Yesterday, another show with the “B” word in the title, the second of this season, debuted on network television. This was sufficient news to create an AP story. Not that anything isn’t sufficient news to create an AP story.
Anyway, the slant of this particular story intrigued me. The debate of course is whether the word “bitch”, or even the insinuation thereof in the form of the letter “B”, is derogatory toward women, or if we’ve all moved on and accepted this term as something common and uncontroversial.
Defense the usage cited examples of the word being adopted as an empowering moniker by women themselves, and also noted that it was clearly a desperate play for attention anyway, not any kind of social statement. The network airing the shows is helmed by a woman, and this allows them to dip their toe into the pool of edgy without falling headlong into a sinkhole of controversy.
Critics worried that the acceptance of the television show titles was symptomatic, indicative of the larger assault on women; that this was just the birthday candle on the icing of the cake created by (male) Republicans taking aim at women’s reproductive rights and (male) right-wing commentators “freely” calling women “sluts” and “prostitutes.”
Since both shows made it clear that their respective “b-word” associated characters were to be portrayed as negative stereotypes, it appears this isn’t an attempt to “reclaim” the term in a positive light on behalf of strong, assertive women. And that’s something, unfortunately, women just aren’t quite ready to do for themselves. Sure, we’ll affectionately exclaim “bitch!” to congratulate and pat our girlfriends on the back, or we’ll use the noun to reference those tough women we admire: “That bitch could take on any of ‘em!” The same even goes for those other derogatory words aimed at women: Slut, whore, cunt.
But it’s still obvious that even more than we want to defang these words and take away their power to wound us, we want to make sure we have them available as sharp barbs of our own to throw at one another. We don’t really want men to stop aiming these slurs at us and meaning it, because if they did then the same slurs we hurl at one another in our anger and insecurity would have no impact. Women must be willing to admit that we are the ones who aren’t willing to beat our swords into plowshares.
That’s why the wider cultural response to the Trayvon Martin shooting irked me. Tragedy acknowledged and set aside, the hysteria about the nature of the tragedy was disingenuous. The media hyped a narrative where white hostility and prejudice resulted in black death, as if this was the prevailing danger and derogatory cultural influence affecting young black males. As if young black males weren’t out-posturing each other into early graves in every urban center of America. We know this to be the case; so much so that we can’t even muster any outrage over it any more. So we can only take exception when the violence comes from outside the self-destructive demographic.
Whoever “we” are, we need to acknowledge that we are always our own worst enemies.