Thursday, November 10, 2005

Bitch, Interrupted

CB will get a kick out of this story. Move on if you are easily offended. I sent a link to something on this blog, to a friend. The person sent an email asking why women are so infatuated with the word bitch when we have come so far in our liberation. She claimed that 'bitch' is a derogatory word, and using it only perpetuates verbal violence against women.

Whoa. Hold on. A word? True, words can hurt. But words can be transformed or "reappropriated", reclaimed so as to reduce their injurious tone to one of positive affirmation. It got me thinking about language and its power. Where does the power of a word lie? In its history, its context? The manner by which we utter it? Does liberation involve shedding the trappings of such nonsense, refusing to embrace terms defined by others? What is liberating about accepting a static view of language, viewing culture as repetitve fixed behaviors that endure throughout history? I think viewing the word differently over time is reflective of a liberated posture. What do you think?

Many feel a "bitch" is an assertive, rebellious, outspoken or strong woman. A woman unafraid to speak out or question. A woman that speaks her mind even if it is not what we want to hear. What's so wrong with that? Plenty, if you are an insecure man or an uptight traditionalist- hellbent on framing the status quo and hanging it on your mantle.

The question was raised over at Marginal Notes
There is considerable debate within various cultural groups over the reappropriation, or reclamation, of language. Some argue that, by co-opting or "flipping" terms that have historically been used against oneself, derogatory terms are deflated and given new meaning. The most well known example may be the now frequent use of the word "nigger" in hip-hop music. Similarly, many gays and lesbians embrace "fag" and "dyke", as some women do "bitch" and "cunt".
While the reclaiming of language has gained popularity, some warn that the process obscures the historical roots of terms, and the very real oppressive forces that they represent. In a sense, the danger is false consciousness.

And for those of you that are squeamish about the C word, there is an overview on reappropriating that as well here.

15 comments:

Cantankerous Bitch said...

Not surprisingly, I disagree with your friend, and share your attitude, Lily.
Language is unequivocally, our most powerful tool. The connotations we lend to words forms our conscious and unconsious thought, behavior and ethics.
I think "bitch" is pejorative because we let it be so. I'm a big fan of "reclaiming" the labels our ideological opponents fling at us like so much mud, and do my best to emulate the antithesis of the sneering definitions. I have no problem being referred to as a "bitchy liberal" because at present, that's as good a description as anything. If people want to shy from either term, that's their choice, but in the end, I think it's a pointless surrender and effectively tells the neocons that they're "right" to characterize us as they do.

Lily said...

I think we saw the power of words with the simplicity of "flip flopper" "tax and spend Democrats" "liberal""Slick Willy"...
A liberal spends your money on useless enabling bureaucracy that helps the laziest and stupidest heathens among us, right? THEY define these labels and its about time the images were challenged.
This morning Howard Dean described how the Democrats need to realize that altruism and caring are STRENGTHS not something to be so damned pathologically defensive about. Lets see where he takes the party... Certainly Virginia shows that Dems can court thumpers!!!!
So I wanted to put this question of language out here, despite the fact that I even felt weird with some of the content, some of the words. I CANNOT bring myself to hardly UTTER the C word! Once I knew someone who deliberately used it constantly and determined it was a succinctly cool word- and it made me blush if you can imagine! A stupid damn word!!
So yes, they are powerful, and have an amazing pool of emotions to draw from when spoken.

Cantankerous Bitch said...

I have to say that I draw the line at "the C word". They can have that one.

Lily said...

Agreed.

Geo_Chick said...

I am often called a bitch, to which I reply, Thank you! But I still wouldn't want to hear it coming out of either of my children's mouths.

The C word is right out.

Polly Jones said...

Think about it - Why is "cunt" such a bad word? Men use the term "cock" proudly. You are buying into the shame. Women's bodies - our vaginas or cunts - aren't dirty or shameful. Reclaim the word AND your bodies!

Cantankerous Bitch said...

An entirely fair point, Polly, but here's the thing: I'm not in any particular hurry to be defined by my anatomy. I'm so much more than what lives between my legs, and I don't think any of us should be so reduced. Not to infer that you're advocating this, of course...

Polly Jones said...

I fully agree. I'm not suggesting that we routinely use the term to refer to each other. I just think we need to examine the feelings we have around the word because there is such a history of using sex and sexuality to shame women.

Lily said...

Yes, there is such a history and I am not sure why I have such issues with the "C" word. I guess if I felt inclined to use it, I would, but I suppose I just don't. I am not going to start using it to make a statement, and I'm not going to fall apart if somebody calls me that either.
"Bitch" is in the eye of the beholder. I am still called a bitch and I work very hard on my disposition! Perhaps it is part of who I am.
And yet some women try to be bitchy and it does not come naturally. I say be who we are, use the words we want, and still find ways not to give up power.

Cantankerous Bitch said...

I think that women, generally, are expected to make things all nice and fuzzy; to soften their language and candy-coat their assertions so that everything goes down nice and easy. And, I suppose, in a Mommy role, there's some merit to the convention.
However, clearly this is not ALL we're capable of, and as far as I'm concerned, the only ones that gets candy-coating are my toddler and my cats. The cats get it, well, because they're CATS for crissake, and the boy gets it because there's plenty of cold, harsh reality waiting for him and I don't see the point of rushing him to the introduction.
As for everyone else, I don't make a real high priority of making sure everyone "feels good" (at least not in forums like these), and figure that if they can't take frank commentary, then perhaps they should stop talking to me.
Hence, my lack of warm & fuzzy pretention leads me to joyfully embrace the moniker "Bitch" and wear it with pride. And anyone that has a problem with that is welcome to bite me.

How's that for an unsolicited disclaimer?

Cantankerous Bitch said...

Understood, Polly. Good to have you here, by the way.

Just as a funny aside -- the notion of "reclaiming Cunt" reminds me of that scene in Fried Green Tomatoes when Kathy Bates is at that women's group and the leader is passing out mirrors and telling them to take off their panties.... -chortle-
It's stray memories like those that sometimes take the wind out of my better feminist sails.

Cantankerous Bitch said...

As long as we're on the topic of language and definitions, here's a good discussion on "liberal" vs. "progressive".

Polly Jones said...

I loved that scene in Fried Green Tomatoes! Kathy Bates plays some hilarious characters.

Glad to have connected with you too.

Cantankerous Bitch said...

Polly,
I think Kathy Bates is one of the most underrated character actors around. Then again, character actors appear to beunderrated as a rule, so I guess that's not a terribly incisive remark, is it?

Hope you visit regularly. We've been long on posts but a bit light on discussion, so new voices are always appreciated.

tmp00 said...

Well, I always thought of you as warm and fuzzy, but I have been told by third parties that I am one scary bitch myself.

A moniker that I am more than happy to embrace, BTW.