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Bitch, please!: The Intertwining of Profanity and Emasculation
Mr. Trevor Noah
c/o The Daily Social Distancing Show
Dear Mr. Noah,
Love you, love your show! Long time watcher, first time writer.
I have noticed lately that you often refer to men as “bitch” and “little bitch”, and sometimes you call someone imaginary “bitch” to the side camera. You tend to use this term for men whom, I would agree, deserve a strong insult. You do not seem to call women bitches, unless this side camera audience includes women, which it does not seem to.
However, with the historical usage of the word bitch to describe women in general, you are essentially insulting men by calling them women – I trust this is not what you intend to do. I would hope you do not insult men by calling them women. Woman is not an insult. Bitch, however, is an insult synonymous with women. Therefore, when you call a man a bitch, no matter what kind of right-wing piece of shit he may be, you are insulting women.
I will sum up the history of bitch thusly: female dog - female insult - synonymous with female - prison term for a subordinate or un-consenting boyfriend – gay men calling each other “bitch” both as an insult and a term of endearment - attempted reclamation by women (“my bitches” meaning “my friends”) – women are bitches and men can be bitches now, too.
Notwithstanding a lifetime of Hugh Hefner’s problematic exploitation of women, when challenged on Twitter to explain how he got all the bitches, Hefner tweeted back, “I have a lot of girlfriends because I don’t call them bitches. A little respect goes a long way.”
Indeed, Hef, indeed.
Calling a man bitch is not new. In 1991, none other than the indomitable Ice-T, in his song “Bitches 2” on Original Gangster, rapped:
“So ladies, we ain’t just talkin bout you, cause some of you n****s is bitches too.”
In this song, Ice-T explains situations where men he knows have acted in sneaky, underhanded ways such as to amount to being “bitches”. He says “you ain’t nothing but a bitch… n***a” and laments for each man “How’d he go out? He went out like a bitch.” The “going out” refers, I believe, to getting beat up or killed for transgressive, bitch-like actions.
Calling a man a bitch, by Ice-T’s standard, is a substantial affront. Repurposing bitch to mean men does not lessen the insult when women are being called bitches. Attempts by women to reclaim the word by calling each other bitches both lovingly and as an insult, I fear, have been nominally successful at best.
Calling a man “bitch” is loaded with misogyny, the hatred of women. But it is also aimed squarely at a man’s masculinity. It is the adult version of “you throw like a girl”, or “you fight like a girl” wherein doing anything “like a girl” is considered substandard to what a boy can do. These have been the worst type of insults one can throw at a boy. Boys are constantly being inundated with messages that women are inferior and these insults add to the understanding that anything feminine is a threat to masculinity.
I would like to add a side note regarding “son of a bitch”. This is the bitch derivative wherein your mother is such a bitch that you are worthy of insult merely by being her son. This is a male-targeted insult, but of course it goes back to the misogyny of insulting one’s momma. (Don’t get me started on “Yo Momma” jokes!)
Misogyny is everywhere, women are called bitches just for living our lives, for rejecting unwanted sexual advances, for standing up for ourselves in the workplace, for earning promotions where we supervise men, and for running for office. We are called “that bitch” for standing up for our children and demanding child support. The word has not been successfully reclaimed.
Take from this what you will. There are more creative insults out there and I know you have a very creative imagination — I read your book.