Let’s talk about the capital B word. Not boss— a word we use a lot around the Create & Cultivate office (because *high-five us* we meet a ton of Boss Women on the daily). We’re talking Bitch, a word that yes, means lady dog, but also one that has been used as a term of derision since the 15th century. Phrases like “son of a bitch,” were meant to chide promiscuous women. An 1811 dictionary refers to the word as "the most offensive appellation that can be given to an English woman.” conundrum
Fast-forward to the 1920s, when women gained the right to vote. During the time period of 1915-1930 the use of the word in print almost doubled— when men were all, let’s get rid of this Susan B(itch) Anthony.
Then came the second wave of feminism, where women like attorney Jo Freeman, who authored the book, The Bitch Manifesto in 1968, made a solid attempt to co-opt the word. In her book Freeman writes: “A woman should be proud to declare she is a Bitch, because Bitch is Beautiful.” During this period it looked like the term was ready to be shaped into something new. It had all the potential to align itself with feminist goals. In a way, this happened.
Since the 1970s women have steadily fought to reclaim the word, to shift its power. Think: Head Bitch in Charge, Boss Bitch, Bitch Media, Betches, books like, Bitch: In Praise of Difficult Women, on and on. (The word usage in print is at an all-time high.) Such reclamations turn negative words into positive affirmations. They create unity amongst marginalized groups while diminishing the power of the oppressor.
If we call ourselves bitches, it becomes ours.
Or does it?
For many, the social dynamics and gender politics of the word are still confusing. Can a man call a woman a bitch? What about when a woman calls a man a bitch? Can a woman call another woman a bitch? And what about when people call Hilary Clinton a bitch? In 2013, in a series of tweets, Kanye West asked the following question: "I usually never tweet questions but I struggle with this so here goes... Is the word BITCH acceptable?” Followed up by: “Is it ok to use bitch as long as we put BAD in front of it? Like you a BAD BITCH.”
This is where we have to consider intent. The problem lies in how how the word is used and by whom. The problem is in the nuance.
As Cynthia Bailey from the "Real Housewives of Atlanta" explained, “In this group we use the term bitch as a term of endearment and also in a disrespectful way.” And that’s the gist of it. Context matters. Intonation matters. I can be a boss ass bitch. I can reclaim the word for me. But the most important word in that thought is not bitch, but "me." I can make a conscious decision for bitch to mean something different. I can own my bitch. But don't think for one moment that if someone else makes that decision for me, we're not going to have more than some bitchy words.