Nnedi Okorafor-Mbachu

The B-Word

Check the tenth song on The Love Below, Andre's half of Outkast's latest double album, a song called "Roses."

In the first half of the song, Andre belts out, "Caroline, you're the reason for the word 'bitch.'" Later Big Boi eloquently says, "But game been peeped, dropping names she's weak. Trickin' off this bitch is lost. Must take me for a geek." Andre continues with this theme: "Better come back down to Mars. Girl, quit chasin' cars. What happens when the dough gets low? Bitch, you ain't that fine. No way... no way... no way!" Then at the end of the song, several times, Big Boi chants "Crazy Bitch."

What is it with this word? Everywhere I turn my ear I hear it.

For a while, women tried to reclaim the word, just as black people tried to reclaim the word "nigger." It didn't work. Instead, use of the word -- not by women to empower women, but by men to demean women -- has multiplied, in music, on television, in books, in movies, in arguments, in everyday life as a whole. The B-word crosses color and age and class lines. It seems like everyone feels entitled to use it.

I have no problem with curse words (as long as they aren't used too often or around children). Sometimes they're the only way to express what one is feeling. But I take exception to the B-word. This word has a key linguistic issue that no other curse word in current American slang has.

What makes a woman a "bitch"? There seem to be infinite criteria, but only one is really necessary. To be a "bitch," all you have to be is a woman. Any other attributes -- positive, negative -- are secondary. These days, people use "bitch" when they mean "woman" -- it's an insult that attacks the core of one's identity.

These days, men sometimes face the B-word, too. The reason it's insulting to call a man a bitch is the same reason men don't want to, for example, hit the baseball "like a girl." To call a man a bitch is calling him a woman. In our sexist society, that alone is an insult.

A little more background on the history of this word: According to The Women's Encyclopedia of Myths and Secrets, "The word bitch became a naughty word in Christian Europe because it was one of the most sacred titles of the Goddess, Artemis-Diana, leaders of the Scythian alani or 'hunting dogs.'...In Christian terms, 'son of a bitch' was considered insulting not because it meant a dog, but because it meant the devil -- that is, a spiritual son of the pagan Goddess."

So basically, a goddess has been turned into a curse word. A true sign of the times.

This is not the first time I've seen a powerful goddess made into something less. In my research of African spirituality I have seen one goddess transformed into many less powerful goddesses (all of whom were married to one god). I've also seen powerful goddesses simply turned to male deities, gods. The common theme? The debasement of female powers.

This word is so ingrained in our common vocabulary that it'll be hard for some to stop using it. A small dose of anger toward any woman easily sparks its use. But why not replace this one with something that suits the situation? For example, if a woman is being mean, call her mean. Call her nasty, lowdown, whatever you want -- but curse her meanness, don't insult her for being a woman.

Is being female something to laugh at or mock? We all come from women. Would you want someone to call your mother the B-word? I didn't think so.

During an argument, does it typically help to hurt to call a woman a bitch? Is this your goal?

I know some of you will chalk this essay up to just another woman writer bitching. If you do, please think about why you consider it so. And try to use another word.

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