On the word bitch
Of course I'm offended by the PETA ad campaigns. As a long-time radical lesbian feminist, I abhor the explotation of the female body and the objectification of women as nothing more than sexual beings.
I would never give a dime to PETA even though I am also strongly in favor of the humane treatment of animals
However, how does its strategy of using "shock" to draw attention differ from your magazine? After all, isn't calling yourself "BITCH" simply a way to show how chic and clever and modern you are, how 'in your face' you can be, and how you like to flaunt convensional standards of language and cultural acceptance
The word bitch (unless applied to certain animals) has always been and is still a derogatory and borderline vulgar term for women. Old fashioned ideas? Sure. But so is not displaying naked women in suggestive poses just to sell products or ideas.
For "Bitch" to complain about PETA is disingenuous and hypocritical.
I want to make clear up front that this post (as all of my posts) represents my own thinking, not necessarily the perspective of the organization...
The b-word is something I think about a lot in my work here at Bitch. All the time, actually. It's mighty strange to be the director of an organization whose title I'd long felt conflicted about (to clarify, I wasn't around when Lisa and Andi founded Bitch). (To clarify futher, because I'm obsessive like that, I've never been conflicted about the work we do; only whether it's best to continue doing it under the name Bitch.)
It's not that I didn't understand why Lisa and Andi decided to call it Bitch. As Andi explained recently in the Washington Post:
Bitch is a word we use culturally to describe any woman who is strong, angry, uncompromising and, often, uninterested in pleasing men. We use the term for a woman on the street who doesn't respond to men's catcalls or smile when they say, "Cheer up, baby, it can't be thatbad." We use it for the woman who has a better job than a man and doesn't apologize for it. We use it for the woman who doesn't back down from a confrontation.
So let's not be disingenuous. Is it a bad word? Of course it is. As a culture, we've done everything possible to make sure of that, starting with a constantly perpetuated mindset that deems powerful women to be scary, angry and, of course, unfeminine -- and sees uncompromising speech by women as anathema to a tidy, well-run world.
It's for just these reasons that when Lisa Jervis and I started the magazine in 1996, no other title was even up for consideration. As young women who had been bombarded with the word for, say, daring to walk down the street in tank tops, we knew what kinds of insults would be hurled when we started publishing articles on sexism
in consumer and popular culture.
How can anyone argue with that?
My major hang up has been that I know many women who have visceral reactions to the word, sometimes because they've had it hurled at them in abusive relationships. Several months ago, for instance, a feminist therapist friend told me some of the people she works with said they felt assaulted in what was supposed to be a "safe" space when she left some issues of Bitch in the lobby. My heart sank when I heard this.
My other main hang up has been concern that, despite what I think is huge potential to work with youth around issues of media literacy and media criticism, our title will continue to be an obstacle in these efforts.
But the thing is, whenever I ask people if we should consider changing our name, almost without exception, I heard a loud, NO! Even people who work with youth, or who have children of their own, felt that our title is an essential component to our work.
It's not that we're trying to be clever, modern, or even necessarily 'in your face.' It's that we're trying to claim the word bitch as something smart, powerful, strong. And yes, show that being uncompromising and angry is not just necessary sometimes, but that it can lead to positive change.
In all honesty, it was only recently that the scales tipped for me, affirming in my own mind/heart the fight for the word Bitch. I was waiting to cross a busy street. On the other side of the street a boy chased another boy and yelled, "Bitch!" when he couldn't catch up.
They were probably 8 years old. The way he yelled Bitch was... I don't know how to explain it... ugly... aggressive... mean... he was clearly trying to yell the most hateful thing he could think of at the other boy.
And I don't know how to explain this either, except to say that I had my first visceral reaction to the word. Even though it wasn't directed at me, I totally understood what the fight was about. That the only way to de-charge a loaded word is to use it, reclaim it, (re)appropriate it.
I'm not saying it's not complicated, or that we shouldn't listen to the people who feel assaulted by the word, or give up on trying to work with youth when schools tell us that they won't allow the magazine on their grounds, but that I think this work -- including using the word Bitch -- remains just as critical now as it did back when Bitch was founded 12 years ago.
I'd love to know what others think.
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