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Why We Dislike the Idea of Being Girly

By: Sindura Vuppu

I watch my thirteen year-old cousin grow into an incredible young woman. She is mature, opinionated, and kind-hearted, with morals so great that I learn something from her everyday. Not long after, my proud smile falters. “I’m not like the other girls,” she says, “No offense, but the girls I know are…too girly.” I’m immediately reminded of my thirteen year-old self. 

I called myself a feminist at a very young age, and held so many strong opinions about issues like gender discrimination and misogyny. What I failed to recognize was my own hypocrisy. Books and movies made me believe that being a “regular” girl was scornful. I had to be different, so I hid my Barbie dolls and started watching Power Rangers because I believed that it was cool and tomboyish. I wore makeup in secret as if makeup were a ridiculous thing to do. I said I disliked “typical” girls who wore pink and talked about boys all day. Instead, I idealized the “girl next door,” who, as One Direction once put it, doesn’t know she’s beautiful and needs help recognizing her beauty. She reads books instead of partying, pays no attention to boys, has high morale, and is intelligent unlike the other girls.  

Pop culture played an important role in defining idealistic standards and contrasting archetypal girls to me. In Taylor Swift’s song “You Belong With Me,” Swift sings, “She wears high heels, I wear sneakers, she’s cheer captain, and I’m on the bleachers,” which I believed meant that all girls fit into two binary categories; they were either sweet and innocent or mean and callous, depending on how “feminine” they are.  This depiction is a reinforcement of the famous Madonna-wh*re complex that was first identified by Sigmund Freud. In psychoanalytic literature, this concept explains that men view women as either “tainted” and “impure,” or as saintly “Madonnas” who are worthy of love and respect. To live up to this bizarre dichotomy, literature and cinema have often brought up contrasting characters to glorify the Madonnas. Now known as the “girl next door” trope, these “good girl” characters have been idealized for generations, tracing back to Lizzy from Jane Austen’s famous love story Pride and Prejudice (1813). Lizzy is presented as a contrasting alternative to her glamorous rival Miss Bingley who competes with her over their love interest, Darcy.  Lizzy is tomboyish, intelligent, and rugged in her ways, while Miss Bingley is more stereotypically feminine. Similar to Regina George’s character in Mean Girls (2004), Miss Bingley is portrayed as “the bitch” who is pretentious, manipulative, and sabotaging. Because she differs from Miss Bingley in that she does not publicly vie for Darcy’s attention, Lizzy’s character is glorified for being different from other young women of her time. Her individuality is focused upon in a more positive light, while Miss Bingley is degraded as the “typical” girl, as if it was inferior to be one; she is dismissed and ignored by Darcy for not being his “Madonna.” The girl next door trope in such stories mainly serves as the good alternative for the male protagonist to choose. Her individuality bears no significance if it does not align with what our patriarchal society expects from a respectable woman. Today, these Madonnas have a different role to play. Often paired with “bad boys” with a traumatic past, these “good girls” heal and transform them into better men. The character of Jamie from A Walk to Remember (2002), and Tessa from the popular fan-fiction inspired movie After (2019), serve as perfect examples of these angelic life-changers. These characters exist solely to contribute to the character development of the male protagonist. 

Perhaps one of the most popular female archetypes is the Manic Pixie Dream Girl, first coined by film critic Nathan Robin to explain the character of Kirsten Dunst from Elizabethtown (2005). Unlike the soft-spoken and composed girl next door, the manic pixie dream girl is impulsive and spontaneous. As described by Robin, the manic pixie dream girl “exists solely in the fevered imaginations of sensitive writer-directors to teach broodingly soulful young men to embrace life and its infinite mysteries and adventures.” The manic pixie dream girl approaches the depressed and gloomy man in order to “help” him recover and open up to life’s infinite possibilities. This highly stereotypical depiction of  a free-spirited and quirky girl has been celebrated in several movies, including Breakfast at Tiffany’s (1961) and 500 Days of Summer (2009). Once again, this “dream girl” is associated with a man and is assumed to serve as his life-changer. But this type of girl is being challenged more recently; the character of Clementine from Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind (2004) calls out the ridiculous assumptions about her character: “I’m not a concept. Too many guys think I’m a concept or I complete them or I’m going to ‘make them alive’…but I’m just a f*cked up girl who’s looking for my own peace of mind. Don’t assign me yours.” The coining of fearless and self-reliant girls like Clementine as “manic” is sexist by itself, and to make it worse, we get too busy focusing on her role in the man’s life and often ignore what she means to herself.  The breakdown of female characters into rigid categories, and the glorification of some of these as “ideal” stems from generations of misogyny. Both young girls and grown women are made to believe that the stereotypes associated with their gender are somewhat contemptuous. By portraying some of these categories in a negative light, literature and cinema have normalized the attitude of these characters as derisive. While we laugh at Mean Girls’ Karen Smith for being ditzy and gullible, we don’t recognize the degradation of what is considered the “girly” girl trope. Society has defined the characteristics and roles of men and women and has asked women to fit the “feminine” standard. The portrayal of the same femininity as manipulative and toxic, or as shallow and dim-witted, influences young girls to dislike the idea of being girly or feminine. This double-standard often leads to girls being torn between following the stereotype and being different at the same time. As a result, they start an unhealthy competition to be respected. Eventually, each girl’s originality is compromised as she chases a different kind of “originality”. On the other hand, young boys lose their perception of girls as they are, and instead place them into discrete and dichotomous categories. A set of unrealistic expectations follow, often ending up in disappointment. Girls come in all shapes, sizes, and personalities. Every person’s priorities and interests differ and sets them apart in their own unique way. I like to think of these personality types as a bunch of Venn diagrams; some traits overlap with a couple of others’ and create a unique product. Glorifying some of these and degrading the others only damages the already fragile perception of women in society.

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The History of the Word “Bitch” and Its Inherent Subordinating Nature

By: Cecilia Nguyen

I’ve been called a “bitch” multiple times. At times, I would even embrace it– I mean, why should I feel belittled for taking lead in a group project or for standing my ground? However, after listening to Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez’s speech on the House floor in response to Rep. Ted Yoho calling her a “f****** b****,” all I felt was anger. “Bitch” is an incredibly derogatory slur, but like many other women, AOC was not phased or surprised by the insult. That is not okay. 

Where does the word “bitch” come from? It originally referred to a female dog, but as early as the 15th century, it became a term to degrade and insult women. Back then, it carried a promiscuous connotation, similar to phrases like “slut” and “whore” today. The insult also was used to associate divine and powerful women (Artemis and Diana) with sexually depraved beasts, in which their followers were described by the phrase “son of a bitch.” 

It wasn’t until the early 1900s that “bitch” was used as a word for men to describe bothersome and annoying women. In the 70s, its usage rose in popularity again, specifically in the music industry. Resulting from the second-wave feminism movement, for the first time, women started to embrace the word as a term of empowerment (check out the “The Bitch Manifesto” by Jo Freeman).

Nonetheless, “bitch” still embodied misogyny and hate throughout the 80s and mid 90s, and not many women were eager to take pride in being one. It wasn’t until the late 90s and early 2000s that women started to reclaim “bitch” to describe a powerful, independent and ambitious woman that voiced her opinions and made decisions for herself, in part due to public figures like Madonna and Britney Spears.

Today, “bitch” comes in many forms and variations; it’s everywhere. In pop culture, the word is used in song lyrics, TikTok trends, and TV shows. In politics, it’s used to belittle women in positions of power. For some women, it’s a term to greet their closest friends. For others, it’s a harmless and recurrent slang term. Despite what people may think, however, its subordinate nature has not changed.

In many, if not all, instances, “bitch” creates an imbalanced power dynamic and enforces society’s preference of what is deemed as “masculine.” For example, by calling an inanimate object or intangible idea a “bitch,” such as “That exam was a bitch” or “Life’s a bitch,” “bitch” is seen as something that needs to be controlled or dominated. Another example is when “bitch” is used with a possessive adjective, such as “my bitch,” “his bitch” or “her bitch.” In this case, “bitch” is used as a way to describe someone who might be submissive or vulnerable, making “feminine” traits inferior. Most notably, “bitch” is often used to degrade men of their masculinity and to insult women who are seen as emasculating which again, enforces the patriarchy.

Let’s talk about the reclamation of “bitch.” Many women, including myself, have now used “bitch” among each other in a friendly and positive way, under the intent and belief that it empowers us. But, just as much as we use it to uplift the women around us, we (and men) also use it to demean women.

“Bitch” holds no genuine power, and its misogynistic origin is still present in its usage today. When used by women and sometimes men, it usually refers to another woman that is manipulative, back-stabbing or stuck-up. In other instances, men use the word to describe a woman who is misbehaving and subject to violence. Men aren’t afraid to use “bitch,” and rarely are they ever called out for using it. The frequent usage normalizes “bitch” and in turn, normalizes patriarchal and sexist language.

If “bitch” doesn’t challenge the patriarchy and sexism in our society, how can we say we are reclaiming the word? If we want to reclaim “bitch,” we need to stop using it to insult other women and hold men accountable for using it. Otherwise, this false sense of empowerment only sets us up to continue living in a society where it is okay to degrade women. 

Now, I’m not saying you have to completely stop using “bitch;” for me, it’s been a part of my everyday language. I’ve used it to greet people, uplift women, express my anger, and describe my frustration, but maybe its normalization and common usage, in addition to its multiple meanings, is why this isn’t spoken about enough. Words hold immense power, and it’s important to acknowledge and reflect on the language we use.

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The “B” Word: Why You Shouldn’t Bark Bitch

By: Natalie Lopez

Bitch. The word that began from the reference to a female dog has evolved. Now, it serves as a high and vulgar insult directed towards women. The use of the word held the intention that comparing one to a dog would create a ridicule of a person. A female dog made that matter more de-masculating and thus humiliating in its original connotation.

In modern conversations, bitch has steered from comparison to a dog and has created its own negative connotation. This determined identity of a “bitch” is what others refer to when attempting to demean the power and ability of a woman through intimidation. The improper use of the word has created identity traits that misogynists use to emasculate women’s accomplishments. For example, in the occurrence that a woman reaches a position of leadership and acts on it, they label them a bitch to demean and belittle their success. While society would look up to a man in the same position, they refer to a woman as a bitch.

The most recent victim called a bitch for doing the same exact job a man is doing is the Democrat Representative from New York, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez. When Republican Representative from Florida, Ted Yoho, accosted Representative Ocasio-Cortez on the steps of the capitol, it was not a new experience for her. She recalls in her address to Yoho’s actions that she had experienced men harass her in previous positions in restaurants, bars and in general life as a woman in a busy city. Men who treat women to this language are too often forgiven and exonerated from any repercussions for far too long. 

In her speech, Representative Ocasio-Cortez recognizes this and blames the commonality of it on the current culture that permits this behavior . “It is cultural,” she stated, “It is a culture of a lack of impunity, of acceptance of violence and violent language against women, an entire structure of power that supports that.” As long as other men do not hold accountability within their social groups, and as long as women stay silent and remiss about these verbal accostings, we are tackling another barrier that exists to divide gender equality. 

Yoho, in his response to Representative Ocasio-Cortez’s speech, accounted his respect towards women stemming from the fact that he was a father and husband who needed to be aware of the language choices he made. Yoho never acknowledged how degrading his remark had been or how sexist he had acted towards a young, talented Latinx politician in a very sexist arena. Instead Yoho chose to announce that he would, “conduct [him]self from a place of passion,” a passion that he could not apologize for. Upon listening to Representative Ocasio-Cortez’s impassioned speech, Yoho must have decided that he did hold respect for women because he lived with them, and that’s another issue.

Men like Yoho, who choose to hide behind the women they love, claim they are not sexist because they respect the women in their lives. This didn’t translate very well for Yoho. It’s possible that he is not using the same language he used towards Representative Ocasio-Cortez at home, but so long as he calls someone a bitch, he is not supporting the women in his life from men, like him, who negate women’s fair treatment. 

What we shouldn’t misunderstand is that not all use of the word is wrong. Women have been reclaiming the word in an attempt to take back a harassing term and use it to empower themselves. Where women choose to call themselves a bitch, it’s not exactly how Yoho chose to address Representative Ocasio-Cortez. Women have been reclaiming the word through a new assigned definition that calls a strong woman, one who is owning her power and ability, a boss bitch. Women and people who choose to should hold the ability to reform the misuse of the word bitch, but not continue to use it as a form of bullying and belittling. The men who bark bitch are the reason women are reclaiming this negative derogation in the first place, bitch is a word that should never have been transformed to fight women.

All cuss words stem from derogatory terms directed to minority groups. Bitch in particular holds a special place among these words because it is so commonly overused without much insight to the abasement it pushes. Because it’s not just being called a Bitch that should anger you, it’s the fact that women are being degraded and disrespected so publicly and commonly while society has chosen to ignore it.