Tackling the B Word.


Film maker Jenni Olsen takes on the B Word, and does a great job of it, too. The word is pervasive, now more than ever, and it’s a damn difficult word to get out of your head, even if you manage to get it out of your speech and writing. I came of age in the early ’70s, and being a native Southern Californian, spent much time at various beaches. Back then, bitchin‘ was used as an overall positive. How that came about, I don’t know. Like most of my peers, that expression dropped from lips often. My grandmothers disapproved, in pursed lip fashion. They also felt that geez was near blasphemous, so I didn’t pay much attention to the pursing. Later on, bitchin! disappeared, and bitch was in, in a very dark and nasty way. The nastiness of it hasn’t disappeared in the least, if anything, it’s dug in, and bitch is more widespread than ever. It’s directed at pretty much everyone these days, but the basic of it has not changed. When you call someone a bitch, you’re calling them a woman, and that remains a very lowly and bad thing to be. Just a small excerpt from Jenni Olsen’s article, because the whole thing is an excellent read:

As this terrific Vice.com article on the word’s long history concludes: “ ‘Bitch’ has come a long way, sure, but perhaps the reason it hasn’t been truly reclaimed is because conditions for women haven’t really changed, either…Words only make sense in context. When we see the day when the context is changed, then the core meaning of the word will change, too.”


Just to anticipate the two arguments in your head. Yes, it’s true that women use the term. We’re women—we get to do that sometimes because it’s ours. And no, it’s not the same as the reclamation of the word queer, at least not for you. Britney, Rihanna, Madonna and Alanis Morissette can shout it at the top of their lungs. But as men you can’t reclaim something that was never yours in the first place. And I confess that, as a feminist raising two daughters in our still very sexist society I’m not really that comfortable with those songs and reclamations either—the hostility towards women and continued sexism in our culture just makes it hard for me to accept so much mainstream flippant usage of the term. Quite simply: It still feels hurtful and hateful to me.

So maybe just ask yourself next time you have it on the tip of your tongue. Does this word really mean so much to you? And if it does, why is that? If you felt that compelled and entitled to use those other F and N epithets on a daily basis—what would it say about you? As my thirteen year-old daughter Sylvie often urges me when considering her requests: “Think about it.”

Read the article, and think about it.


  1. rq says

    I remember there was a time when it was cool to try and reclaim it (there was that song even before that), but somehow those efforts never really stuck. I mean, ten years ago in uni, it seemed like the Cool thing to say amongst other women friends in an ironic manner. But now, even that seems too much.
    Maybe things were actually different, maybe my views have shifted over time, I don’t know, but it’s certainly not a pleasant word to use, even as a reclamation. For this reason:

    Quite simply: It still feels hurtful and hateful to me.

  2. says

    I agree. I did the reclaim too, for a while, and stopped, because it was hollow. A word can’t be reclaimed when it is still so full of poison, and the poison of bitch has deep, deep roots. Maybe, one day, the poison will be gone, but I doubt I’ll live to see it.

  3. stellatree says

    I curse a lot but bitch has never been a favorite of mine, and less so the older I get. It seems to have become so generic and acceptable. I appreciate her call out of gay men, it has actually been a struggle for me in the queer community to call out misogyny. I’ll be linking to this.

  4. says


    I appreciate her call out of gay men

    Me too, because this is one group everyone seems afraid to call out. And you hear bitch a lot when gay men are talking.

  5. says

    I agree that bitch is a misogynistic slur, as it’s usually employed — “stop being a bitch”, and so forth.

    And yeah, there’s the whole part where you’re basically calling someone a woman.

    But why — and this bugs me — why is being (like) a woman a bad thing? Why is this such a huge insult?

    Women aren’t, like, weak, or inferior, or nothing, they’re just… women. Some are life-givers, others fill other roles, but there’s nothing inherently inferior about being a woman.

    So what gives? Where’s the logic* in, “I’m going to insult this person by calling them a woman”? Especially when the target is a woman? And why is it so often flung at women with the spine to stand up to oppression? Or, for that matter, women in positions of power?

    *With the exclusion of deliberate misgendering of transmen, because that just isn’t cool.

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