In our society, we often throw around this word ‘bitch’ as if it’s a nonchalant, one size-fits all label. We see someone swerving in front of us, notice it is a female driver, and she automatically gets labeled as a ‘bitch’. We get stuck behind a lady in the grocery line, trying to use a billion coupons, and she automatically gets labeled as a ‘bitch’. We pass by a co-worker and they don’t stop to say hi to us, and she gets labeled a ‘bitch’. Don’t get me wrong; I am completely at fault for using this word to describe certain situations and interactions I have had. I usually describe someone as a ‘bitch’ when they do something I feel is unnecessary, rude, mean, and/or selfish. My sister might get called a ‘bitch’ when she snaps at me. My friend might get called a ‘bitch’ when she posts an ambiguous status on Facebook that could be targeted towards me. My co-worker might get called a ‘bitch’ when she shoots down my obviously brilliant idea.
A couple of years ago, the CEO of Facebook and Beyonce joined forced in the “Ban Bossy” campaign, which was a movement to stop using the word ‘bossy’ to describe women in the workplace. The movement suggested that the word ‘bossy’ created a gender divide; when you see a female in a leadership position being assertive, it’s called ‘bossy’, and incurs a negative connotation; when you see a male in a leadership position being assertive, it’s considered successful and welcome. It’s a movement, much like the #LikeAGirl campaign, that seeks to change the meaning of words in order to change culture.
While the word ‘bitch’ does not just find itself rooted in work settings, I think it has very similar characteristics as ‘bossy’. We perceive being called a ‘bitch’ a highly offensive label. I believe there are many scenarios that might incur this treatment:
Showing assertiveness: No one really likes their female bosses, because as a leader, bosses are often put into positions where they have to make decisions that inevitably, someone will be upset about. No one ever likes you to tell them they messed up. No one ever likes you to tell them that they have to do something a different way. No one ever likes you to reprimand them for bad behavior. And as soon as one of these things happen, you automatically earn the title of ‘bitch’. When I first started working at my first restaurant, the employees were running the show; we were coming in 20-25 minutes late, wearing inappropriate clothes for work, practically stealing food from the kitchen. And, then a new boss was hired who put the kabosh on all of this. She started writing people up for being late, she chose more appropriate outfits, and put locks on the registers so employees couldn’t freely order food. No one really liked the assertiveness that was displayed, we complained and stomped out feet, but in a leadership position, sometimes you have to enforce rules as the expense of being labeled ‘a bitch’.
Not playing the “I’m Fine” game: We all know this game too well. You ask someone a question, they give you the “I’m fine” answer, basically because they want you to fish for more information and give them attention. This comes in many different forms: “Hey, do you want to go out for dinner tonight?”, “You know, I think I will just stay home”; “Hey, you are looking kind of down today. Is everything ok?”, “(huge sigh) Yes, everything is fine”; “Do you want help with that?”, “You know, I think I can do it myself”. What these responses are really asking is for you to ask them more questions, and to beg and plead and provide validation until they finally decide to hang out with you or tell you the truth. To me, this game is such a waste of time. Just tell me straight up how you feel, because I am not going to try to guess what is going on with your emotional state. I remember living with some people, and coming home to one of them scrubbing the floors. I asked if they wanted help, and their response was, “No, it’s fine. You go hang out with your boyfriend”, which I did, because they told me to, and then they got mad that I didn’t help clean the floors, as if I am supposed to read minds and code read your “No, I am fine” for “If you walk away, I am calling you a ‘bitch'”.
Giving Tough Love: A few years ago, a group of people I belonged to decided one of it’s members needed some kind of intervention, and we set up a scheme to get them sent to rehab. This was potentially the worst week of our lives, because we were constantly fielding calls and setting up appointments and orchestrating who was taking care of which affairs, and it took an immense amount of strength not to cave in. I am sure we were called a plethora of names, including ‘bitch’. However, in retrospect, this was also potentially the best thing that ever happened to this person, and while tough love may have acquired all of us the title of ‘bitch’, it certainly is a title worth having in this situation.
Falling outside of social norms: As a society, we set up rules in order to show how ‘cultured’ we are, and to keep everyone the same. During the Victorian era, people created refining schools, and a list of rules each person should follow if they are to describe themselves as ‘cultured’. You know, rules such as, “never clip your nails anywhere besides your bedroom”, “if you are to get gloves, too big is always better than too small”, “if you see a lady crossing the street by herself, drop everything you are doing, sprint to her, and help her cross”. The more rules I knew how to follow, the more ‘cultured’, ‘refined’, and the less savage I was. So, when we encounter someone who does not follow these rules, we feel inclined to call them a ‘bitch’, and in some ways, the word takes on the same connotation as savage, uncivilized, primitive. Someone who doesn’t comment on other’s outfits or someone who does not engage in cliquey behavior or someone who informs others of their unjust and immoral actions might acquire the title of ‘bitch’, because these behaviors fall outside of social norms.
As it appears that, more times than not, we give this title of ‘bitch’ to people when they do something we don’t ‘like’. If I do a Google search of the word, it produces a feed of inappropriate and vulgar images; women sticking their pierced tongues out and flipping off the camera, faceless women with their legs splayed open, memes with skull and crossbones and quotes that say, “Die, Bitch, Die”. So, when we use the word ‘bitch’ to describe someone, this is the kind of image we provoke, and perpetuate; that person doesn’t follow social norms? That is kind of like being a prostitute. That person says it like it is? She must be uncultured and illiterate and trashy. That person displays assertive behaviors? She must be a chain smoker, a gold digger, a stealer, and useless member of society. In all of these scenarios, every time we even mildly use the word ‘bitch’ to describe someone, we are perpetuating an air of oppression, of objectiveness, of injustice.
Like #BanBossy and #LikeAGirl, I think we should stop using the “B” word as well.