I’ve always grappled with the word “b**ch.”
When it is at the epicenter of my self-deprecating quips, the word is a celebration of who I am, unabashedly living my life and laughing at myself. “Guess which b**ch just spilled yogurt on her jeans?!” Me. I am that b**ch, indirectly empowering myself by acknowledging my daily wins and loses.
I’m also that b**ch when greeted by female friends on a regular basis. “Hey, b**ch!” is exclaimed with a smile. Within my haven of female best friends, b**ch is tossed around constantly. It rolls off the tongue slightly harsher and more hilariously than “girl.”
“Girl” is generic. “B**ch” seems personal.
Due to the somewhat confusing reclamation of the word by second wave feminism as an empowering term, “b**ch” is intensely personal because its meaning depends on speaker and context. I accept b**ch from my female friends. I’ve accepted b**ch as hard-hitting constructive criticism from my mother. And I accept b**ch, sincerely and without hesitation, from my male best friend.
However, my comfort level with such a powerful word could not and should not dominate any exploration of “b**ch” and its implications. So, I asked some of my female friends how they felt about the word as well.
Most of the women I spoke with differentiated female usage of the word b**ch into two distinct categories: to empower and to undermine.
B**ch can be a term of endearment when context is “playful” says Lila Patinkin ’20.
“If I feel like it is in a humorous or affectionate way, it feels like an inside joke” remarks Charlotte Karlsen ’20.
Reflecting on my personal and liberal use of the word “b**ch,” Karlsen’s comment resonated with me. When there’s a level of trust and positive understanding between two people, usually women, throwing around “b**ch” signifies a bond. When I know exactly who it’s coming from and why they’re using it, “b**ch” feels like being a member of a club.
That’s why, conversely, some women have found difficulty in accepting b**ch as an insult from other women. It “feels like a violation of the ‘sisterhood,’ so to speak” notes Rebecca Havian ’19.
Personally, when a woman calls me a b**ch, it hits harder because she and I both know exactly what she is doing in using the word. The “sisterhood” can be manipulated because “women know the intensity of,” b**ch” says Hannah Golub ’21.
Succinctly put, “If it is in a cruel or accusatory way, it stings worse than a****le but is easier to take than c**t,” observes Karlsen.
Uniquely, “b**ch” is incredibly difficult to “take” from a man. I’ve questioned why I cringe when I hear men use the word in any context. Moreover, I haven’t felt secure enough to call out the men in my life when they use b**ch.
“The assertion of power that comes” from a man calling a woman a b**ch “makes me innately more afraid or shocked than to hear it out of a woman’s mouth” says Maddy Clark ’20.
There is something off-putting and “unsettling” Karlsen remarks in hearing men use “b**ch” because it is inexplicably linked to the patriarchal society in which we still live. No matter how well-intentioned the usage, b**ch’s patriarchal degradation lingers.
Unfortunately, this fact is lost on most. The word has been abandoned in a sort of linguistic purgatory. Does “b**ch” “mean [someone] is cold or uncaring or literally just a female?” asks Rebecca Berger ’19.
The way I see it, this sort of ambiguity grants us with an immense amount of responsibility. As with any word we use when interacting with others, we must be cognizant of the “implications and power dynamics at play” notes Patinkin.
Language is complex and nuanced, and any sort of rulebook concerning who should use “b**ch,” and how, is far out of our control. What we can control, however, is how we interact with the word in our own lives. Women, let nothing stop you from using “b**ch” in contexts in which you feel comfortable.
Let it be “endearing and playful” says Claire Sullivan ’19.
And, know that if “b**ch,” when used by a man, makes you uncomfortable, you are valid in alerting the men in your life of that aversion. Our words have the ability to break or reinforce societal hierarchies and trends, and “b**ch” holds an immense amount of power.