I hate the word bitch. While I am at it, I hate the word cunt.
It sound sort of silly, hating a word. I guess that it’s just that those words make my skin crawl.
I guess I should clarify further. I hate when men use those words.
I used to say the word a lot. I remember once when I was a first year in college, a female student was being kind of rude to me, so I said, “You don’t have to be a bitch!” She turned to me, her expression exasperated, and said, “No matter how rude I have been to you, you have no right to make me less than yourself. I am not your dog.”
That hit me. From that moment forward, I decided I had no right to use the word.
During an rousing game of Dungeons and Dragons (yes . . . I play . . . on a weekly basis) on Monday in which all of our players are males, our characters (also all male) were fighting a female creature. Multiple times during the game, frustration was expressed with, “That BITCH!” or victory was savored with, “Take That, Bitch!”
The first few times, I didn’t say anything. After allowing my frustration to boil over, I yelled, “PLEASE Don’t Say That Word.” Folks sort of laughed, and we went on with the game. A little later it was said again, and I just shook my head. Another player said, “Just don’t say it, if for nothing else, to avoid THAT.” I responded, “It’s just disrespectful. If I don’t like the word, it’s disrespectful to use it.” The game proceeded with an air of tension.
Last night I had a chance to talk with my male housemates, both members of our D&D group, about it. I was kind of reluctant to have the conversation because I felt like I was the one being attacked for trying to “censor” other people. I was defensive because I am so often told that I am “hyper-sensitive” and that I need to “relax.” “Not everything is just your way or the highway.” That is a common way of silencing dissent. When someone expresses hurt or frustration around sexism, racism, heterosexism, or the like, the common response is, “You’re being too uptight.”
In truth, though, the conversation went pretty well. When my housemates realized how much the word bothers me, they agreed to avoid using it (recognizing that because it is a common part of modern vocab, it might slip out).
It took my explanation of why I hate the word, though, for the conversation to make any progress. As far as I have ever heard it used by men, that word has no use other than to hold women down as less than men. I mean, let’s look at the etymology. It’s oldest iteration refers to the female dog, fox, wolf, or other beast. More modern usage refers to a lewd, sensual, malicious, or treacherous woman. The word cunt is not much different, as it is a derogatory word for female genitalia, and to call a woman a cunt is to dehumanize her, to reduce her to a simple, sexualized body part.
An image search of the word bitch brings up the following:
Whether we want it to or not, the use of this word by men cannot be separated from the reality and history of violence against women. It has no use other than to oppress women, to treat women as less than men, as equivalent to a dog that a man kicks at the end of the day.
For a man to call a man a bitch is to say that he is less than a man, he is inferior, he is a woman . . . and a woman is no better than a dog.
Now, I’ve qualified a few times by saying “use of the word by men.” What place the word has among women is not my business. Women must decide how the word will be used among women, and some have worked to reclaim the word. As a man, I have no right to tell women how the word should be used.
As a man, though, it is my responsibility to work to end gender oppression in all its forms, including oppressive language. If the word clearly has such a close association to violence against women and objectification, why use it?
As we ponder the role of this word in our use of language, consider that October is Domestic Violence Awareness Month. As a result, I challenge my readers, particularly my male readers, to eliminate the words bitch and cunt from their vocabulary for one month as part of the effort to raise awareness about Intimate Partner Violence. When you hear the word, consider talking to people about its ties to objectification, oppression, and violence. From there, reevaluate the place that this word has in your life.
Our words have power. How will you use yours?