General Question

tinyfaery's avatar

Is the word bitch inherently misogynistic or has the word successfully been reclaimed?

Asked by tinyfaery (40343points) July 10th, 2010

I have many links:

Bitch Manifesto.
Bitch Magazine.
Tina Fey using bitch on SNL.
A little debate on the subject.

I am of the mind that bitch no longer has any strength as a word used to put women in their place, so to speak. The word is used across genders and in many cases the word bitch isn’t used as a negative at all. Instead, many women call themselves bitches with pride.

I think this new attitude about reclaiming words (queer, fag) is definitely generational. Younger people are taking back the things our parents and grandparents rejected and we are reclaiming them as our own. However, I am willing to hear an alternative argument. Though, I doubt it will change my mind.

I put this in the general section to avoid name calling and trash talk. Just say your piece. Leave the offensiveness and defensiveness at the door, please.

Please read the articles if at all possible.

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53 Answers

SmashTheState's avatar

Your question is situational. For example, black culture is in the middle of taking back the word “nigger” – but I, as a pasty white European-descended male, certainly would not make free with the word unless I knew the company I was with very, very well and felt absolutely certain that everyone present would know it was not meant with any offence in mind. Even then, for the sake of courtesy and erring on the side of caution, I’d probably avoid it. Why risk causing offence to comrades and friends when it’s not really necessary?

tinyfaery's avatar

@SmashTheState So your answer is…?

poofandmook's avatar

I think that “bitch” doesn’t have nearly the harsh meaning it used to, but I think once a word like “bitch” or “fag” or “queer” or “nigger” has a meaning as harsh as it has, it can never fully be recovered. My example is like what @SmashTheState pointed out. If you’re gay you can refer to yourself as “fag” but if someone else says it, it’s generally going to offend you. If you’re a woman, you can refer to yourself as a “bitch” but if someone else calls you a bitch, you’re probably going to be at least irked. And don’t even get me started on the N word… people get killed over it even though the ones defending themselves often refer to themselves using it. And no, I don’t really feel like replacing the “er” with “a” really changes it.

So to finally, actually answer your question, I think it used to be misogynistic, and I think there will always be “old fashioned” folks (for lack of a better term) who will see it that way, but as a woman in the “prime” age to control mainstream society (there shouldn’t be a prime age, but let’s face it… in corporate America, there is), I think “bitch” is drastically diluted.

SmashTheState's avatar

@tinyfaery So my answer is that it’s situational. Like most things having to do with human relationships, there are no black and white answers. There are situations where the word might be appropriate, and be understood to be positive, but there are many more situations where it’s better not take the risk of offending someone when one need not do so.

Words themselves are not “inherently” anything. We freight them with meaning through our cultural and linguistic subtext. That’s why there can’t be any objective, straightforward answers to your question; language itself is neither objective nor straightforward.

tinyfaery's avatar

@SmashTheState So not inherently misogynistic. Okay.

Buttonstc's avatar

It’s one thing for young black people to reclaim the N word and change it’s spelling and pronounciation to “nigga”.

It is quite another thing to think that anyone with white skin can use the word without ugliness ensuing regardless of intent. If you are a white person, you just can’t walk up to your black friend with the greeting of “Hey, whassup, my nigga?”. It just won’t fly regardless of how much reclaiming is going on or how cordial the tone.

Regarding the word bitch. There is a huge huge difference between a woman choosing to appropriate this word for herself vs. someone presuming to hurl it at her to demean.

No amount of reclaiming is going to overcome ill intent.

Let me ask you, as a gay person, how you’d feel at some guys yelling out a car window as they pass by you and your gf strolling hand in hand through the gayborhood “Hey you effin queers. Go find a man like normal chicks etc. etc. ”.

Do they have a right to say that because you’ve reclaimed the word then they have a right to call you that?

I think the entire reclaiming idea has noble intentions sometimes but has yet to be tenable on a practical level where the rubber meets the road.

Some words are just too ugly to be able to be reclaimed. All the variants of the N word just need to disappear from common usage.

tinyfaery's avatar

@Buttonstc You are putting the word in a scenario where there is intentional malicious behavior. There is no doubt the word is being used to intimidate. However, I’ve heard “fuckin’ queers” in a facetious context as it wasn’t offensive, at all. And just using queer as in, “that girl looks queer”, is not at all offensive.
It has been 40 years since the Feminist Manifesto was published; 40 years to alter perception of the word. Did you read any of the links?

dpworkin's avatar

I think everything hinges upon intent. I’ll give you an example: I was discussing my fiancee’s difficulty in getting work in her field despite her advanced degree and her fine resume, with a friend of mine who is African American, and in the discussion I said something like, “you know, it’s blind person as Nigger.” His reaction was to nod in deep understanding, which was exactly what I expected.

My intent yesterday in deliberately using the word bitch during an interchange with a person whom I intensely dislike and mistrust, and who obviously reciprocates the feelings, was to express my revulsion. In that sense it was ugly, but it had no connotation of misogyny. That hadn’t even occurred to me.

However, this doesn’t mean I disagree with @Buttonstc: I can easily imagine a misogynistic use of the word “bitch”, and I think my use of the word “nigger” as above constituted special circumstances as it was specifically used to evoke understanding and empathy.

There are some hot words in the language, and one has to be very careful how one uses them.

This should not be taken to mean that I disagree with @tinyfaery, only that that I think it is still possible, though far less likely, that “bitch” can be used as a specific hostility against women. Most of the time I feel it is used without misogynistic overtones.

dynamicduo's avatar

The word bitch refers to a female dog. It was co-opted to be an insult to women. When I first became a farmer I found it a bit uncomfortable to say ‘bitch’, as well as using the term “Japs” to identify Japanese Bantam chickens, because as a politically correct city girl those terms can be offensive. But the more I live here, the more I realize that these animal husbandry terms have been around for hundreds of years, and in reality it was the co-opting of the word that made it into a “bad” word. So now I feel more comfortable calling a female dog a bitch, because that is what she is. It’s not necessarily the same as “reclaiming” the word directly, but it’s similar in that a broader sense of the word its meaning has changed in my mind.

In general, and outside of the technically true use of the word, I no longer feel that bitch is inherently misogynistic. “It’s Britney, bitch”, as Britney Spears had at the start of one of her songs. Or the expression “bitch, please”. To me, both of these words don’t refer to the person as a bitch in the “degradation of women” way, but in more of a dominant assertive way.

jrpowell's avatar

I’m a 32 year old liberal male and didn’t realize “bitch” is still considered gender specific. It is common for my male friends to call each other bitches. I guess I never though if it as a negative towards woman. I know calling someone a cunt will get me dick-punched but bitch never seemed to strike me as misogynistic.

CaptainHarley's avatar

“Inherence” is not a characteristic of any word. Language is flexible as to culture, region, class, education, etc. The meanings of words change over time as their usage changes.

And BTW, @tinyfaery , no generation has any particular claim on “reclaiming” verbage. It’s been going on since the race was in its infancy.

jaytkay's avatar

Like the “N” word, bitch can only be “reclaimed” within a small peer group. If a white guy like me told a black cashier at the grocery store, “hurry up, n*gg*r bitch!”, would people would chuckle at my use of the neutered “reclaimed” words?

cookieman's avatar

I don’t feel that the word you reference is inherently misogynistic. It has been used enough out of that context (self depreciating, humorously, etc.) to now be very dependent on circumstance and intent.

I do, however, agree with the sentiment that some words are so vile, that fully reclaiming them is impossible.

With that in mind, I simply choose not to use them at all. There is a wide variety of words and phrases that can express your point without resorting to a word that is basically a minefield.

I don’t fully see the purpose of “reclaiming” such words. Frankly, I think the “reclaiming” process (unintentionally) adds a layer of ambiguity to the word and further opens it up to misuse.

“What? I was kidding and, and…reclaiming the word when I said you were a “bitch”.

Buttonstc's avatar

@pd

Could you please clarify the phrase you used in discussing your blind gf.

Either there’s some typos or missing words or else I really need to get some sleep as that phrase is totally unfamiliar to me. It’s not making sense to me and I’ve re-read it a few times.

It might just be me :)

dpworkin's avatar

I said it was a case of “blind person as nigger” meaning that some sighted people have the same unreasoning prejudice against the blind that some white people have against blacks.

Buttonstc's avatar

@pd

Ok. I got it now. It really was my lack of sleep.

And I understand your use of it and your friend’s understanding reaction.

rebbel's avatar

In my opinion, every (swear) word that is said by someone to another person, has it’s own meaning: that of the person saying it and that of the person hearing it.
So the sayer can mean A with it and the hearer interpret hears it as B.
A-sayer can’t do anything to make B-hearer hear it A.
It therefore is all in the ear of the beholder (and the mouth intent of the sayer).
A thousand people can tell me that the word asshole isn’t meant to hurt, but if it hurts me, it hurts me.
But on a side note: i call (and are called by them) my Greek friends malaka (something like asshole) and we all know that (pronouncation and body language plays a role here) we mean it in a endearing way.

Facade's avatar

I don’t believe in reclaiming words. “Bitch” will always be derogatory, as will “nigga” and other similar words.

CaptainHarley's avatar

@Facade

Nothing is forever.

Buttonstc's avatar

@Tiny

Yes, I did read the links and what several of them spoke about was how deeply ingrained the negative associations with Bitch and the N word are in our culture.

This is why I don’t think that any amount of reclaiming can erase that, hence the examples I cited. No matter how comfortable a group of blacks or gays are using the words amongst themselves, the moment an outsider chooses to use it with ill intent, all the ugliness of the original context rises in full force.

It doesn’t matter how much reclaiming is done, the moment a hostile person hurls it as an epithet, all the hurt associated with it resurfaces.

Except that now the hostile dimwits have another justification for using it.

Well, if them rappers can say nigga so can I.

In the case of Bitch, I think it’s particularly unfortunate that in addition to groups of women trying to reclaim the word for altruistic reasons, there is the parallel usage of it in the rap community basically to make a buck. And regardless of all the bling and booze and trappings of wealth depicted in many of those videos, the treatment of their “bitches” is as demeaning as ever since they are little more than props for the male ego.

And if you’re interested in how young black women (not their Mothers or Grandmas) feel about it I can tell you they aren’t thrilled. At least the representative sample of young black women college students weren’t.

There were several in depth discussions on Oprah following the Imus situation which branched out from that to include discussions on the rap industry’s depictions and choice of language. These young ladies were certainly less than thrilled at being referred to as bitches (regardless of all the reclaiming nonsense).

Like someone mentioned previously, I think all the reclaiming stuff just muddies
the waters needlessly and serves to desensitize too many and makes it easier to fall off the tongue in a demeaning manner.

I think that when someone hurls the word Bitch or Queer in anger it will still be as hurtful to the recipients as if it had never been reclaimed.

BoBo1946's avatar

No, it’s not inherently misogynistic! Female dogs are called a bitch! As @SmashTheState said, it is situational!

Coloma's avatar

Intent is everything, as always.

Regardless..used in derogatory and disrespectful ways It is a highly offensive word to plenty of women.
I am not in the age bracket of pop slang gender splitting, using the term against men. In the interest of pure respect, ‘bitch’ is inherantly disrespectful and a far too easily slung insult especially at bright and competent females that threaten the male ego.

CaptainHarley's avatar

BTW… lest we lose track of it, the term “bastard” is applied exclusively to men. There is no “movement” of which I am aware to “reclaim” or “redefine” this word.

MacBean's avatar

@CaptainHarley I almost mentioned that in the other thread as another word that almost everyone I know now uses without regard to gender…

poofandmook's avatar

@CaptainHarley: Yes… like @MacBean said. Pretty much everyone I know uses both “bitch” and “bastard” for both genders.

CaptainHarley's avatar

I’ve never had a single person refer to me as “a bitch.” If they did, I would wonder if they had somehow acquired knowledge about me to which I did not have access. : )

Similarly, I have never heard a woman referred to as “a bastard.”

syzygy2600's avatar

Like any word, it depends on the intent of the person saying it. Let’s try and remember that censorship in any form is evil, even the type of censorship that is supported by some liberals.

jca's avatar

All i know is that if I go to work on Monday morning and greet my colleagues with “Hello bitch” i would promptly be written up and called in to a meeting to discuss my behavior. Unless i knew someone really well i would not call them bitch (i’m referring to women). Even so, i probably would not do it. if my friends called me “Hello, bitch” or “what’s up, bitch?” i would find it tiresome at best.

i, also have never heard a woman called a bastard.

I work in the social work field so i am exposed daily to all kinds of age groups, personalities, people from all walks of life (the poorest to those who live in huge mansions I’ll never afford). I don’t think any of them, man or woman, would take kindly to being called a bitch, even with the best intentions behind it.

anartist's avatar

It has been reclaimed and made multifaceted. It still mean “bitch” negatively for a woman and means “bitch” positively for a tough capable woman, and means “bitch” negatively and a little sissily when applied to a hetero man. and means “bitch” negatively the same as for a woman when applied to a “flaming” homosexual.

CaptainHarley's avatar

@anartist

Good answer! Just as I said earlier, the definition of words ( as well as the connotations ) tend to float over time, changing with the winds of culture.

One other thing to keep in mind is that words have only such power over us as we grant them. For example, calling me “cracker” or “peckerwood” only makes me chuckle; calling an African American “nigger” may actually make him virtually homicidal. I understand the historical background to those words, as do many African Americans, but the impact of the words on each of us is greatly different. Only continued use, and eventually the application of humor to the words will eventually remove the sting. Ask Whoopie Goldberg. She knows.

Facade's avatar

@anartist If you’re using bitch positively to describe a tough, capable woman, why not just call her tough and capable instead of a bitch?

cookieman's avatar

@Facade FTW!!!

exactly my sentiments

Dr_Lawrence's avatar

As long as men feel it is their right to use the word to vilify, degrade and demean women, regardless of their reasons, the term is still misogynistic. I admire attempts to rehabilitate the word but but some words may require much more time to be purged of their traditional power.

rooeytoo's avatar

I have often been called a bitch but it was never meant in a complimentary fashion especially when it was used by males.

@Facade – I would give you 27 GA’s for that answer. A tough and capable man is a successful individual, a tough and capable woman is a bitch.

So to me personally, despite the fact that the literal definition is female dog, it has not been reclaimed.

MacBean's avatar

I always thought tough and capable men were douchebags. Hm.

dpworkin's avatar

I don’t like being around men like that. So competitive. I like me some bitches. Much better companions.

CaptainHarley's avatar

“If, in the process of doing your job, you piss off numbers of people, you’re not doing your job.” – The Captain

Nullo's avatar

You can’t “reclaim” it unless you’re encouraging its correct usage. GWR, for its part, still uses the term to refer to female dogs. Some people manage to not use it at all.
I think that you’ll make more progress by teaching people to be polite than you will with “reclaiming” anything.

poofandmook's avatar

@CaptainHarley: Oh, that depends entirely on your job. If your job is, say, a debt collector… you’re probably doing your job very well ;)

anartist's avatar

@Facade and @cprevite sometimes the strong woman claims the title herself.
Feminist attorney Jo Freeman (Joreen) authored the “Bitch manifesto” in 1968, found here on a Duke student’s website.

cookieman's avatar

@anartist: That’s fantastic, but it still doesn’t control the way someone else uses the word or what their (not so obvious) intent is in saying it.

Like I said, minefield.

Facade's avatar

@anartist That doesn’t make it right.

anartist's avatar

@Facade and @cprevite chacun à son goût

Facade's avatar

@anartist Sure, why not

dpworkin's avatar

@anartist All that care in adding the diacritics, and you left off the cedilla.

cookieman's avatar

@anartist: This is true, but hardly makes for a lively discussion.

anartist's avatar

@dpworkin I was lazy and grabbed it off the web rather than going through that ‘add symbols’ BS

rooeytoo's avatar

I personally enjoy the company of tough capable women or men, neither frighten me or make me feel so insecure I have to resort to name calling.

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