As a woman (or womon, if you prefer—personally I like riot grrl) I have made myself a personal goal to reclaim the word ‘bitch’ and make it something positive. Does that make you uncomfortable? Good. That’s a place to start.
Part of image “Rosie the Riveter” by J.Howard Miller
Us queer folk are well versed in the art of reclaiming words. It comes with the territory.
Members of minority groups inevitably get labeled. Whatever the linguistic origin of those words, they are designed to hurt. Labels are made to put an oppressed group in their place and lay bare their differences as a negative. Take the word ‘queer.’
The word itself originated from the Old High German word ‘twerh’ meaning oblique. The word itself is an adjective and means odd or off-centre. It was first recorded as an adjective to describe gay men in 1922. As men who are odd and off-centre, I suppose.
In the 1980s the gay community decided to reclaim the word. It was impossible to ignore the fact that ‘queer’ was being used as a weapon by homophobes. So instead of ignoring it we tamed it. We removed the sting and made it harmless. Something to be proud of, even.
In most of North America today, ‘queer’ is simply used as a term to encompass all members of our community: gay, lesbian, trans, bi, or any other descriptive word s/he’d like to use. Hence the name of this blog.
Today queer can still be used in the context of an insult, but it’s a weak one and we don’t give much credence to it. The few who still use ‘queer’ in a derogatory context are backward and bigoted. Today, if someone calls me queer, I can look at them square in the face and say, “Yeah, I am. What’s your point?”
Now let’s take a look at ‘bitch.’ The word’s dictionary definition is “a female dog.” This was always the case, even in its Old English form. I can’t imagine why this would ever be considered an insult. I live with two female dogs. They are kind, intelligent and full of personality. When they play with male dogs, they are not lessor beings. In fact they often take the lead.
I would be proud to be grouped among them. More so than some members of my own species.
Still, ‘bitch’ has a long and sordid history. It’s been used to describe women in the lowest and meanest ways possible for about 600 years, to denote women as ugly, mean or hysterical.
To this day, ‘bitch’ is used to dismiss women with important things to say and do. It’s certainly not uncommon for powerful, intelligent women, especially those in business or politics, to be dismissed by a rival as a bitch.
Some women have already been reclaiming bitch, and wear the badge proudly. There are multiple pop-culture examples, from bumper stickers to online memes discussing how awesome it is to be a bitch. In 1996 the feminist quarterly entitled Bitch published its first issue. The publication is still experiencing success.
Others feel uncomfortable with the idea of reclaiming ‘bitch.’ It has been used for so long to subjugate and victimize women who are strong and outspoken. Just like ‘queer,’ it can be hard to feel comfortable and come to terms with the word—all the more reason to embrace it.
Women, trans and cis, make up more than half the human population and yet we can find daily examples of subjugation and abuse. We need as much empowerment as we can get, and language is one of our strongest tools. Language evolves.
Just like ‘queer,’ it’s impossible to avoid hearing ‘bitch’ in a negative context, so we have to change it.
So here’s to all the bitches and their supporters. Next time someone calls you or someone you love a bitch, look them in the eye and tell them, “and proud.”