To B*tch or Not to B*tch


Grace Kosten

The frequent use of the B-word in media and daily life is widely accepted. The question is: should it be?

As soon as I started driving myself to school, Monday mornings became synonymous with Rihanna. A perfectly timed playlist comprised of her music was my weekly wake-up tradition; my friends had coffee, and I had “Pon de Replay.”

Cruising up Sepulveda Boulevard with my windows open and the song’s drum beats rumbling beneath my feet made me feel unstoppable. Even in the exasperating moments when a red light forced traffic to slow down, I could relish in the seemingly unbounded freedom to go anywhere by myself and jam out to loud, empowering music.

Week by week, Rihanna’s lyrics were drilled into my mind. They became just as familiar as the road’s hillside curves and the 7 a.m. sunbeams dancing across my windshield. Most of the songs in my playlist maintained their energizing effects despite this familiarity, but more often than not, I found myself skipping “Bitch Better Have My Money.”

I quickly realized that what first seemed to be a fun and danceable bop about a successful, dominant woman was really just three minutes of misogyny. Rihanna compares herself to LeBron James and King Louis XIII, kidnaps her enemy’s wife and complains about a “bitch” not giving her money. She does not paint herself as an empowered woman or anything close to a feminist. Instead, “Bitch Better Have My Money” degrades and objectifies women by exclusively using men as symbols of power, turning female characters into trophies that can be stolen and making the song’s irresponsible antagonist a “bitch.”

How had such obvious misogyny masked itself as a feminist anthem? Why did my friends and I sing along loudly whenever it came on the radio? Forget empowering—when did we decide it was tolerable?

The answer to these questions came to me after one day of conversations on the quad. Girls called each other “bitches.” Phrases like “that test was a bitch,” “they are always bitching about something” and “he is totally her bitch” were not just condoned; they were ubiquitous. Girls who thought they were “reclaiming” the b-word were really just using it in demeaning and sexist ways.

Comparing an exam to a bitch implies that a bitch is something that needs to be controlled or defeated. This is not just general complaining: nobody says “that test was a jerk” or “that test was an asshole.” Rather, they use an insult directed at women to complain about an object. The use of the word “bitching” feminizes complaints and implies that they do not lead to action. Referring to a person as someone else’s “bitch” associates vulnerability and subservience with women.

Even when these phrases are used by women to describe men, they perpetuate sexism by degrading men for behaving like (inferior) girls.

Much like in the Rihanna song, “reclamation” of the b-word convinces girls that they are empowered, when in reality, they only receive the illusion of control. It is impossi-
ble to build power by using a word in ways that reinforce harmful stereotypes about women’s inferiority. Reclamation of a pejorative like “bitch” can only be successful if the word is used to directly oppose what it originally represented, and for the b-word, this is impossible.

If we try to normalize over 50% of thepopulation using a word that has been usedto degrade women for centuries, the use of that word in damaging contexts is inevitable. Words are tools that reflect and shape our understanding of the world, and sometimes they can be used for different purposes.
In this case, however, it is as if we are trying to use a blender to file our nails. The word “bitch” has always been used to compare women to bothersome, submissive animals, and ignoring this meaning’s presence in historic and contemporary use is counterproductive.

This reality should not be disappointing. There are countless other ways for women to empower themselves and take pride in strength and defiance. We can still enjoy this resistance and belt Rihanna lyrics on our way to school, but it is time to change the playlist.