Leaving “bitch” behind

How many women’s relationship with the word “bitch” is a complicated one? I’d love to have a show of hands.

The complexity of my relationship starts in adolescence, “Hey, bitches!” just as easily spilling out of my lips as, “Hey, girl!” Hugs, makeup, loud music, illicit parties, shoes to match the car (really). At times vapidly uttered, seemingly meaningless.

Did it start as a friendly and daring word between friends or as spat out of boys’ lips? “Don’t be such a bitch.”

These are woven together into invisible protective armor, the armor of bitches. Bitches who have been demoralized, who use sex as a weapon, who have decided that of all the things that they have left to give, caring or fucks are no longer in that inventory. Indeed, she has no more fucks to give.

“Bitch” is about power. When I called my girlfriends my bitches we acknowledged the power in each other. When men called us bitches they expressed anger at that power. When I used and discarded people it was always about power and I felt comfortable in that power and identified, however thoughtlessly, with it and with the word I felt described me.

As good as the armor felt, and it did feel good, the outcome of choosing not to care for or about others’ feelings sucks. It sucks a lot at the end of the day. Or, let’s be honest, at the end of those years. The outcome of treating people badly, even if they allowed it, results in regret and preordained loss. That’s what folks in the parenting expert camp would call “natural consequences.”

It makes a lot of sense that in the context of an unsafe world that doesn’t give a fuck about them, girls would respond by being unsafe themselves and, in turn, declaring that they too don’t give a fuck. Recklessly hurting others because you can feels like power. And, it is. It’s a shitty, horrible power but it is power nonetheless.

The problem herein is that it’s a power born out of defensiveness. Perhaps it’s a necessary power in a world where women have been cast in the role of victims. If you’re predestined to be a victim, it seems you might have to have some defenses and if “bitch” were just a shield, if it just allowed girls to feel powerful in an otherwise hostile culture, we could continue to be bitches, my lady-friends and I. However, “bitch” continues to perpetuate a hostile culture, a culture where girls eat victimhood to become ferocious survivors, but those survivors are still shaped by ever-present danger. You are what you eat is a cliche that holds true.

When I started thinking about this I thought maybe (because I’m feeling old in my mid-thirties) this is no longer culturally relevant. In the above featured picture, I am a disinterested 23 year old. Maybe this is a remnant of the 1990s. Maybe girls have given up being “bitches”. Surely in the last decade we’ve moved the needle. Then I turn on the TV and my progress fantasy is quickly deflated.

Where do we go from here? Could it be that we start with putting new energy into creating safety and acknowledging girls’ power? Can we give girls the space to be true to them selves? Do we need to keep raising hell for progress? I am encouraged by the many calls for action and calling out in current events, but we continue to have a long way to go. Whatever is needed, I hope that you will commit with me to make changes so that our daughters will stand confident, so that bitch is not a necessary weapon.

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