The Denisonian

The Etymology of Bitch

“Let me explain to you what being a bitch is,” says drag queen Latrice Royale in season 4 of RuPaul’s Drag Race. My ears perk up.  Royale continues, “Being in total control of herself.”

The first time someone called me a bitch, I was 13. I was in the cafeteria of my middle school and being the British, queue following woman I am, I called a classmate out for cutting the sandwich line. “Why do you care so much?” he retorted.

“Because I want my sandwich…duh.” (I probably rolled my eyes, too, for good measure).

“It doesn’t even matter, don’t be such a bitch.”

And so began the plague of puberty, of feminist understanding and self-awareness that bring us to the present day drag-competition-watching-woman I am now.

I’ve been called a bitch on a plethora of occasions from the ages of 13 to 20. But honestly, not one of them has shaken me of my confidence. Quite the opposite, actually. I find the name empowering because there’s something damn special about being in total control of yourself that no one can take away from you.

On why he uses profanity, guru Tony Robbins says, “I use language in a very direct way. In every culture there are taboo words and when you use them you’re able to interrupt the noise in people’s heads. I want to provoke people back into the reality of this moment. That’s how people change.”

I’d argue that twisting the profane etymology of bitch allows a woman to do three things to interrupt that social noise.

First, she understands that being in total control of herself is a joyous, empowering and worthy feat. It doesn’t necessarily mean that she is unable to be vulnerable, but instead allows to her to love herself as she is, and to be able to withstand the impressions and oppressions of control society constantly pressures her with.

Second, when someone calls her a bitch, and she knows that she did something to spark that response as a result of being in total control of herself. She knows she shook things up, probably for the better. From my experience, people name call because they can’t articulate some emotion properly. To be in total control of herself means a woman has done something right, she’s spoken some truth, she’s shaken things up.

Finally, to be in total control of herself means she’s been able to quantify her self-worth and know her own strength. She’s found the inner-power of herself and made it known. That’s powerful, and if someone calls her a bitch because of it, it’s that same strength that will clear the noise and come back swinging (verbally of course).

Let me be clear, I do not mean that being in total control of herself is an excuse to be cruel, unkind, vicious or manipulative–actions that might warrant the traditional, colloquial verbiage of bitch or bitchiness. On the contrary, I’m saying that in our current age of conversations about women and their power, it’s time we distorted those traditional meanings to make them something we can hold onto for strength and empowerment.

In my experience, as in the experiences others have shared with me, bitch leaves people’s’ lips when they can’t handle that empowerment. Much like the philosophy and mission of the Guerrilla Girls, being in total control of herself is hegemonic misbehavior. But it’s that kind of misbehaving that shakes up the noise in people’s heads, and frankly, makes being a bitch so vital.

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