I have a little exercise for you and before we start you need to grab a pen and paper. I want you to split the piece of paper in to two columns and over each column write either women or men. Now I want you write down all the negative words that you can associate with the female sex, anything that negatively describes them in any shape or form. Then I want you to do the same thing for men but you aren’t allowed to include any words that are an extortion of a female negative (male whore, male slut, etc).
What do you notice? Anything strike you about your lists?
I did this exercise and one thing was definitely clear- we have a lot more words that negatively describe women and very few that negatively describe men.
This is something that has been bothering me for a long, long time and I decided that it was time I wrote a rant-y blog post about the subject. So say hello to my new series, Word Association, where I will be looking at the words we use to describe women, where they come from and what we should do with them.
I started this series last week and it went down surprisingly well, I wasn’t expecting such a good reaction but the support was amazing. So this week the series continues and I’ve chosen to discuss a word that particularly annoys me. A word that has casually entered our culture and become a staple of the music and movie scene. It’s so common that you probably haven’t even noticed, let alone really contemplated the meaning and the impact that the word has.
So what word is it I hear you ask? (Or probably not because it is written in the title). The word of the week is “bitch”.
Surprisingly there are several similarities between bitch and last weeks word, slut. It’s a word that is used by both men and women alike, a word that some have attempted to reclaim and a word that perpetrates societies double standards.
The word bitch finds its origins in the words that were originally used to describe a female dog and it therefore comes from around 1150. It’s moder meaning was first used in the 13th and 14th centuries and was directly connected to a women’s sexual desire. (Sound familiar?) It implied that women with a higher than average sexual desire were comparable to a dog in heat (and by average I mean a women who conformed to societal expectations and showed no trace of desire).
What a lovely and thoughtful comparison???
When you think about the conclusions we drew from the use of “slut” last week, it seems that there are two clear area’s in which people attempt to offend women. They either try to hit us with our appliance or our sexual desire, they want women to look and act a certain way.
The key to this continuation is the persistence of “gender norms” the constraining idea that both sexes have a concrete role to play. It’s one of the biggest barriers that remains an ingrained part of our society and it’s domination has huge and overreaching consequences. It’s the idea that men should all sign up to a narrow definition of masculinity, the idea that they should lack emotion, be sexually curious and unable to control their wanton desires. While women are offered the same future but with a narrowly defined kind of femininity, which demands submission, loyalty and naivety.
The problem with these definitions is that not everyone fits the mould. Some people do and other people don’t but instead of living in a society where the “grey area” (the masses) is considered the norm, it’s considered undesirable and weird. It leaves certain people in society feeling alienated, with our purpose and being made to feel that they are the “other”.
So basically bitch is another way of criticising women (or men because it is used to emasculate men) for not conforming to traditional gender roles. Yet it’s interesting because it in both of these instances it has two conflicting definitions.
When used in relation to a women, bitch is often associated with being opinionated, in control or with being emotionally distant, qualities that are not traditionally praised in women but definitely are in men. Yet when do you hear these comments used in connection with men? The truth is you don’t, in a man these qualities would be viewed as leadership skills and as a sign of strength.
I’m not naive and I fully understand that gender constraints affect men to and the word bitch is the perfect example. Yet when we use this word in connection with a man, it’s often used to mean feminine, emotional or who generally posses qualities that are associated with womanhood.
So should we reclaim the word bitch? No, is the simple answer. Bitch has never had a positive meaning and reclaiming something, suggests returning it to it’s original definition. Yet since bitch has held it’s negative meaning for hundreds of years, there is nothing positive to return to and we should therefore abandon it!!
So I think it’s a word that we should kick to the curb, boycott and avoid using at all costs. But let’s all make one promise today, let’s all agree to never ever use this silly word again and certainly never use it to describe other ladies.
So, are you going to join me and make this promise?