By Claudia Meng ’18
The first time I was ever called a bitch was in sixth grade. We were having a debate in English class and the further we got into it, the more vocal I became. When it was my turn to speak, I remember standing up and confidently refuting my opponent’s points. Having made my case, I sat down with a triumphant smile; unfortunately, my sense of accomplishment was short lived. After the debate, a classmate walked up to my face and boldly remarked: “You made good points. But you didn’t have to be such a bitch about it.”
My heart dropped. I couldn’t talk at all, let alone try to defend myself. The moment I heard the word, a crushing sense of shame filled me to my core. The humiliation faded over time, but the hurt associated with “bitch” never did.
The word “bitch” holds immense power. Once a girl is labeled as a bitch, she is considered undesirable, whether as a friend or a potential romantic interest. She may be funny, intelligent, and loyal, but if she’s rumored to be a bitch, none of those positive qualities matter. She just isn’t quiet enough, nice enough, or submissive enough.
“Bitch” is a gendered insult. It’s origins can be traced back to the fourteenth century, when it was first applied to women who were overly promiscuous. This use of the word intended to draw a parallel between lewd, loose women and sexually crazed female dogs. Today, “bitch” can be used in many different contexts but still reinforces the archaic idea that women are inferior to men. We often allow the harmful word to enter our dialogue in everyday use without paying attention to the damaging effects it has on all genders. But the effects are there, and they need to be challenged.
The scenarios in which a girl might be referred to as a bitch starkly contrast those those in which the word is directed toward boys. Perhaps she is bold and vocal about her opinions or challenges someone’s masculinity by questioning his opinion (the latter of which happens far more often than we realize). Regardless of her reasons for doing so she is often seen as over-eager to assert herself, and so “bitch” is used to put her back in her place. He, on the other hand, is called a bitch almost exclusively in order to belittle his manhood, i.e.“He’s such a little bitch.” In this context, “bitch” is synonymous to “pussy,” a derogatory term, once again rooted in sexism, for female genitals used to dismiss his masculinity. “Bitch,” when directed toward boys, insinuates that one isn’t asserting dominance, and is therefore inferior. When directed toward girls, however, “bitch” targets a woman’s attempt to act traditionally masculine and aims to shut it down. The paradoxical applications of the word reveal the limits that sexism places on both sexes; a lack of dominance in men is equally as undesirable as the slightest shadow of dominance in women. Ultimately, the word “bitch” is used to subjugate feminine traits.
Pressure for girls to be submissive and boys to be dominant is frequently demonstrated in the classroom at Andover. As aggression and assertiveness are considered masculine traits, an outspoken girl who dominates class conversation is often classified a bitch, or chastised for being too combative or just plain annoying. As someone who is outspoken and opinionated by nature, I have been called a bitch on multiple occasions. It hurts. What hurts more is that if I were a boy making the same comments and behaving in the same way, people wouldn’t even question me, let alone attack me.
Even today, I catch myself struggling with not wanting to be perceived as “bitchy.” It takes effort to put that mentality aside, but it is an important thing to do. Why do we put so much pressure on girls to be submissive? I should be able to express my viewpoints when I want, how I want to, without the fear of being labeled as an over-aggressive bitch. I can be a woman and be strong. I should, and will, be unapologetic of my opinions. And I’ll do it with pride.