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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.