If you search the word, “bitch,” Google will provide four definitions.
The first is a female dog. The second, underscored by its informal denigration, says “a spiteful or unpleasant woman.” (There are also synonyms provided such as witch, vixen, she-devil and hellcat.) The third and fourth definitions, which are informal, non-pronouns include “a difficult or unpleasant situation or thing” and “a complaint.” Though its first appearance in Germanic discourse dates as far back as 1000 A.D., never has it been as prominently used as in the aughts.
I don’t use the word very frequently (for no reason other than my preferring alternative synonyms) and I think as a result of that, I have a skewed perception of how offensive it can be. Its crudity seems like something I should understand plainly — to call someone a bitch is to frankly offend them, but then again, was it not Joreen who first instituted The Bitch Manifesto in 1968 to call attention to the term and its positive attributes? And now more than ever, girls are using the word as a term of endearment to describe their friends.
The definitions have become muddled, so it’s hard to say when it’s appropriate to get offended by its use and when its not. But maybe, too, therein lies the problem. My friend Roxana is only really affected by the term because she doesn’t like that a woman could be called a name that also means, essentially, pain in the ass.
Another friend, Lara, says that the problem with the term is much more imbued with the person who’s using it, the tone with which they’re communicating and the context. She provided an example, “If you called me a bitch, I’d call you one back. And we’d laugh and have a smoothie. If my boss called me a bitch, I’d sue him.”
Last week, I wrote a story called How to Wear Ballet Flats Without Looking Basic. The story’s pretense was essentially: ballet flats can be boring, let’s try to make them more interesting. What manifested post-publication was a reaction that erred far more closely on the side of pissed than it did on the side of pleased. This is presumably because in the story, I called attention to a new societal phenomenon called “The Basic Bitch” without insulting the implications tethered to the term.
For the uninitiated, “the basic bitch,” which went viral in April because of a College Humor video, is essentially, a concentrated female cliche.
To correct myself and last week’s story, I should say that there is absolutely nothing wrong with looking basic if basic is what you’re going for. If the vibe you want to emanate with your look is one of a persuasion so casual, the look in question doesn’t even actually matter, then do that. Feel good and you will look good. The science here is so simple that I’m not even sure it can be called science. I’m just left wondering whether the concept of being basic is what signaled the response or was it the use of the term bitch?
Do you use it? How? Do you think twice before you say it? Are you offended by it? Why? Or maybe, why not? Are you comfortable using it in some settings but not in others? Does its being used by some people offend you but by others, not as much? Whens the last time you said it and if you had to come up with the closest synonym for it, what would it be? Am I asking too many questions?
Having to answer so many can be a real bitch, huh.