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Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Semantics is a Bitch

I'm no Betty Friedan or Germaine Greer but I feel I owe powerful, intelligent women a debt. Women like the aforementioned. Women like Susan Sontag, Madame Curie, George Sand, Susan B. Anthony, Madonna, Oprah Winfrey, Naomi Wolf, Hilary Clinton, Helen Keller - oh I must stop now because I'll offend someone, somehow with an inclusion or exclusion but you get my drift. In a world where the bodies of 40 women were recently found on the outskirts of Baghdad, in a ditch, with notes on their mutilated bodies explaining that they met their deaths for not wearing proper headscarves, powerful, influential trailblazers who just happen to be women pave the way for a better world.

When I was a kid, a bitch was a nasty, unpleasant woman. It was a pretty dirty word. It was also a female dog and that was the only way we kids could attempt snickering subterfuge. But today bitch has taken on a hyper ugly meaning of subjugation. Men can be bitches. Anyone can be a byotch, the ha-ha internet-censorship-free version of bitch which has taken on a life of its own.

I hear the word bitch used almost daily by Jon Stewart, by friends, by my daughter to her friends, on the radio - seemingly everywhere. One of my friends said it to me the other day on the phone and we both laughed an uneasy laugh before it trailed off into discomfort. I wonder - how have we come to this? How have we come to tolerate a word that could not possibly embody a deeper, uglier belief about the way in which women are esteemed in this world? We can have women senators and judges and television anchors but at the end of the day, in jest which burns in acidic truth - they're just bitches and Jennifer Love Hewitt, all (I'm guessing) a hundred eighteen pounds of her - has a fat ass.

Bitch is a lose-lose word. To call a man a bitch is to say he is being either snippy, needy or hysterical OR that the bitch label recipient is in some way owned by the speaker in the most final, definitive way possible. She's my bitch. Where's my beer - bitch? I slapped that bitch. That's what I said - bitch.

The use of bitch with this new, more keen, deeply misogynistic twist of total subjugation seems to have emerged from rap music. Nobody shoot me - that's just my anecdotal observation. And no, it's not pc. The Wave-inatrix, with her playful moniker which connotes domination knows that Rouge Wavers are smart enough to know that this is playful nickname that stuck and bears no relationship to my views or demeanor. So no pot calling kettle black comments about hair-splitting semantics, please. This discussion is important.

Regardless of the derivation of this new usage, I do wonder - is this okay, this new use of bitch? What does it say about us as a society? Do we accept a word as a joke but overlook it's deeper meaning because that's being over-analytical? Or is this something we should be paying attention to?

To paraphrase George Orwell, who understood deeply that language matters, it is my opinion that the use of the word bitch is double-plus ungood.
ShowHype: hype it up!

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Frau Direktor said...

New reader, first time commenter. I love your blog!

Thanks so much for bringing this up. On my feminist blogs, we have had this discussion numerous times. "Bitch" magazine is one example of trying to take back the term. Since "bitch" is used most often as an attempt to shame strong, aggressive, opinionated women into "behaving," taking it back has its merits.

However, IMO, it's still most often used to shame and control women. I don't see enough take-back style usage to make me comfortable.

I agree with you 100%. This is just one of the reasons I am a screenwriter. Women are three dimensional beings. I'd like to see that reflected in our movies and television. I want the Mini-W and her peers to see this, too, and maybe it will help give them the confidence to stop using that word.

For anyone who doesn't believe language makes a difference, think about the use of the n-word for African-Americans--especially from a white person. "Bitch" is the female counterpart.

Julie Gray said...

Welcome to the Rouge Wave, Frau Direktor! We could use a chick like you around ;)

I am familiar with Bitch Magazine and I love that taking back the night stance - but you're right, it's a drop in the bucket in the big picture.

Jake Hollywood said...

And through all this bitch of language, somewhere some dog is saying, "What did you call my mother?" And then promptly bites the speaker on the leg.

Julie Gray said...

Oh Jake, you cheeky monkey. See you tomorrow at Paramount, my friend.

Christian M. Howell said...

Unfortunately, The RIAA doesn't seem to want to change.
It's like the female action movie. We wonder why they don't open but who wants their superhero in a split skirt and heels?

The "conscious" rappers are not marketed as much just as most female driven movies.

And because hip hop is pervading every facet of American culture, the "wannabes" (why anyone would WANT to dress like a bum is beyond me) are moving the slang to more mainstream arenas, with, of course, the caveat that "it wasn't me" or "that's how it's always been."

But then, I maybe biased as I would rather write substantive movies for Jada Pinkett than Will (admittedly Jada is MUCH easier on the eyes) AND my strike sign says

"WILL WRITE FOR WOMEN" with FOX, Paramount and NBC crossed out.

Frau Direktor said...

Thank you, Christian Howell! You rock, man. I've got to second the fact that I would LURV to write for Ms. Pinkett-Smith. She is fierce!

Also, thanks Julie! Speaking of the strong ladies, I definitely count you among them. You are an inpiration to this wordy-nerd.