When I was a little girl, I was a model citizen.
I got good grades, I did what my parents told me, I behaved nicely to other children. This was partly due to my irrational and all-consuming terror of getting in trouble. I wasn’t sure what happened to kids who had to stay after school for a talk with the principal, but I was convinced it involved a branding iron and a set of ankle cuffs and I was not prepared to experience it.
This lasted till about the sixth grade. The beginning of middle school is always a strange and disturbing time in a young person’s life, and mine was no exception, but part of my pubescent rebellion took the form of a pseudo-friendship with – gasp! – a 7th grader. Her name was Kelly. I don’t remember her last name, despite having been in a sort of friendship prison with her throughout middle school, since she got held back and thus was in school with me for three whole years before moving somewhere or getting incarcerated, I forget which.
Anyway, I thought Kelly was cool because she wore black nail polish and knew how to write “butthole” in Janapese kanji and she smoked cigarettes on the playground at lunch. I sat dutifully by her side every day, inhaling her foul tobacco byproducts into my innocent lungs and listening to her diatribes against her teachers, her parents, and anyone else who dared to tell her she couldn’t get the butterfly tattoo she wanted to get on her lower back. I wasn’t necessarily interested in actually listening to anything she said, preferring to simply be seen with her so I had a fallback threat if someone ever tried to mess with me, so every now and then I’d throw in a “totally” or a “yeah” so she would maintain the impression that I cared.
Kelly taught me many things – what a tampon did, how to put eyeliner on, and, eventually, how to slowly and carefully dissolve a friendship with someone who could snap your neck like a toothpick. But most importantly, Kelly taught me swear words.
At first, it was difficult to acclimate myself to the taste of the word “fuck” on my tongue. I couldn’t make myself spit it out; it was against my very nature to say something that I could not say to my grandmother. But after countless hours with these words ringing in my ears – “cunt” – “piss” – “dickhead” – it was time. I couldn’t hold back any longer. The first time I ever held my head high and proclaimed with gusto: “I don’t give a shit!” I felt like a new woman. One whose language would utterly shock an adult, were they ever to hear me use it. Which they never would.
While “shit” really hit the spot for me, Kelly had her favorite words to use, and the golden standard was Bitch. She used it for everything.
“Oh my God, Mrs. Ardell is such a bitch. She gave us so much homework!”
“I’m gonna kick Stephanie’s ass for her after school. What a bitch.”
“Get away from me, Erica! Don’t be a bitch!”
It came out of her mouth any time someone crossed her path in a manner she found unsatisfactory. I could only imagine what family dinners were like at her house: “Hey Ma, pass the carrots, you dirty bitch.” At the time, I hardly gave it a second thought. What was to think about? Kelly was older than me, and scarier by a wide margin. She could go around calling people cock-gobbling cum dumpsters, for all I cared. I certainly wasn’t going to call her on it.
Now I question her motives. Why was she obsessed with that word? What about that word makes it such a satisfying thing to throw at a woman who is in our way?
By now, we’re all aware that the word “bitch” derives from a perfectly ordinary denotation of a female canine animal, such as a dog or a fox. But the vulgarity of the word stretches all the way back to the 1300’s, when it began to be used for human subjects to compare them to a dog, specifically a dog in heat. A “bitch” was a word for a sexually promiscuous woman. Nowadays, the word has expanded to mean any woman who is coming off as rude, unreasonable, or belligerent. It is unusual for the word “bitch” to refer to a man – unless that man is displaying characteristic that are perceived as typically “feminine,” such as cowardice or cattiness.
The idea of gender-specific insults is a slippery slope. By calling a woman a “bitch,” we insinuate that not only is she badly behaved, but she is badly behaved in a way that, somehow, only a woman could be. She is displaying a level of fuckery so debauched it could only have come from the owner of a vajay. It implies that there is some sort of brain damage occuring exclusively in women that causes incurable awfulness in some of them, some tapeworm of asshattery specific to the female race. She can’t help it – it’s just her tapeworm talking!
To make matters worse, “bitch” is often used in reference to a woman who is not behaving badly – but merely is behaving the way one would expect a man to behave. An assertive female boss at an office might be called a bitch simply for asking someone to do a task. A lady who chooses to ignore a come-on from a guy while she is enjoying drinks at a bar with her friends is suddenly a bitch, not to mention frigid. And feminists are so used to being called bitches for having opinions, we hear it in our dreams. It has become a term utilized to push women back into traditional roles and punish those who refuse to do so.
Of course, it was only a matter of time before somebody tried to “take back” the word and make “bitch” into a positive thing: “honey, I’m a bad bitch” or “that bitch Britney is lookin fine these days” or “she my number one bitch, y’all.” Listen, it’s fine if you want to refer to yourself as a bitch. No one is stopping you. And if you have the express permission from a good friend to call them a bitch, go right ahead. It’s a free country.
It’s just not ladylike to go around calling people bitches and assuming they’re going to be okay with it, and it’s certainly not very witty or impressive to use the term to insult a fellow lady. You’re not describing her personality or her behavior. You’re just using a patriarchal term to vaguely describe your perception of her negativity.
Of course, I am by no means innocent. I realized that I use this less than creative word all the time, and so to remedy the situation, I spent a little time looking up some alternatives. For your insulting pleasure, allow to me to offer some spicy options for when you would like to express your displeasure with someone of either sex:
-Cotton-headed ninny muggins
There you have it! A bunch of ways to insult someone you hate without referring to their gender in any way. Do you feel freed? Do you feel like the wide world of hatred and disrespect is open to you? Because you should. Welcome to the world, my friends. It’s a beautiful place.