Beauty is the Bitch
Written by Emma Doyle
I have never – at least, not latterly – had any strong objections to being called a bitch. To be specific, I have never had any strong objections to being called a bitch by anyone else who identifies as female. The offending word could be shrieked furiously into my face in a wave of hot breath, or expelled as a malignant whisper from the corner of a pursed mouth. In either case, my positive reaction would be more than likely to extend far past a simple resignation.
Before I continue, I should elucidate the fact that I would never under usual circumstances over-exert myself in being perceived as an unpleasant person. I’m friendly to the point of annoyance, and am surprisingly averse to confrontation. It’s just that there’s something so impalpably pointed and measured in being branded a bitch by another woman. The simplicity of the statement holds a strange beauty for me which I struggle to explain. Why, then, is such vulgarity only palatable for me under this pretence? Surely the actuality of the word’s baseness isn’t so easily affected when it’s spoken by one person rather than another? The actuality of my situation, however, is that I become positively incensed when a man takes it upon themselves to attempt to use the word against me as a slur. I am of a mind to discover why this is the case, and how all women deserve a share in rightful ownership of the terminology.
The origins of the word, ‘bitch’, are rooted in misogyny. Historically employed by men in order to exercise an assumed dominance over their female counterparts and stemming from the old English ‘bicce’ in reference to a she-dog, it was a brazen demonstration of aggression intended to constrain the potential of any woman in the seen vicinity. ‘Bitch’ carries with it such casual dismissal as to postulate that all female-identifying individuals are naturally inferior. With sincerity, what I would like to know is what has led men to believe they are in any suitable position to dictate what is considered to be within the bounds of a woman’s nature? It seems to me, therefore, that it is high time the bitch should be given the opportunity to claw the balance of power back.
Shifting the focus from origins to contextual use, Bitch (I am now affording it its deserved capitalised status) has adopted a great number of forms which all serve unique purposes. When wielded among the arsenal of a woman, Bitch can be exclamative or descriptive. It can also be accusatory, questioning, or even sympathetic. The versatility of Bitch is a divine gift, as are the women who are wilfully rising to reclaim it. The epoch of slapping the Bitch label on any female-presenting person who dared to be loud, controversial, or the mistress of her own destiny – unable to be restrained by a society’s patriarchal muzzle – has spanned centuries. However, during the dissemination of second, third and fourth-wave feminism, parallel with the ever-increasing female influence within the Rap and Hip hop scenes, Bitch experienced a reclamation which allows it to honour all these supposedly ‘undesirable’ qualities. In an existence when to be a bitch was purportedly to weaponise vulnerability as a tactic of manipulation, to appropriate a term which should never have been guarded my male gatekeepers in the first instance was to disrupt the grinding, accepted order.
As well as being the noun of choice for every committed egalitarian, Bitch slowly crept into mainstream vernacular as both an adjective and a verb. Thanks to semiotics, the meaning of Bitch was diversified and was no longer bound to pure derogation. It was now possible to have a bitching bitch with all of our bitchiest bitches, bitch! The best part of it is that a translation was neither necessary or desired, so widespread became the use of the word. The significance of Bitch in queer circles and the LGBT+ community more generally has also been profound. As well as offering empowerment to those who align themselves with the female gender, the propagation of Bitch to encompass queer men and non-binary individuals has been instrumental in restoring the balance of power within a pre-assumed sexual hierarchy. A person has a right to be submissive as much as they have personal jurisdiction over when to assert control. A self-directed label of Bitch maintains proprietary rights for those who wish to establish and preserve their pride for being assuredly vulnerable within sexual orientations outside of overpowering straightness. Being a bitch has once again proved that the middle finger can be given to toxic, heteronormative machismo.
This brings me on a circular path back to the disparities between the use of Bitch within feminine and masculine spheres. When using the above investigation as a reference, we can of course confirm that when Bitch is propelled from the mouth of a cis-het man, it acts as an incarnation of violent patriarchal rhetoric. However, in a contemporary setting it is transformed into something more problematic than simply perpetuating outdated ideals. Bitch is such an ingrained part of the English tongue that men and women alike are actually born without the knowledge of why Bitch is a term which should receive differentiation from what is considered acceptable speech. As a woman ages, she gains this knowledge through the learned experience of those who have encountered the joys of complacent misogyny before her. In turn, she acquires eligibility to name herself and her female peers as bitches. And this is what sets her apart; she has grafted her way to an understanding of the word, its historical entanglements and all of its implications. Even if a woman were to place this label on another out of feelings of frustration or vengeance, it is a simultaneous recognition of a refusal to remain silent, and a tenacity in the struggle to be heard.
The Bitch has been pushed through an accelerated evolution. From societal subordinate to relentless campaigner, she has battled steadfastly for the right to be noticed. Her primary aim, rather than to be adored, has been to gain recognition for her efforts in not giving a shit about fitting the mould into which the patriarchy expected her to pour herself. She did it, and continues to do it for the sisters who are not yet living in a state of liberation – and to call her my predecessor, and be referred to by association, is an honour. One day, I hope we can all be proud to call ourselves a bitch.