than you at work and at home and at the bar, who lets her words trail ever so slowly off because she knows you’re hanging on each one.

I reclaimed bitch around the time I came out; I started to rap and call myself a dyke among my friends who also called themselves faggots. I talked about being a dyke with a grin on my face. But reclamation is not one sided and in order for it to work people need to be on board. People need to stop saying “bitch” when we refuse to talk to them or answer their calls or respond kindly to their street harassment. People can’t call us bitches to dominate us or hurt us or murder us or disempower us or ruin our swag. They’re using the word wrong. And it’s our job to be bitch enough to fill them in.

Alice: The only people who call me a bitch to my face are people I like. When my best friend calls me a bitch I feel camaraderie. I feel like she’s recognizing that I get shit done. To me, being a bitch means being a leader, not letting people walk all over you, and demanding respect. But I can’t speak for any other girl when it comes to the word bitch. Some girls hate it, some don’t care. And it’s not okay to use on female politicians of any party. I hear bitch is used as an insult mostly from the mouths of “nice guys” who think any girl who doesn’t like them is a bitch. But who cares about those guys because bitches get stuff done.

Luci: I think it’s okay for a people to use the word “bitch” so long as they’re not using it to complain or put down somebody. I am comfortable walking into a room full of teenagers and saying “What’s up bitches?” because they know that I am not using the word to make them feel bad about themselves. As for bad bitch? I think that it’s okay if you’re using it to describe somebody or yourself in a positive way. When Nicki Minaj sings “Bad Bitch”, she’s not putting herself down. She’s proclaiming her awesomeness. “Bad Bitch” wouldn’t be okay if it were used in the context of “Watch out for her, she’s one bad bitch.” You can use it to proclaim your awesomeness and fabulousness. I think it’s kind of similar to how fat activists have reclaimed the word fat: when you remove the negative connotation it just becomes a descriptor.

Dee: In my real life, I don’t talk in English very much, I speak Indonesian. But on the internet, it is a different story. People prefer to tweet in English (but we’ll talk in Indonesian language again to each other). Here, when a girl says bitch, it’s always for another girl who you really hate. We don’t call our best friend “bitch.” Also, I study vet medicine, and bitch means female dog. People here also use dog as a curse word: “asu” in Javanese. “Asu” itself means dog, not just female dog, and it’s used to mean something like “damn” in my real life). I (almost) never hear someone really called another girl here bitch–I only hear it on TV. Bitch in Indonesian is ‘jalang’ and we only use it for “prostitute.” But in US and UK (maybe? I don’t know) the meaning of bitch itself is kind of blurry; people have so many opinions about the meaning of “bitch.”

Sariel: There is an understanding between women that calling each other “bitch” is a term of affection. But when a man calls a woman his “bitch,” he’s branding her as a possession. Women are ruthless and wild; we were squeezed out of our mother’s vaginas and our mothers screamed into the world the same way. Mothers and daughters, we’ve had to fight to meet our needs. That sounds like the work of some bad bitches to me. We can reclaim a word as we’ve reclaimed our bodies. “Fat” is now deemed fabulous by activists who embrace their shape. So we can yank the word “bitch” away from Rush Limbaugh and revel in it as empowered women.

Maddie: “Bitch” is a problem.  It is referring to women as animals, and I don’t think that is okay.  However, “bitch” is also empowering.  It has been reclaimed and made a compliment, unlike “slut”, et cetera.  With reclaiming “bitch,” we are moving in the right direction.  Like I said, though, we’re reclaiming a word that call women animals.  We are taking that and pretending that now that it is us saying it about ourselves, it’s okay.  It isn’t okay, because boys and men are going to hear us.  If we call ourselves animals, it’s fine for them to call us, or worse, treat us, like animals, right?  This could result in “bitch” becoming more negative once again, so I’m personally going to steer away from this word in the future.

Ty: I respect the idea of “bitch” being used by a group for empowering purposes, but I’m personally not a huge fan of the word because of its dehumanizing implications. “Bitch” along with a plethora of other words like, “fox”, “chick”, “cow”, “whale”, “vixen”, etc. have been normalized into our language as seemingly harmless synonyms for “woman”. Until it has been normalized into our society that women are not  less than men in terms of income, social status, power dynamics, and until we are equal in every way possible I am not comfortable with women or any other oppressed group being made out to be less than human in any way– if even “just” linguistically. Relatedly, I think that if women were equal to men in every way possible referring to women as animals probably wouldn’t even be a thing anyone would consider doing.

Anya: I’ve been known to call myself, and some of my nearest and dearest friends, the word “bitch.” I find it can be empowering to reclaim a slur that’s basically insulting women for being too assertive and turn it into a compliment. However, I’d never do it to a woman I didn’t know well, because the word “bitch” has been used to tear women down much more often than it’s been used to build us up. On a similar note, with the “bitch” as with other reclaimed slurs, allies–which is to say men, no matter how close they may be to the feminist movement–should steer clear of using the word “bitch” to describe women. I hope that one day, when there is true gender equality, insults and compliments alike will not be gendered, but until then, the word “bitch” is at worst hurtful and at best a close call, and I for one use it with caution.

Cam: Bitch is a complicated word.  I love the idea of some Rosie the Riveter type woman busting into Kanye’s studio and proclaiming “I AM STRONG BITCH HEAR ME ROAR,” but then again, if Kanye turned around and said “Yes, you are a bitch,” I’d probably want to smack him.  So, I guess what I’m saying is that bitch is different when it comes from different people.  In short, if you’re someone who wants to use bitch as a way to put down any female, then you can go screw yourself for all I care.  BUT, if you’re willing to understand the implications of the word bitch – which are that outspoken women are a bad thing – and actively want to turn them around, then by all means, bitch away!

Celeste: The term “bitch” has traditionally been used by men to trivialize and demean what women say. So it’s one thing when a woman uses it to indicate strength and awesomeness because she’s turning the tables on a misogynistic tradition and taking away power from a word that’s been used against her. But it’s very different when a man uses it to exercise power over a woman–power to make her shut up, power to make her a joke. Even when he’s not serious and is using the term in jest, the fact remains that men’s anger is considered more valid and their voices heard more often. It’s not okay to make fun of that.

Jenny: When I first swore at someone, I used the term bitch. As soon as it left my mouth, I felt terrible because the word itself means more than just a swear word for women. Back when I was younger, the word bitch just meant “female dog,” which is still ridiculously offensive. Today, according to various on-line and off-line dictionaries, this word means so much more than it had been. Yet this word that made me feel like a terrible person, by being called a bitch or naming someone a bitch, a few years ago now makes me feel empowered; the look of surprise on people’s faces, especially on the faces of androcentric, misogynist men, when I openly call myself a bitch, it deters people from calling me or other women bitch. Some argue that we cannot reclaim the word bitch because of all the word implies but what they don’t see is that the word “bitch” loses its negative connotation and its power to hurt others when we embrace it. Through this process, I reclaim the word bitch because when it loses its negative connotation, its power, people realize that the word bitch is no longer a profanity, but actually a descriptor of a strong, awesome, ridiculously good looking woman.

At the end of his tweets, Kanye posted a link to Lupe Fiasco’s song Bitch Bad,” which criticizes the use of the word “bitch” in hip-hop. Fiasco has recently been criticized by other rappers and is considering retirement. Do you like Fiasco’s message? How do you feel about the word “bitch” ? Let us know in the comments! 

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7 Responses to “Hey girl, we don’t call our sisters “bitch”–or do we?”

  1. Dev says:

    Is it OK to call you the N word?

    • @Dev and see that is probably why black men struggle with understanding the word bitch… just like blacks are all over the place with opinions about the use and contemporary definition of the N word, there really is no consensus of opinion on the use and current purpose of bitch among women. Obviously however, men use bitch more openly than non-blacks use the N word. I prefer that people wouldn’t call me a nigga, black or otherwise. If you weren’t black and called me a nigga, I’d probably judge how you meant it before I decided to tear your throat apart.

  2. [...] considered annoying, whiny, high maintenance, or “nagging” (a nag is an old, tired horse). Women in recent years have taken to reclaiming the term, of course, but the fact remains that the swiftest way for someone of any gender to undermine a [...]

  3. Mona says:

    You people are pretty marvelous! and what a great idea for an article. Even though I only know one of you, the one I do has given me so much insight into this organization…it is great to see so many empowered women’s opinions!

  4. Claire says:

    This article was GREAT!!! So interesting!

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