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  • Writer's pictureKathy Coudle-King

Aw, quit yer witchin'!

It’s women’s history month -- you know, the 31 days of the year you're supposed to learn about all the contributions of women all over the world since the beginning of time. Anyway, I thought I’d finally write that post about why I hate the word “bitch”. I understand some women have tried to claim the word, the way some African Americans use the “N-word” among themselves. Women try to wear the word "bitch" like a badge of honor. I get it, but I don't think we're there yet.

Growing up in a Cuban-American community in north Jersey, some of the girls would call each other “puta.” We thought that by taking the word onto our lips we could take the sting out of it. Tossing it playfully at a friend, we thought we were draining it of its power.

As 14-year old girls discovering how to express our sexuality, we found using the word an empowering act. The line between sexy and "whore" was not only blurred, but it wiggled. At the beginning of the party, when she walked in wearing high heels and a short skirt, dripping lip gloss and rocking dark eye-liner, she was sexy.

  • When she engaged in sex after the dance, she was a whore.

  • When she did not engage in sex, she was a cock tease.

  • When she did not engage willingly in sex, she became a victim.

Willing participant or victim, the next morning she was still a puta.

So, yeah, I know a little about claiming a word and trying to remaster it for other purposes. However, just like the “N-word” has not been drained of its power in the white man’s mouth, neither has the “B-word” in anyone's mouth.

Use it in a sentence

Man to other man: “You’re gonna be my bitch.” Meaning: “I am going to use you for my sexual pleasure.”

Men/Women about a man: “He cried like a little bitch.” Meaning: Girls/women are weak.

Men/Women about others: “Stop your bitching.” Meaning: Stop complaining – like women do. (Because men never complain about anything.)

Don't forget “You sound like a whiny bitch.” Because men never whine, right?

It gets complicated, though: A man may “cry like a little bitch,” while a woman may be “a cold-hearted bitch.” So, which is it? Weak or tough?

The use of the B-word is most problematic when people say, “She’s such a bitch.” You may hear women and men refer to a co-worker, clerk, cop, teacher, girlfriend, mother, nun, Nancy Pelosi . . . as “a bitch.” We all know what they mean. It’s code for a woman who is mouthy, pushy, aggressive, angry, cold, cranky.

I’ve had this discussion with some of you, and you’ve rolled your eyes, dismissing my objections to the word. I’ve asked why we do not refer to “bitch” as the “B-word” like we do with the “N-word.” Some of you have said that the B-word does not hold the same cultural and historical pain as the “N-word” does. Black men, women, and children were enslaved, after all, and the “N-word” carries that horrific history, as well as years of Jim Crow, and systemic racism today. True. True. True.

Treatment of women today

I would argue – I do argue – that the roots of the “B-word” have a horrific history, as well, one which continues to have implications for women today.

  • Consider that 55% of all female homicides were perpetrated by an intimate partner (CDC, 2017).

  • Consider that 1 in 6 women has experienced a rape or attempted rape in her life time (RAINN, 2018)

  • Consider that teenage girls suffer sexual harassment every day at places that advertise that you can “Have it your way.” (Hart Research, 2016)

  • Consider that women make up the largest number of people in poverty IN THE WORLD. (Oxfam, 2021)

  • Consider that, at current trends, it will take 99.5 years before women achieve equal pay. My daughter won't see it, my grand daughter won't see it. Maybe my great-grand daughter will. (Global Gender Gap Report, 2020)

  • Consider that women are not equally represented as leaders in local, state, or national government. (Women made up just 21.2% heads of state world wide, 2019; Global Gender Gap Report, 2020)

  • Consider that parents give daughters pepper spray as a college going-away gift, women learn to walk to their cars at night holding their keys between their fingers, and women on college campuses are regularly taught to watch their drink at parties.

  • Consider that not only hasn't the U.S. passed the Equal Rights Amendment, introduced 49 years ago, but last week the ND House voted to RESCIND the state's vote to ratify, saying it expired in 1979. Happy Women's History month, state Senator Janne Myrdal (lead sponsor)!

And consider . . . we need a women’s history month because women’s contributions to the world are still so rarely taught that we need a special month to spotlight their achievements.

So stop with the B-word already

Yeah, we should be a bit more careful tossing around the B-word. It's like using the oppressor's weapon on oneself. If you are a woman who wears the word with pride, I say to you – don’t. Find another word. You are not a bitch.

You are a woman who respects herself. You are a woman who has boundaries. You are a woman standing up for herself and others. You are a woman who speaks her mind. You are a woman who does not feel like smiling to make other people feel comfortable.

You -- fabulous, strong, assertive woman -- are not a bitch.

Instead, you are an autonomous being, claiming her place in the world, and that scares people. Always has. In fact, for hundreds of years it scared people so much they called her a different word that rhymes with bitch -- witch. That horrific history is sometimes referred to as “the women’s holocaust” or "the burning times." Some say hundreds of thousands of women were murdered. They died excruciating deaths by lynching, stoning, drowning, burning, and torture -- most likely after being raped. Conservative estimates put it at about 50,0000, but we will probably never know.

The women were killed for owning property, spurning a man's attentions, living alone, living with another woman, not relying on men for their survival, loving nature, looking different, being disabled, healing others. Having cats! Being – mouthy. (uh oh)

“Witch” and “Bitch,” two powerful words used to keep women “in their place.”

What is her place? Any damn place she pleases.

Writing challenge: Have you ever been called the b-word? Have you called anyone the b-word? What were you or they doing to elicit the expletive?

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