“Bitch.” It’s a toxic word, an insult of the highest order to many women. I used to to be so afraid of being called a bitch or thought a bitch that I would go out of my way to prove myself non-bitchy to people. I was particularly eager to prove that around openly sexist men, as if their sexism was somehow my fault and within my power to change.
It was exhausting . . . and ineffective. I discovered that no matter what I did, someone, somewhere, would perceive it badly. It got to the point that there were certain people I just didn’t want to be around because it was too much to try to prove myself non-bitchy when I knew that their assessment of me as a bitch wouldn’t change. I had even gotten to the point of recognizing that it wasn’t anything that I did; it was just the fact that I was a woman.
My fears started many an argument with my partner. Or I should say that I started the arguments because I was driven by fear, and to some extent, I think I argued more with myself than with him. I would argue back and forth about how I didn’t want to go somewhere because I would be perceived as a bitch, then I’d turn around and argue that if I didn’t go, I’d be perceived as a bitch. I would argue that people’s opinions didn’t matter because they were wrong. I would argue that people’s opinions did matter because obviously I must be doing something to warrant that opinion. I don’t know what he was doing while I argued. Keeping his head down probably because there really wasn’t anything safe to say when I was in my “how do I prevent people from thinking I’m a bitch” mode. I only remember one thing he said.
“What does ‘bitch’ mean?”
I remember it because I didn’t have an answer. What does the average person mean by calling a woman a bitch?
I started to make a list of the various things that landed me in the “bitch” category.
- Having an opinion
- Stating my opinion
- Disagreeing with someone else’s opinion
- Participating in a conversation with a man
- Being a wife
- Being a girlfriend
- Being a woman
- Having emotions
- Saying “no”
- Making my own decisions
- Not submitting
- Speaking honestly about things that affect me
- Expressing dislike for a movie, book, or song that expresses hatred towards women
- Getting angry when someone says something inappropriate or does something inappropriate to me
That last one was the clincher. I suddenly realized that if someone were sexually harassing me and I got upset, I would be labeled the bitch in the scenario . . . because . . . women aren’t supposed to experience anger?
None of those actions is considered inappropriate for a man! None of them renders a man an asshole! Why? Because they’re not the actions of an asshole. They’re the actions of a human being who leads an authentic, autonomous life.
In the end, I realized that being called a bitch didn’t say anything negative about me.
It said that I dared to think for myself. It said that I was willing to stand up for myself. It said that I honored my emotions, beliefs, and experiences. It said I was independent.
What it said about me, underneath the derogatory language and negative connotation, were all things that I desired to be.
It also revealed a whole hell of a lot about the people calling me a bitch—like the fact that they were uncomfortable around women who didn’t kowtow to their expectations and so afraid of those independent women that they felt the need to demonize them with a loaded term that they themselves probably couldn’t even define better than, “you’re doing something I don’t like.”
So the next time someone calls me a bitch because I have a strong political opinion that disagrees with their equally strong political opinion, I’m going to smile and say, “Bitch? Why yes, I am one. Thank you for noticing.”