But if TIME is going to insist on tossing perfectly good words from our lexicon, I have a better word for their suggested list of trite and irritating words to ban in 2015. Rather than “feminist,” which was added, TIME claimed, in a misguided attempt to discuss the word’s recent popularity among celebrities, how about banishing a more insidious and odious word like “bitch.” Eliminating a term as ubiquitous and misogynist as this, I submit, would be a cause more worthy of a magazine of TIME’s esteem and import.
While bitch has long enjoyed popularity as a means of belittling, denigrating and dismissing women, I would’ve hoped to have found it on a list of words for rebuke long before a term promoting equality and fundamental human rights. The fact that “bitch” has not only managed to cling fiercely like dog shit to a shoe heel, undiminished, to the common vocabulary of modern day, but that it also enjoys wild and unabated acceptance now more than ever, stands as evidence that society is still very much in need of the “f” word TIME suggested eradicating.
I understand TIME was trying to open up a “debate” in light of the recent bandying about of the term, and we all just missed the nuance, but given the liberal, casual and largely accepted use of such a demeaning and hateful word as bitch, I find the magazine’s choice not only unfortunate but a bit ironic.
I’ve always had a singular distaste for this particular “b” word ever since I was a young feminist in high school (although I imagine my feminist roots go back even further – to birth). Detested, I suppose, would be a more accurate description really. Often I argued with my peers, male and female alike, about their fondness for it.
Optimistically, or perhaps naively, I requested they respect my views and refrain from using the word in my presence. Most times it just provided them with fuel to mock someone they considered to be a little crazy, way too up-tight and a bit ridiculous. Now that I’m more than twenty years removed from the rebellious bravado and youthful ignorance of adolescence and over half a century past the Women’s Liberation Movement of the 1960s, I’d expected to be done with this debate.
Instead, I find the word bitch to be almost omnipresent, thrown around nearly as casually as the word “woman” itself, the two becoming practically interchangeable. It’s the preferred profanity in all forms of media, boldly shouted from internet headlines, blasted all over popular music and even broadcast on mainstream, prime-time network television. It seems to be the single obscenity approved for television audiences by the agency charged with regulating on-air indecency, indicating its use is neither indecent nor objectionable. So much so that one recent network show, since cancelled, even placed the word, albeit without all the letters, in its title: “Don’t Trust the B in Apartment 23.”
But you needn’t have all the letters to be unable to speak a T.V. show title within earshot of your kids or even within earshot of anyone you’d like not to offend. And you don’t need all the letters to know what it means. The message, when plastered all over billboards and the side of buses or advertised incessantly on the radio, is clear. Women need not be given respect.
Of course, that may be the least of our problems when one considers the generous injection of the word in popular music. My first memory of its widespread acceptance was in the ’90s with the Grammy-nominated, lead single, “Bitch,” by Meredith Brooks. It only went downhill from there. 2004 saw one of the world’s best-selling artists of all time, and husband to “feminist” Beyonce, Jay-Z, put out the hit, “99 Problems,” defiantly declaring, “but a bitch ain’t one.” This lyric was so alluring to him that he just had to “borrow” it from the original vile and misogynistic song of the same name by rapper Ice-T (who had real problems and clearly didn’t have time for insignificant nuisances like stupid bitches).
But that was all the way back in 2004. Maybe things are improving as the 21st century marches forward toward progress?
The much buzzed-about release of 2011’s Watch the Throne album by the attention-seeking, fame-loving, mega-celebrity musical duo, Jay-Z and Kanye West, though, would suggest otherwise. In this match made in music executive heaven, Jay-Z and West pay touching tributes to their respective loves with the song, “That’s My Bitch.” The proudly sexist album by two of the biggest names in the music industry earned the second highest debut sales for the week released that year, selling well over half a million copies in the first few days. Kanye swiftly followed up that tender ballad with another on a solo album, lovingly dedicating the song, “Perfect Bitch,” to his sweetheart, Kim Kardashian.
But the “b” word’s appeal extends far beyond men or rap music or ignorant people. Currently, we have the fun, snappy, ’50s-inspired, Billboard-topping song and bootylicious anthem for big-bottomed girls everywhere, “All About That Bass,” by Meghan Trainor. She’s “bringing booty back” because as her mama told her “boys like a little more booty to hold at night,” which by all means is good motherly advice, but then for some reason Trainor takes it a step further, calling women less well endowed in the trunk “skinny bitches.” And, I’m not really sure why. I suppose they’re bitches because they’re skinny?
Then, there was the 2013 dance hit and Billboard song of the summer, “Blurred Lines,” as I doubt anyone could forget. To be fair in the edited version of the catchy, upbeat, pro-rape song continuously played on airwaves everywhere, Robin Thicke graciously replaced the word “bitch” with “ho” so I guess I shouldn’t complain.
Perhaps even worse than the lively rape ditty, though, is the most recent scourge to beset the female sex, the half-human half-cartoon character, Nicki Minaj. The completely vulgar, degrading and sexist lyrics of her remake of “Anaconda” this summer along with the accompanying soft-core porn music video might make her the most anti-woman of all, although at this point it’s a tough call, and that mess would require a whole other post to dissect.
But that’s also part of my point. Even accomplished (and I use that term loosely), powerful women of means who might claim to be feminists themselves, or could use their influence to exalt and empower women, use a term that is specifically – solely – aimed at insulting and diminishing them. And I have to ask, why?
Why is it that “bitch” is one of the only obscenities for which use is widely accepted – approved even? Why is it perfectly fine to deem a person vicious and loathsome simply by virtue of her sex? Because that is what the word means. The insult stems directly from our femaleness. You are these things because you are a woman. Ruthless cruelty is innately tied with our sex. There is no equivalent insult for men. Men can’t be bitches, or if they are so called, the egregious offense stems from being equated with a woman. Because there’s nothing worse than that.
It seems the more women have made progress, the more engrained and acceptable “bitch” has become in our vocabulary. And I have a suspicion the two aren’t unrelated.
Just like the “n”-word, the “b”-word cannot be appropriated. It cannot be adopted by women and used as a term of empowerment because it does not come from a place of power. It is anything but, which is why it would have made a nice addition to TIME’s list. Then maybe we can consider getting rid of some other words in the English language because there’s nothing I’d like more than to live in a world that no longer needs the word “feminist.”
Stacey Gill is an award-winning journalist and the mastermind behind the humor blog, One Funny Motha. Her work has appeared on such sites as The Huffington Post, Mamalode, The Good Men Project, BlogHer and Mom365. In 2014 she was named one of the Top 10 Funny Parent Bloggers of the Year by VoiceBoks. Find her on Facebook and Twitter.