Wednesday, August 01, 2007

Where are we at with "bitch"?

This question was posed over at the IBTP Forum and I've been meditating on it. It's offensive, demeaning, and misogynist, and I've done my rock-solid best to eradicate it from my vocabulary. For me, it's a litmus test. If someone calls me a bitch to my face, I get this strangely triumphant feeling, like, "I KNOW who I am dealing with. Now I've got this person's number." It doesn't hurt my feelings, but it is clearly used with a vicious intent. When someone chooses to use that word, he is at the bottom of his bag of tricks. If it's an argument, I've won. There's no doubting it, because a "bitch" is what you call a woman when you can no longer keep up your side of the issue, and you want to derail her by hurting her to the quick. Call me a bitch, and you're beneath my contempt. It's an eye-opening term.

The last person that called me a bitch to my face was shopping at Target. She and her sister were having a loud conversation in the dressing rooms: one was outside, one at the far end, and they were shouting up and down the hall to each other. It was unbelievably annoying. One said, "I think she doesn't know what she sounds like." I couldn't stand it any longer. I said, "I don't think y'all know what YOU sound like." You could've heard a pin drop. Then dressing room sister says something about how it's none of my business. I tell her she shouldn't talk so loud, then. She starts ranting about how she's got four kids and she can't help it if she can't bring them into the dressing room with her. I almost, ALMOST, said, "Well, that was YOUR lifestyle choice." I refrained. Fast-forward a few minutes. Sisters are haranguing the dressing room attendant who, bless her heart, is saying, "Oh, I think she's gone." I walk out, we lock eyes, and she knows it's me. She starts ranting again, as I pretty much ignore her and go about my business. She finally says, "YOU ARE A BITCH." I smile. I know she's lost it. I look slowly at her two children, sitting in front of her, looking up at mommy, and say, "You are a fine role model for your children," and walk off. I admit, I was full of adrenaline but she didn't see me flinch. She didn't say another word. I knew, KNEW, that she was beyond discussion, beyond reason, beyond her temper.

The second to last person who called me a bitch to my face took it a step further: she called me a "fat bitch." This was a co-worker, who, thankfully, resigned a few months later. She crossed the line with me. She MEANT to say the most hurtful possible thing. She said as she was walking out the door, too afraid to face the consequences. While we worked together, I answered her questions but never said hello or acknowledged her existence otherwise. Since then, I see her now and again. I do not speak to her. I make no bones about it. If her name comes up, I'm not going to pretend like she is anything but persona non grata. I've told people what she called me; I'm not ashamed of it. She should be ashamed. She is a mean, crazy person and deserves nothing less than contempt and snubbing.

The third-to-last person who called me a bitch got forgiven on a technicality: an ex told me I was "acting like a bitch." I stopped speaking to him then and there. I refused to finish the argument. I only answered his questions, I didn't look him in the eye, and I left whatever room he was in. We were living together, but somehow it took him three days to put the puzzle together. He walked in and said, "You're not speaking to me, are you?" No, no I'm not. "Is it because I called you a bitch?" Yes. I got a sincere apology, and I started speaking to him again.

In all three cases, a strange calm came over me because the line was crossed. There was no "maybe I'm overreacting, maybe I'm being too sensitive, etc." No. When someone calls me a bitch, I know how to react. Maybe that's why it makes it easy to deal with. You can't pretend like you didn't MEAN to hurt someone when you call them a bitch. It's sort of like a racist just going ahead and wearing a swastika; at least you can see 'em coming, right? I figure anyone who calls a woman a bitch is outing themselves as a hateful piece of shit, beneath contempt.

I'm not comfortable with the idea of reclaiming the word. It's demeaning, because it's dehumanizing. Quite LITERALLY: it's calling someone a dog. And, frankly, most dogs are a hell of a lot nicer than most people I know, so it's also an insult to dogs. If someone says I'm a bitch, part of me wants to snicker and say, "Why yes, yes I am." If it doesn't work as a verbal cudgel, it loses its power.

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