When I first heard the word “bitch” it was a mischievous whisper from one of my neighborhood friends. I was eight at the time, and I was utterly confused about the giggling that ensued from the other girls.
“What’s a bitch?” I asked, which was met by louder, more defined laughter. This was very on-brand for my sheltered self. “Jesse doesn’t know any curse words,” one girl said defiantly.
“Sure I do,” I said. I knew the standards, Jesus Mary and Joseph. But I needed to assert my coolness here. “Crap,” I said, nervously, with my eyes darting to make sure no adults heard me. With my luck, my mom walked in and I was grounded.
Fast forward nearly two decades, and I now have one of the foulest mouths of all my friends. I regularly scream “shit” when I stub my toe (this is often), and “[blank] as fuck” is my most often used simile. I laugh when my more reserved friends use asterisks or other special symbols to spell out curse words, and I love seeing one particular friend fired up enough to say “asshole” instead of “butthead.”
I also refer to myself as a bitch on the regular, as a sort of apology if I’m feeling cranky, or if I know I’m acting out of line. This is a label that I assign to myself, temporarily, and based on circumstances.
This past weekend, I went to my favorite shore bar on the Jersey Shore, The Osprey. For anyone who has not been, The Osprey is a truly magical place equipped with the fountain of youth (endless amounts of beer), unicorns (ridiculously good looking girls in low back body suits), and the sounds of birds of paradise (awesome cover bands that sometimes play The Backstreet Boys).
It’s a casual bar, unlike how the Jersey Shore was portrayed on television. It is mostly normal, cool, young professionals dancing, bonding over summertime, and questioning how one’s feet get so dirty indoors. It can also be a great place to meet someone.
I, however, am not in the business of meeting someone. I went to The Osprey with my husband this weekend to meet up with friends. Obviously we are not single, but we are young and still love to go out. We are comfortable enough with our relationship that we sometimes split up when we go out.
As I was talking to a friend on the dance floor, my husband mingled at the bar. A guy tapped me on my back. I turned around, hoping it would be my husband with a beer or perhaps someone else who recognized me, but it was a stranger. “What’s up,” he said. Realizing this wasn’t someone I knew, I shrugged and said, “nothing much” jovially, before turning back to my friend.
“Bitch,” I heard from behind me as he sauntered past.
I was stunned. I turned around, and perhaps proving his case, I pressed his shoulder. “Excuse me?” I said. “Im a bitch?”
“Yup,” he said coolly.
“And how is that?” I really wanted to push further on this issue.
What makes me a bitch? Surely there are people in the world that might agree, people that I have unknowingly wronged without righting, but this guy has no clue who I am.
Somehow in this foggy room of upbeat tunes, standing in puddles of spilt beer, I was having a revelation about male privilege and female objectification.
His friend grabbed him to keep walking and move on to their next conquest, but I wasn’t done. I flashed my ring in his face and said, “I’m married.”
“Still a bitch,” he said, as his friend successfully pulled him into the depths of the crowd.
Okay, I’m not necessarily proud that I did the ring flash. It’s pretty obnoxious, to be honest. I’m also not implying that because I’m married I will not talk to any new people. In fact, it is quite the opposite! I am always down to get to know someone. My husband is very confident and doesn’t mind, just as I don’t mind if he talks to girls.
My point is that you cannot just tap me on the shoulder and angle your hips towards me with a glossy eye stammering a “what’s up” marred with the scent of too many Bud Lights. I highly doubt you were trying to start an intellectual conversation about whether or not Harambe was rightfully killed, in which case, I might indulge you.
So I’m probably not the girl you want to be investing your efforts in. By acknowledging your question “what’s up” at all, instead of looking at you, seeing your greasy haircut, rolling my eyes and then turning away, I was actually less bitchy. I mean seriously, what is anyone even supposed to say to “what’s up?”
The whole interaction threw me off for the rest of the night. I kept thinking about what made him think he had the right to call me a bitch. How can a man own that word? How can he dole it out to someone he doesn’t know at all? Why is it that any time a girl doesn’t act the way you want her to, she is a bitch? When men do something wrong we have our pick of words–he is a jerk, an ass, a douche, a dick. But there is something inherently female about calling a woman a bitch.
It’s not just a blanket accusation of I don’t like you. It’s I don’t like you and you are a woman.
The word has become so common that we often forget what it means. A female dog. An insult directed at femininity. When a guy calls another guy a bitch, what he really means is you are acting like a woman. When a guy calls a woman a bitch, he is weaponizing the very core of what biologically defines her.
I was reminded of a situation that happened to my sister last weekend. As she was leaving the bar, a man yelled at her from across the street. “Freak! Why are you wearing heels!” My sister is very tall, and possibly intimidating to guys that are shorter than her. However, she is also the most mild-mannered, sweet, and unimposing 6’1 presence you will ever encounter. She was understandably upset, and my heart broke for her. I wished I could have been there to tell this guy off. I probably would have gotten called a bitch, but at least it would have been earned.
What do we, as women out at a bar, owe the men that are there anyway? What do we owe men at all? We don’t exist as a construct for you. Why are we chided for not being your ideal height, weight, or assigned number on your scale of 1-10? Why are we bitches for not dropping everything to talk to you?
Though we may look forward to these nights out, buying new clothes and spending hours doing hair and makeup, that doesn’t necessarily mean we want to talk to you. Maybe we wear heels because they tie our outfit together, and hey, they also makes our butts look hot.
Maybe we look good, because we want to look good, not because we are inviting you to slam your sweaty body against us as Rihanna whimpers in the background. Maybe we just want to dance with our girlfriends. Maybe we want to have a fun night out with our husbands. Why are we bitches if we don’t return your unwanted advances?
So men, I leave you with this advice. If a girl isn’t interested in talking to you, just leave it. Or, I guess, write a blog about it.