Strong Women Are Not (Necessarily) B****es

Now shall you deal with me, O Prince, and all the powers of Hell! ~Maleficent, “Sleeping Beauty”

“What’s that? Who said I was just PMSing?”

Walk into any bookstore today, and you’re sure to run into a few books with the ubiquitous “b-word” in the title (and by this, I don’t mean “basketball” or “bunny rabbit.”) I’m talking, of course, about the word “bitch.” Just in the past few years the publishing industry has released a spate of Bitch bestsellers, including Skinny Bitch    and Why Men Love Bitches in self-help, and of course the guilty pleasures Bitch: A New Beginning and Poor Little Bitch Girl in fiction. I can’t say I like this trend (more on that below), but the genie is clearly out of the bottle here. The b-word is here to stay, and it’s not just the province of late-night TV and Showtime dramas anymore. Walk into any Walgreens and you, and your 8-year-old daughter, can grab a copy of the latest Cosmo with the B-word splashed right across the cover.

I know some people think it’s “just a word.” In fact, it’s a slang word that came from a perfectly pedestrian term for a female canine. But if we’re going to use those same standards of logic…is it then OK to use racial slurs? Crude nicknames for the mentally challenged? How about people from other cultures? They’re just words, after all. They surely won’t care.

My main objection to the increasingly coarse standards of culture is the desensitization process. If kids see this kind of thing plastered across magazines and TV shows their parents watch, they will think it is acceptable too. If you don’t believe me, how about the firestorm surrounding the latest episode of Modern Family, in which a little girl drops an F-bomb? The preteen girls who wear t-shirts with rude and salacious slogans? I could go on forever.

Boadicea: strong woman and star of "Avatar 2"

But let me get back to that problematic b-word before I stray too much off topic here. The word itself as a perjorative is not new (Shakespeare and Chaucer used it), but it doesn’t make it acceptable. One might say that “bastard” is just as demeaning. You know what I say to that? It’s just as unacceptable. I speak as an honest bastard myself; having been born out of wedlock, I would know. I know some women think it’s actually a kind of anti-heroic term, just like poker or golf buddies might use “you old bastard” affectionately. Call me antiquated and Victorian if you must, but I don’t like it. I don’t like the cheapening of our culture and the dragging into the gutter of our TV shows, movies, and media in general.

In actuality, I consider myself a feminist….if I define feminism as women having the same reasonable opportunities as men and the same pay for the same work. I’d vote for the right female presidential candidate, follow a capable female general into battle, watch women’s sports as avidly as men’s. And, as much a political junkie as I am, I know how the b-word is slung around to drag down women seeking political office on either side of the aisle. Take Hillary Clinton during the 2008 campaign or Michelle Bachmann  in December 2011. I don’t care whether you’re a Democrat or a Republican…this kind of smear tactic is wrong. And it’s a cancer that needs to be cut out.

We try to tell our daughters, granddaughters, nieces, and little sisters that they can be whatever they want in America. I’d like to think this is true. A girl can become a U.S. Senator or a particle physicist or an Olympic athlete. She can also choose a more traditional path like being a teacher, nurse or stay-at-home mom. That’s the beauty of true feminism. She isn’t shoehorned into a particular role.

But she will be hindered by the b-word, especially if she seeks a place within a male-dominated sphere. That is just the way of things. There is no male perjorative equivalent to the b-word because, well, men don’t have the same obstacles women do. So men and women, afraid of strong women, toss around the b-word like it is just like every other word. Soon it becomes tolerated, then accepted, then embraced. This has to stop.

We, as a society, need to unite and speak as one voice that certain words, not just the b-word, are unacceptable in polite conversation or on magazine covers our kids might see. Let them have their space (HBO and Showtime and FX) and us, along with our families, have ours. Don’t force it on us. If you see a strong woman, and you feel threatened, at least have the courage to address her as a human being. Not a slang term for a female dog or a part of the female anatomy. Then, we might just respect you as a fellow human being and not a d*** or a son of a b****.

My late grandfather said it best. We shouldn’t use too much profanity because, like garlic, it just makes our mouth stink after a while. And he was a self-described feminist. God bless him!

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~ by Howlin' Mad Heather on January 20, 2012.

22 Responses to “Strong Women Are Not (Necessarily) B****es”

  1. God bless your granddad! well said!

  2. I must say that I agree with you on this subject. Great post!

  3. I don’t like it either. Women seem to now be bitches or skanks and ho’s. What’s up with that and why are young women allowing that to happen?

  4. As a proud feminist, I appreciate this entry very much! If only the young women of today who flip the b-word around so openly today could respect what you’re saying. My 19-year old niece says, “It doesn’t mean the same thing to us as it did to you.” I call bullshit. It’s derogatory and should not be embraced in some ostensible attempt to take away its power.
    It even still bothers me a little bit to read “Bitch” magazine because of my feelings, regardless of the magazine’s intent. Using the word so flippantly makes it acceptable, and I don’t want my young son growing up to think that’s okay.
    Thanks for being brave enough to profess it to the world!

    • Thanks, Katy. I agree with you on bitch magazine. I like the content but not necessarily the title. The problem is not necessarily the word itself, but the fact that it’s become so commonplace. (I think a good comparison to this might be the use of the n-word in hip-hop culture.) Somebody has to draw a line somewhere. Glad you liked the post. 🙂

    • That reminds me of the way young black men began calling themselves the N-word. But ya know what? They don’t let people who aren’t African-American call them that. Women should watch and learn.

  5. I agree. We need to raise our young ladies with more self respect.

  6. I’m a woman from a matriarchal family. I grew up knowing how to stand up for myself without emasculating a man (a difficult trick to pull off sometimes). I agree, coarse culture does no good for anyone. There is a time to limit things, to speak carefully chosen words and omit others that never have a place in polite conversation, and to tell children tolerance (in some things) is never, ever okay. We have too many words in our language to waste time with the crappy ones….like b*****.

    • Thanks, Jamie. I agree that being a strong woman can be like walking a tightrope sometimes. I think that’s the whole point of words like b****; that some people like to think they mean nothing, when in fact they defame entire groups. I can’t say I never use profanity myself, but it has no real place in civilized conversation.

  7. I would love to jump on this bandwagon and tell you agree. And, for the most part, I do. Words have power. Words are important. And I absolutely detest seeing inapprppriate words (like the ones you mentioned) blazoned across magazines and store fronts where my small child will eagerly ask me “what does that spell?”

    But I think that, to a point, Katy Brandes’s niece has a point. The word may have the same meaning, but the connotations have changed over the last 50, 30, even 5 years. Teenagers today aren’t offended by it. So, should we jump up and down and tell them they damn well better be! Or should we accept that the english language is a dynamic, ever-changing, living thing with swells and ebbs and flows?

    I like to sing songs to my son, and a couple of years ago (when he was 2) I decided to teach him the ever-popular eenie, meenie, miney, mo. It went something like this:

    “Eenie, meenie, miney, mo. Catch a — oh. Um.”

    And that’s where I had to stop. Thirty years ago when I was a kid, the N word was perfectly acceptable (though I had no idea what it meant). Now, I can’t even bring myself to say it out loud, because it is Bad (with a capital B). I’m not saying it was ever “good”, but it was accepted back then — certainly accepted enough that children were taught it as part of silly song at school.**

    The feelings around words change.

    And on a side note, my sister was always very proud that she would never use a curse word. But if you ever heard her exclaim the word “Goodness!” in a fit of rage, you wouldn’t know it. The vitriol she could inject into that word made it quite clear that no child should ever hear it said.

    ** If you’re not aware, these days the rhyme is: Catch a tiger by the toe.

    • Jo, that’s so funny, since my granddad used to use that same racist rhyme when I was little (must be a generational thing.) I can definitely see your point. Words like b**** aren’t going away, and certainly English is a living, breating, constantly changing language. I’m not really personally affronted by words like that, but I also try to avoid using them as much as possible. I really appreciate you taking the time to comment, as clearly this is a hot-button issue for lots of people.

  8. I both deplore the degeneration of our beautiful language into a bunch of increasingly weakened swear words which because of their weakening tend to generate a perceived need for stronger ones and also accept that language does change, often against the will of those of us who have used it longest. (Apologies for that somewhat convoluted sentence, I can’t guarantee it won’t happen again :))

    With regards the feminism issue, I tend to use bitch or bitchy to describe a person or behaviour which was mean, whether the perpetrator was female or male. Men can be bitchy too and with the lack of a male gendered or neuter word to describe them, I’ll co-opt bitch, which works for me 🙂 Or call such behaviour catty and say mee-ow! Although being a cat fan, I don’t see cats this way at all. Catty behaviour according to my kitty is to be purry and cuddly… And I’m sure most female dogs are gentle and pleasant.

    Really, we need a new word which insults people in a matter which includes only the negative behaviour we are criticising and excludes any reference to gender or nice friendly animals! Such as git. Though I’m not sure what the derivation of that one is… One has to be so careful these days. Now where did I put my etymological dictionary?

    • No worries on the convoluted sentence; I gotcha. 😉

      One thing I hate about our society is the increased need for “shock value.” In some ways it reminds me precisely of the increased need for decadence and blood in ancient cultures like Rome. I don’t really like it but that’s the way it is.

      Personally I’d vote for ‘git’ as an all-purpose, animal-friendly, gender-neutral term of derogatory meaning, although ‘berk’ and ‘idiot’ seem to work just as well. Thanks for the feedback; I appreciate it as always 😀

      • Ah, but if you know the derivations of the words, those are not so innocent. Berk for example is a shortening of Berkshire hunt, which is rhyming slang. I hope I don’t need to suggest what the rhyme is… So I can’t use that one! And I’m pretty sure idiot has been used as a technical medical term for a person with a certain kind of mental health problem, so also not really PC…

        Which is why I’d really rather know where git comes from before being comfortable using it!

      • I had absolutely no idea on the origins of “berk,” and probably neither did the producers of “How To Train Your Dragon.” Perhaps I should do a future post on the search for an acceptable catchall phrase for dumbassery?

      • That would be a great post! 😀

  9. […] was once taboo is common place. Heather from Prawn and Quartered touches on this issue in her post Strong Women Are Not (Necessarily) B*tches. My main objection to the increasingly coarse standards of culture is the desensitization process. […]

  10. I may feel differently when I have kids to watch out for (I’ve certainly noticed that it caused a sea-change in my friends who are starting families) but I find that words lose power when used often. For example, you’ll know racism is dead when a white guy can yell the n-word into a crowded room full of black people and no one cares.

    Simply through its exposure, bitch has become a word with no real meaning.

    Works for phrases too. A couple summers ago, I decided to find out how many times I would have to tack “. . .that’s what she said.” onto my friends’ sentences before they all stopped using it for good. Barely hit five hundred, and most of them still wince when they hear it.

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