I think The B may have has lost its sting.
Maybe we have feminists to thank. Maybe Lil’ Kim deserves the kudos. All I know is I remember a time when, if you called a woman a bitch, you needed to be able to duck as fast as you talked because she was gonna come for your tail, no questions asked. That one little five-letter word had the power to turn even mild-mannered, even-tempered ladies into, well, bitches. Raving mad ones at that. Now it’s a 50/50 crap shoot whether you’ll even get a rise out of the target in question.
I also remember when my gay guy bestie tried to greet me with “there’s my bitch” and got a swift and piercing side eye. If looks could kill, he might not have been dead, but he certainly would’ve been laid up in intensive care. That was the first and last time he referred to me that way. Maybe it was cool with the other chicks in his harem of straight homegirls, but not me. Contrary to what Joy Behar, and oh so many other women contend, bitch isn’t a term of endearment. Friendy is. Dollface is. Pumpkin seed is. Bitch? Not so much. Just like I wish folks would retire the n-word once and for all, I can think of 1,000 other things I’d want to call my friends and associates.
Bitch wasn’t a term I ever aligned myself with. Chile please. I grew up in a household where it was just about illegal to say “fart” (we had to say “crack” or “break wind” because they were much easier on my mom and grandmother’s tender ears) and telling somebody to shut up was almost sure to get you sent to that creepy spare bedroom in the back of the house for a seemingly infinite amount of time, until you could get your act together and act civilized. On one occasion, I even remember getting my mother’s watch-yourself-or-watch-my-backhand stare when I let out a “God dangit!” which, in her estimation, was too close to the real thing. So cussing was out of the question—both from adults and kids—and if they did let a blooper slip on rare occasion, the B word was never one of them.
Now, I notice I’ve grown desensitized to it. I mean, I am, after all a “baby mama.” And next to female politicians, bill collectors, cops, meter maids, and waitresses who too frequently get folks’ drink orders wrong, we get the brunt of the bitch-calling. Studies show… nah, I’m just kidding. I don’t have a study about how many times a baby mama gets called a bitch. I just know that, in my walk of single motherhood, I’ve developed a super resilient, almost bulletproof skin that lets meanie poo names just bounce right on off it. Still, I was never on some purposeful mission to own and embrace the B word like a hardcore feminist. They even have Bitch magazine. They are serious about their bitch.
The insult isn’t in the word itself, it’s in the fact that the person who’s saying it is in fact trying to insult you. So whether they dropped the B bomb or came up with some obscure, totally random slur they just crafted off the top of their heads, the matter at hand is that, for whatever reason, the guy or gal on the other end of the conversation is trying to hurt your feelings or, at the very least, get under your skin. Until recently, calling a girl a bitch was a good way to do it. Now, if you’re trying to offend me, you’re going to have to come harder than that. I mean, at least let me give you points for creativity and appropriateness.
I was sitting at a four-way stop in my neighborhood, everybody hesitating, looking at each other like doofuses, no one observing the clockwise rule of thumb I’m sure we had to know at some point in order to get our learner’s permit. But I’m not one to let the grass grow under my tires, so I put my foot on the gas and started to pull off just as the car to my left did the same. She stopped short, glared at me and, through her open window, screamed out the window: “Bitch!”
I didn’t even flinch. I was probably five or six minutes down the street before I noticed that I hadn’t had a reaction at all.
You know, we blame society for devaluing women, but turning bitch into the go-to pet name doesn’t say much for what we think of ourselves either. As much as it gets tossed around, there’s no wonder some of us are able to shake it off whenever we hear it. What the next big slander will be remains to be seen. Bitch will, of course, always be a standard, a time-honored classic that transcends even language and cultural barriers. I’ve seen Mexican immigrants barely able to piece together two English sentences manage to call a lady in a Lowe’s parking lot the B word. And she, like so many of the rest of us, just turned her nose in the air, pushed her cart into motion and kept on rollin’.