“Bitch is a word we use culturally to describe any woman who is strong, angry, uncompromising and, often, uninterested in pleasing men. We use the term for a woman on the street who doesn’t respond to men’s catcalls or smile when they say, 'Cheer up, baby, it can’t be that bad.' We use it for the woman who has a better job than a man and doesn’t apologize for it. We use it for the woman who doesn’t back down from a confrontation.”
-Andi Zeisler, co-founder of Bitch Media
The power of language is greater than we'd ever imagine. Throughout history, a single word can acquire different meanings and it all depends on society, historical context, and everyday use of said word. Speakers are the ones with the power to give negative or positive connotations. The term "bitch," originally used to refer to a female dog, has been modified to become a normalized way to diminish women. It is common that it pops up in the many conversations we have everyday.
We might think that when a word is used in everyday situations it loses its negative undertone and doesn't really harm others. After all, the intention is what counts, right? Recently, with all the awareness regarding sexual harassment that harms women, there have been legal cases of women suing co-workers or their bosses because they've been called "bitch." Unfortunately these cases have been swept under the carpet because the word "bitch" is so common that it can imply many things. So, the punishment or exoneration will fall on the judge's decision for each unique case.
The problem here is that misogyny has been ingrained in society for centuries. Moreover, with the passing of time, all these attitudes –just like the b-word– have been normalized, making it even harder to fight against them. For centuries, the word "woman" has been equated with frailty, after all, wasn't it synonymous with the "weaker sex?" Men's hackles are raised the moment they're related to femininity, as if it were an antidote that strips away their manhood.
Now, women are also influenced by these behaviors. According to a study made by the Social Issues Research Center, women between the ages of 25 and 35 claim they prefer being friends with men because they consider women to be "bitchy and backstabbing."
This is a prevalent stereotype where we generalize other women without analyzing our own role. Becoming "one of the guys" is a way we resign our own gender identity and apply the same prejudices unto ourselves!
These claims simply reinforce women as mean, backstabbing individuals, while men are seen as the cool, reliable people who won't backstab you at the next party on Friday.
Since we’re little, we're taught that our best attribute is our sexuality. Therefore it gets hard to be friends with someone who can overshadow us. As Natalia Borecka mentions in her article, most of Disney’s princesses, who are adaptations of medieval or children's folk tales, don’t have female friends. This is because their main goal is to find their prince and other women are seen as competitors that can get in the way.
Through TV, movies, music, etc., society has established that the main goal for women is finding a man and forming a family together. Based on this idea, our unconscious –whether we want it or not– starts a process of self-objectification in which we put ourselves in a competition against other women, and thus, there's a gender feud. Even if we don’t want to find that man, when someone shows interest in you rather than other women, your self-esteem increases, putting yourself as an object of someone else's desire.
If it happens the other way around, our confidence decreases. Since this unconscious self-objectification doesn't allow us to accept this, we call the other woman names and diminish her. Interestingly, women with a certain degree of education also use the word to feel intellectually superior. However, the main implication of calling a woman "bitch" in this context is that one believes she attracts men to gain something from them, since they don't have the right qualifications to be independent.
While it’s true that the intention of this word is what really offends and not the word itself. It doesn't matter if it is used as a pet name to show affection, the truth is that it still carries a negative connotation. More importantly, these words only encourage others to use them on us. Voicing them won’t help at all to defeat misogyny. The only way to confront it is through respect.
If you're interested in knowing more about the normalization of misogyny and gender inequality, check: Why Most Relationship Advice Only Perpetuates Sexism.
Lone Wolf Magazine