“I call a bitch a bitch, a ho a ho, a woman a woman.” – Kendrick Lamar
I’m going to talk about “bitch” in this article, but before I do, I need to submit a disclaimer. As a man, I don’t have the perspective to speak on the impact that “bitch” has on women. Therefore, I am not presenting an argument one way or another on that. Instead, I want to analyze whether or not I personally accept “bitch” as a profane and offensive word.
I was raised by women. My grandma served as my second parent, next to my mom. I had aunties, women-cousins, and three sisters. When I was an adult, I had a baby girl. My whole life, I’ve only known the word “bitch” to be explicitly taboo.
This was heavily reinforced by the music I listened to growing up. Jay Z’s “Sisters & Bitches” was a late album cut from the “Blueprint 2,” where Hov listed all of the differences between women who are SISTERS and women who are BITCHES. For example, “sisters work hard, bitches work your nerves” and “Sisters hold you down, bitches hold you up.” Years later Lupe Fiasco made a song called “Bitch Bad,” that walked listeners through the psychological effect of women using the word “bitch” on children, male and female, and society at large.
All in all, I knew that using “bitch” was never ok. In my self-righteousness, I went out of my way to check people when they used it, even if we were behind close doors. “Why does she have to be a bitch?” was one of my favorite refrains. “What are we really saying about how we view women, if we are calling them out of their names?” was another.
This was all until a friend of mine, poet/rapper Tripp Fontane, shook my world with a passionate defense of the word. “If a woman wants to call herself a bitch, so be it,” he said. “I don’t have to agree or disagree with it. If a woman has found it in herself to take ownership of a word and make good by its definition, who am I to try taking that power from her?”
His response was similar to my defense of nigga and it really struck a nerve with me. If I don’t believe anything else in life, it’s that all words are made up and their definitions change over time. Who am I to say that my understanding of a word is superior and speaks to whether or not a word has worth? For weeks, I’ve been grappling with how now I felt about “bitch” and more importantly, asking why I hated it so much.
I think it’s important to note that my understanding on the topic is not just about women referring to themselves as bitch, but also men. I’m not being morally honest if I act like I don’t see “bitch” and “woman” as interchangeable. Years ago, my brother and I had a conversation and we resolved that it was no longer appropriate to be offended if we were called a “bitch” anymore, even as an insult. That’s because subconsciously, we understood that to be called a bitch, was to be called a woman and consciously we needed to embrace the idea that being a woman does not mean that you are lesser. I still feel this way, but even in accepting this truth, I give credence to the fact that “bitch” is often used as a replacement for “woman”.
But on the opposite side of the coin, I had to also accept that every time somebody says the word, they are not actively intending to disrespect or belittle women. I’ve concluded it’s a matter of intention.
On “Watch The Throne,” Kanye West and Jay Z take turns bragging about their wives on the song “That’s My Bitch.” When Jay Z says “get your own dog, ya heard? That’s my bitch”, was he attempting to discredit, marginalize or belittle his superstar wife Beyoncé? Or what about on “Beach is Better” where Jay Z says, “I took sand to the beach, cause my beach (bitch) is better”? In both cases, Jay Z is speaking very glowingly about a woman that he cares about, admires, and professes to love. Previously, I’d have said, “well if he loves her so much, why is he calling her a bitch.” Now I have to ask, who am I to ascribe positive or negative connotation in the first place.
I asked FPM Fashion Writer Courey McLemore, and lover of the word “bitch”, how she felt when men tell her she can’t say it. “Like they are again attempting to use the way women speak to each other as a means of control,” she replied. I reminded her that the word is supposed to be disrespectful and demeaning to women to which she said, “In general, my response to that is that some men treat women the way that whites people treat black people. And that’s across the board. Ill get into that another day.”
“But the way that whites are quick to demean the way we’ve (blacks) turned words against us and used them (the words) as a means to show love to each other, is the same way men do (with regards to the usage of bitch). The issue is people don’t acknowledge INTENT. With any word in the English language, the intent is important.”
At the end of the day, I think that Tripp and Corey are right. Tripp said to me, “there are self-described boss bitches, and lawyer bitches, and CEO bitches, and poet bitches. Who am I to tell them that they not?” More importantly, who am I to say that they are disrespecting themselves by calling themselves what they please. It’s not about the word, as much as it is about the intent. I still don’t feel comfortable using it myself, but if women want to call themselves “bitch,” who am I to say that that’s wrong. That’s almost as bad somebody telling me I can’t call myself nigga.
“I got every reason to feel like I’m that bitch.” – Beyoncé