The Anatomy of a Bitch

Have you ever been called a bitch? Have you ever called someone a bitch? Have you ever thought someone was a bitch? Let’s be real, we could all answer yes to at least one of the above.  A bitch is defined as a “spiteful or unpleasant woman,” but the term is no longer used just to refer to the mean girl in class, the ‘Regina George’ type. It is increasingly being used to refer to women who are outspoken, opinionated, competitive, honest, demanding and dominant, particularly women in positions of power the ‘Miranda Priestly’ type.

So how honest or outspoken can a woman be before their considered a bitch? What extent can they express what they want without coming across as demanding? And why are men who are also in positions of power often seen as assertive whereas women are seen as bossy or bitches. Is it the way women talk, their tone or pitch that is distinct from a man’s voice, is it found in a woman’s mannerisms or appearance, is it influenced by pop culture representations of women in the media, or are we as a society still subconsciously holding onto traditional gender stereotypes where women are expected to be submissive, nurturing and empathetic and men are expected to be dominant and outspoken; and rejecting any departure from these traditional gender roles? Surely not, but let’s explore.

The way men and women communicate varies significantly, women tend to possess a passive-aggressive communication style where they don’t say what they mean because according to psychologists women have been trained to be nice and avoid conflict. . Take the simple example of a man pursuing a woman in a bar, if she’s not interested a woman will often lie that she has a boyfriend or is even a lesbian, or fabricate some excuse in order to be nice, avoid conflict and maintain harmony. If she rejects him by saying she’s not interested, she’s seen as a bitch.  The trend of passive-aggression among women means that when women express something, it is often interpreted differently by the listener, leaving the woman open to misinterpretation possibly causing confusion and tension. Also, for many women, trying to be assertive can easily turn into being either too passive or too aggressive.  So, if you’re passive you’re seen as weak. If you’re aggressive, people are going to think you’re a bitch. But is this the same for men and does this leave assertive communication as the only way for a woman NOT to come across as a bitch?

It seems not. Even if a woman masters the art of assertiveness, being assertive is still seen as a traditional masculine stereotype. Could it be that society is holding onto traditional gender stereotypes, and when a woman possesses traits that are “traditionally masculine traits”, such as being outspoken or competitive are we as a society aren’t willing to accept it? When we explore this idea further we can see the same is true for men. The only time a man is really called a bitch, is when he follows orders instead of making them, when the man is the submissive. A man, who is called a bitch, is a man who is seen to possess feminine qualities. This man is a bitch because he does not conform to traditional notions of what a man should be. Similarly, a woman is called a bitch because she does not conform to what a woman should traditionally be. When we use the word bitch are we subconsciously reinforcing traditional gender stereotypes?

In a world where the majority of men’s voices are louder than women’s and men are bigger and taller than women, it is very difficult for women to climb up the executive ladder or to have their voices heard. In order to raise their voices, women must resort to possessing masculine qualities in positions of power. To succeed in this world, women must “act like a lady, think like a man” but when they finally do, they are still undermined by this word “bitch.”

The word bitch is more damaging to notions of gender than we realise. It also doesn’t help that pop culture portrays outspoken women as bitches, in the movie “10 things I Hate About You,” the opinionated protagonist Kat is referred to as a “heinous bitch.” For all intents and purposes it’s practically irrelevant whether the woman is a nasty, spiteful, unpleasant bitch, because no matter how a woman acts, socially or professionally she cannot avoid being undermined by the word bitch whether she is or not.  Luckily, in recent news a new form of leadership is brewing among white-collar females who are utilising their empathetic and nurturing traits, on a CEO level.

I think before we use the term bitch, we should be aware of what it’s doing to notions of gender. The very application of the word undermines women’s views and voices. It reinforces traditional gender stereotypes and rejects any role reversal among genders. It’s an insult. Alternatively we can take on a different perspective and reclaim the word. We can empower women through the word itself. Sherry Argov does just this in her book “Why Men Love Bitches” describing a bitch as an “empowered woman who derives tremendous strength from the ability to be an independent thinker, particularly in a world that still teaches women how to be self-abnegating. This woman doesn’t live someone else’s standards, only her own.”

To bitch or not to bitch?

Featured Image: Zac Quitzau Fb: Zac’s Doodles

One thought on “The Anatomy of a Bitch

  1. “Even if a woman masters the art of assertiveness, being assertive is still seen as a traditional masculine stereotype.”

    *sigh* Gender stereotypes suck 😦 Swear words in general seem to pick on women more than they pick on men — especially bitch. When a man is called a bitch, it’s a double insult, because we’ve insulted his personality as well as his femininity. Doesn’t make much sense to me. (If you want to read more, I’ve actually posted about this before: )

    Nice post. Thanks for sharing!


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