Is The Word B*tch A Compliment Now?
GCB on ABC
“It is good to take the words that have power in them and take the power back. Now it depends on who is using them though. Sometimes when they call you b*tch they are not giving you the power. But sometimes I do think, “Yeah, watch out for me.” -Gloria Steinem
The above was an excerpt from a Grindstone article in February. Gloria ruminated on the B word after a screening of her documentary, Gloria: In Her Own Words, at The Athena Film Festival. Though Gloria was referring to being called a bitch 30 years ago, she brought up the interesting point that the word bitch has had quite an evolution. It originally was a descriptive term, then became horribly offensive but now could the word b*tch be a compliment? And if so, does this mean it is acceptable to use the word in a professional setting?
Last night a show premiered on ABC called GCB aka Good Christian B*tches. In April another show will premiere on ABC called “The B__In Apartment 23.” Originally it was going to have the actual word in the title but then the network made it change to Apartment 23 and then they let it be ” The B____ In Apartment 23.” So, obviously, networks aren’t going to blatantly say the word but the point is the premise of these shows is that the word bitch is being used in comical ways. And believe it or not this is the first time the B word has been used in a title of show which shows its progression. The word is also referring to strong women who don’t back down whether they be Christian Texans or insane roommates.
Kristen Chenoweth, who stars on GCB, told USA Today she was nervous about the original title, “because I am a Christian, and to have those two words together — but the truth of the matter is you can be both. And it’s not about that. That’s why ABC was so smart to change the title. It’s about women and their relationships. It’s not degrading.” The target demographic for GCB is women ages 25 to 54, “and it will strike a chord with women across that demographic 100%, said Channing Dungey, a senior vice president with ABC Entertainment Group. People of different ages and backgrounds “really give you different perspectives on what the word means to them,” says Anne Charity Hudley, director of the Linguistics Laboratory at the College of William & Mary. “For some people, it’s completely not derogatory.”
Because the B word has taken on this almost comical, larger-than-life image it almost makes it less offensive. In fact in 2007 when The New York City Council tried to put an official ban on the word, New Yorkers were furious. They said “they were taken aback by the idea of prohibiting a term that they not only use, but do so with relish and affection.” From The New York Times:
“Half my conversation would be gone,” said Michael Musto, the Village Voice columnist, whom a reporter encountered on his bicycle on Sunday night on the corner of Seventh Avenue South and Christopher Street. Mr. Musto, widely known for his coverage of celebrity gossip, dismissed the idea as absurd. “On the downtown club scene,” he said, munching on an apple, the two terms are often used as terms of endearment. “We divest any negative implication from the word and toss it around with love.”
Darris James, 31, an architect from Brooklyn who was outside the Duplex, a piano bar in the West Village, on Sunday night was similarly opposed. “Hell, if I can’t say bitch, I wouldn’t be able to call half my friends.””
Dr. Carole Lieberman, told The Grindstone the word bitch has taken on a ‘cooler’ meaning, in the same way that ‘bad girl’ has taken on a cooler meaning.
“Bitch or bad girl means an independent woman who seems to have confidence and chutzpah. She is intimidating. People fear her and want to emulate her at the same time. This woman with attitude is actually hiding insecurities, but on the surface she seems fearless. So people are jealous of her.”
But that is in casual conversation where it is okay to be a little sillier and funnier. But what about in the workplace? Can it ever be construed as positive there?
“I find few are working to make the word B*tch a more positive term, but instead making it as an acceptable persona – as if it is a badge of honor. I would include those shows [GCB and The B__ in Apartment 23] in that group – making light and laughs on a negative, destructive persona – and looking for dramatization of that persona versus addressing it.
In business (corporate and entrepreneurial) women still feel that they have to be a bitch in order to be successful – heck I did until just a few years ago. What needs to happen is for women to learn that they can lead, manage, delegate, influence, and more with their natural traits of nurturing, collaboration, multitasking, organization, etc….. and do not need to succumb to anything negative, destructive, competitive or selfish.
Media and entertainment needs to help us redefine that word as something one should look inwardly…versus projecting it outwardly on others in a destructive way. I am not sure that angle has been considered (though few of us are working to change that.)”
“I don’t think anyone in business would like to be called a “Bitch.” The word does conjure up notions of independence and assertiveness which are good traits. But the negative connotations that go with it are unflattering, particularly when people are recognizing the value of teamwork in business
Hollywood uses the word for shock effect. That’s what Hollywood does. Hooray for assertive women, but let’s find a word that celebrates that without making someone unpleasant.”
So though it may be more ubiquitous in nature now and is often associated with humor or a fierce attitude, you may want to hold off on using the word in your office but, again, it depends on your office. Hamish Bowles, the European editor at large of Vogue, said, “I think it’s a description that is used insouciantly in the fashion industry.“It would only be used in the fashion world with a sense of high irony and camp.”
But the penetration of this word in pop culture shows that words do evolve and can mean completely different things to different people. Erin Matson of the National Organization for Women: “You will find feminists who will be gravely insulted by any use of the word, and you will also find feminists who are happy readers of Bitch, a feminist magazine, who have reclaimed the word for their own purposes. I can picture myself at a local NOW meeting and hearing a wide range of opinions.”
Debra Stang, Writer and Editor, told The Grindstone:
“I’ve always liked Gavin DeBecker’s definition of bitch: “Boys, I’m Taking Charge Here.” I think there are times when “bitch” is used in a humorous, even complimentary fashion. My friends and I sometimes toss the word around that way.
Yet it can also be a weapon used to attack women who come across as too strong or powerful. Fear of being called a bitch still keeps some women from speaking their minds, even when they have a valuable opinion to offer. Because the word still has the power to wound, and because most women tend to view it as a negative, I would not use it in a business setting.”