I don’t say “bitch”. This is an attempt to explain, to myself and to others, why not.
I won’t claim to be well-read in feminist theory, and certainly not able to give real answers to any gender related social or philosophical problems facing the world. Modern feminism is a complicated thing with a massive cannon canon standing behind it. The Wikipedia article even mentions post-structuralism in regards to gender and sexuality. Yikes. I’m not even gonna touch the history and historiography of feminism as philosophy. I’ll try to keep things fairly simple, as they remain, perhaps deludedly, in my understanding of things.
In the United States, women presently experience innumerable inequalities, both systemic and overt, despite major historical victories like women’s suffrage and the passage of the Equal Pay Act of 1963. The pay gap continues to exist, and men continue to dominate the legislature. Society often blames rape victims for the crimes committed against them. Many men automatically talk down to women, and others engage in the pathetic and embarrassing act of pretending they are the victims of sexism. Perhaps most terrifyingly, the GOP, members of which have shown themselves to be completely delusional, has been waging a very public war against women’s reproductive rights.
So, what am I doing about it? I appreciate the adage “be the change you want to see in the world”. In the end, certain changes will have to be made from the top, but they will be pushed through by a populace which demands they be made. I was brought up to support equality for the sexes, as were most of my friends. We vote accordingly, and hopefully treat our female friends and acquaintances as equals. However, I realized last year that we (and by extension, most of our demographic) continue to use the word “bitch” as a derogatory term. Certainly, the word is deeply engrained in our popular music and culture. I recognized an opportunity to reduce the unconscious sexism of which I am undoubtedly guilty. I’m discussing, specifically, two of “bitch”‘s its many meanings: in negative reference to women, and in negative reference to men.
In reference to women, it conjures the image of a backstabbing, cruel, vicious person. In reference to men, it is synonymous with “wimp”, or of course, “pussy”. Both refer to negative aspects of women as understood and imagined by our collective unconscious. Its use insults and degrades the idea of woman, and, implicitly, every woman. When used in an argument, it is fallacious and completely unfair: she is instantly asked to defend herself against every negative action perceived to have been committed by her sex. As Eleanor Roosevelt said, “Don’t ever call a woman a bitch, call her an asshole. You’ll still get your point across, and it’s not sexist.” [Note: I can’t find a reliable source for this quote at all.] Plenty of real arguments are available to be made against the likes of Sarah Palin and Michele Bachman. They are small and weak, but I will not lose my self-respect by calling them bitches.
I am aware of different meanings of the word, and the effort by third-wave feminists to rebrand it, or “take it back”. I respect and encourage this movement, but it is a campaign I cannot take part in. As a white person, I will neither attempt to mollify the n word. It is a transformation that will come from women, not men. As such, I will leave it alone. I am not in the position to change it.
So, to recap: why don’t I call people “bitch”? Because I can’t call one woman a bitch without similarly condemning every woman who has faced and fought discrimination. My mother, and every other woman in my family, and every girl I’ve loved, and Margaret Sanger, Angela Merkel, Indira Gandhi (looking at you, Nixon), Marie Curie, and on and on. I do not say the word bitch. I hope that, by writing this and making it public, I can encourage my male friends and family members to do the same. Maybe it will make only the smallest difference, but I will try anyways.
Listening to Bikini Kill, obviously.