What Did You Call Me?: Black Women’s Tolerance and Use of the Word “Bitch”

Definition of Bitch

a. malicious, unpleasant, selfish person, especially a woman.
b. lewd woman.
c. disparaging and offensive:  any woman.

Most of us were taught as children that “bitch” is a bad word. In fact, it was one of the worst of the dirty words. If a man called a woman a bitch, then he had really crossed the line that time. In recent years, the term has become more accepted, not only as a term for women in general, but as a term of both offense and endearment between women.

Like the term “nigger,” “bitch” is a negative word in definition, which has taken on positive connotations. Popular Black reality TV shows and rap music are now saturated with the term “bitch.” Both the ambiguity of the term and our tolerance of it leave questions to be answered. Have we as Black women accepted the word as a term for ourselves, or should we take it offensively?

The original definition of “bitch” is “a female canine.” Over time it has taken on new connotations and describes a woman with a bad attitude or even a man who behaves like a woman. Perhaps the most troubling connotation that “bitch” has taken on is its synonymy with “woman.”

I recently overheard a young boy, about fifteen years old, say “I can get as many bitches as I want!” He was not talking about girls with bad attitudes, but simply girls in general. I wondered where he learned to call girls “bitches” and my mind turned immediately to rap music. Most popular rap songs refer to women as bitches, and we often passively bob our heads to the rhythm or even recite the words, ignoring the fact that women are being blatantly demeaned and deemed less than respectable.

Cast members of popular reality shows Basketball Wives, Love and Hip-Hop, and The Real Housewives of Atlanta use “bitch” as if it is a normal vocabulary word. It is sometimes used as a severe insult, and at other times used to indicate affection and respect. These shows reflect the reality of the ambiguous nature of the word when used between women in general.

I’ve heard men say “I’ll stop calling yall bitches when you stop saying it to each other.” In consideration of this statement, perhaps we are to blame for men’s use of the word to demean women. Perhaps our passivity in regard to rap music’s use of the term allows artists to continue to use it without any protest from us. Or, maybe it has become a tolerated word that can be used by both men and women. What do you think?

Charday Ward is a freelance writer, playwright, teacher and founder and director of a mentoring organization in Detroit, Michigan. Follow her blog at bconscious.tumblr.com and on Twitter @IamChardayRenee

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