I’ve spent the weekend at a debate tournament in Atlanta, GA. I was listening to people talk about debates and someone said, “I hate those girls that are really nice before rounds and then get bitchy during the debate.” It’s statements like that the completely infuriate me, mainly because this is a huge double standard when it comes to debate and life in general I believe. Men can be aggressive in a debate and people thing they’re a good debater. If women are aggressive, she’s being a bitch. I’m going to admit something- I’m an aggressive debater, sorry not sorry. I stand my ground and I’m not going to be pushed around in a debate. Many people think this is a negative quality in a women. In fact, many people think a woman should shut up and keep her mouth shut– if she isn’t she’s a bitch.
Let me tell you the worst comment that has been said to be about how I’m an assertive debater. My opponent last year, after facing me a few times, asked “Sam, you’ve made someone cry in rounds before, right?” I was shocked and pretty insulted by this comment– the reason I was asked this is because I am a women and I’m assertive. If I was a male, no one would have questioned how I act in a debate. Patriarchy at its finest.
This hurts women in a few ways:
1. It hurts us in the workplace. You have to be assertive now a days in the work force. There are more people in most feels than there are jobs. If you want to rise to the top, you’re going to have to push for it. However, men who are assertive are seen as driven and are given a pat on the back, a promotion, a better title, a raise, or a mixture of those options. Sadly it’s not the same for women. Women are can go one of two routes in the workforce. We won’t be assertive because that’s how our parents, teachers, mentors and society have conditioned us. We should be nice, quiet and reserved and good things will come to us. We also could be assertive but most likely will be reprimanded for it because we look bitchy and pushy.
2. It hurts us in academic spaces. If we speak our minds, we look like a know-it-all and pushy. That’s one reason why men refer to smart, assertive, and intimidating women as a bitch. It just encourages young women to sometimes “play dumb”– we all have either encountered this or have done this. I think a good example is Cady from Mean Girls. She plays dumb so she isn’t intimidating to Aaron, that way he will like her because god forbid that she be perceived as intelligent.
The reason I have a few problems with the word bitch in these contexts.
First, I’m think it’s important to know the origin of the words you use. I think knowing why words came about is pretty important in order to stop re-entrenching oppressive and dominating language and behavior. So let’s get a small history lesson on the word bitch. The word bitch emerged in the 12th century from the word “bicche” to refer to a female dog. However, referring to a woman as a female dog predates the origin of the word bitch. In Ancient Greece and Rome is was a sexist term to compare women to a dog in heat. In the Dark Ages men used it to suppress the common belief that femininity was sacred. This is also when the insult “son of a bitch” emerged to ridicule pagans who worshiped Diana, the goddess of the hunt. That phrase then evolved to mean an insult to a horrible man. So during the Dark Ages, the term was used to insult men, by either referring to him as a woman or equating him with a dirty female animal. However in the 18th century, we began insulting women once again with the word bitch and it was used so much it began forced it’s original meaning (female dog) out of usage. At the beginning of the 20th century, the word began to refer to obscenity– the worst meaning of the word at this point in time was referring to a woman as a whore. The next real rise in the word was in the 1920’s after women got the right to vote. Then the word popped up again in popularity after World War 2 and women weren’t needed to hold down the home front. During the 3rd wave of feminism, feminists tried to reclaim the word and have control over it’s meaning.
Second, men (not all) use the word to put down women, to dominate them, to ensure their privilege. And I think this is a real problem. I don’t think a lot of people understand this is what it does but they use the word to dismiss a women, despite her intelligence, despite her accomplishments, if she is intimidating then it’s one of the first words that comes to mind and probably is what they refer to her as. And I think it is critical that we try and remove this concept and idea of women out of our culture and society. It will remove this double standard how how men are expected to be an assertive, authoritative figure and women need to be a damsel in distress: quiet, reserved, and polite, keeping her comments to herself.
Let me know if you agree or disagree,
*Disclaimer– I don’t think that every time that someone uses the word bitch this is what they mean intentionally. I personally believe that men using this word toward women has historically served a purpose which has perpetuated that same meaning to our culture and discourse today.