Now there’s a fraught word. Technically, a female dog. More commonly, an epithet lobbed indiscriminately at women and at men who are presumed to allow other men to dominate them. And especially men who”allow” themselves to be dominated by women. Aka bitches. “Make ____ your bitch.” Dominate it, with overtones of rape.
I had it thrown at me today, in fact. I went to enter a restaurant, and if you know me personally, you know I have a couple of small fractures in my right foot (tripped over a dog toy and hit my very solid bed frame with my right pinkie toe with enough force to cause not only the pinkie toe break, but also a “buckle fracture” a couple of inches down. If I was the Burgermeister, Meister Burger from “Santa Claus is Coming to Town,” I would ban all dog toys from the house. That would cause sad dachshunds. Sad dachshunds are destructive dachshunds. They get to keep their toys. However, this is a detour)
and a surgical shoe and a noticeable limp when I walk. (The plus side of this is that the plantar fasciitis in my left foot has said “I’ll shut up now.”)
As I said, I was entering the restaurant and a couple was leaving. I was trying to safely navigate past them and thinking that the man (Nope. Not gentleman. You’re about to find out why) looked like Sam Elliott.
I got a couple of steps past them, and he loudly said, “You’re welcome” over his shoulder. I yelled back, “Thank you!” and then I heard it float back from him.
(The restaurant staff saw this and gave me extra special treatment because – their words – I had “been attacked”)
Not the first time I’ve heard, to be sure. Not the last, certainly. But the widespread use (and yes, I use it myself. I am no angel), I think, points to a thinly-veiled hostility towards women. And the veil is being drawn back.
While I was in law school in Concord, NH (Yes, I graduated and passed the bar in MA. No, I don’t practice), the first time my parents came by to “inspect,” as parents are wont to do, the man who lived next door came out of his house, introduced himself to my father, looked at me, and proceeded to recite a list of how things were supposed to be done. A few weeks later, I was late to a class, and ran out the door. He screamed at me from his door about how I wasn’t supposed to slam my own door. I yelled back and heard, “Geez, I didn’t know you were going to be such a bitch about it.”
Bitch: Woman who does not obey orders from random men.
My mother lamented my unladylike demeanor all of the time our lives ran together, from 1961 to 2013. I didn’t like wearing skirts all the time (Mom, I know you won’t read this because you can’t and I know you wouldn’t believe me anyway, but I didn’t like skirts because I didn’t want anyone looking up them, which happened in second grade). I was and am direct (“You’re just like your father!”). I don’t step back and let the boys go ahead and certainly don’t do so with a pretty smile and “that’s okay.” I’m perfectly content with saying, “No” without frills or apology. And I’m perfectly content to enforce it.
Bitch: Woman who does not act soft and submissive.
“Smile more. Women should smile. You look so much prettier when you smile.”
Bitch: woman who does not smile on command.
“Resting bitch face” is a part of the current lexicon. It implies that even in repose, you must arrange your face to make sure you don’t offend or intimidate men. Even when you are working out a a problem (math or logic) in your head. If you’re familiar with the X Men, Mystique, who is a shape shifter, can make herself look like anyone else, but she has to focus and concentrate. When Mystique is at rest, she is blue with textured skin, golden eyes, and red hair.
The “good” X Men around her prefer her to concentrate.
Mystique would rather not. So, she’s a bad X Man. She’s a bitch.
I have dealt with office Romeos who stroll from desk to desk chatting up their female colleagues who are trying to complete the tasks for which they are paid. It’s the women who get in trouble. I was working in the branch of a financial services company when a scandal erupted at another branch: one of the salesmen had stalked and harassed the customer service representative, even leaving notes on her car AT HER HOME, making late night phone calls and essentially terrorizing her. When she complained, the company moved HER. Nothing happened to him. I got sent to that branch for a day to fill and I protested the assignment. My boss, a woman in her fifties who had come up from the “Mad Men” atmosphere, told me to “Shut up. Maybe you’ll like it.”
I have been with other companies, including one very recently, where women were in mid to upper management and treated the women under them in the chain of command like rented pack mules: unreasonably demanding, forcing excessive unpaid overtime, dumping their assignments downward, communicating mostly with threats, insults, and denying opportunities when those women tried to move on. It’s insecurity run amok and about on par with the sexual harassment and discrimination some men dish out. They create a hostile work environment.
This is a barrel of blue crabs.
If one crab tries to crawl out, the other crabs will pull it back in. Such is the case with some women in the corporate world. Those who have been subjected to the harassment, condescension, discrimination, and diminution for long enough will try to stop those who push back. “Don’t be such a bitch about it.”
Bitch: Woman who stands for her dignity.
We live in a time when fundamentalist Christians with political influence want to undo the progress on women’s from reproductive control (sovereignty over one’s own body), to equal pay, to the right to sue an employer who abides sexual harassment, and, in the middle of the 2016 campaign that stated Trump would lose if only women voted, wanted to undo the 19th Amendment. You know, the one that said women could vote. Yeah. I saw the tweets. They wanted that gone.
Bitch: woman who sees herself as equal to men.
Our current President notoriously talked about forcing himself on women. If women criticize him, he attacks them based on appearance. He’s not the only one. And when I have been attacked for not yielding for not giving pretty smiles and dimples when I’m getting pushed, the inevitable comeback is “Fat, ugly bitch.”
Bitch: woman who will not yield.
Years ago, I would hear “be a lady, be a lady, be a lady.” What I saw was ladies getting pushed aside, treated like dirt, getting their asses swatted by the men doing the pushing, and smiling through it. I know a lot of ladies with substance abuse issues. I got enough beatings growing up to know I don’t like it. I knew, having been raised by strict, forceful father, that I did not want to yield my power, my authority to another tyrant (“I am the man, and what I say goes.” Fuck you, but that’s another word for another post) simply because of an XY chromosome combination. I like fundamental fairness, and that isn’t it.
It is now, 56 years on this Earth, that I finally see these individual acts coalesce and a pattern emerge. Thinking this should have ended in the early 70s when women marched for their rights. We roared, we made ourselves heard, we got some grudging concessions and three women on the Supreme Court. One Christian fundamentalist who believed women should not work outside the home, despite being a lawyer herself (the hypocrisy kills me), killed the Equal Rights Amendment.
Apparently, it was all window dressing.
Because when I was too preoccupied to acknowledge and profess gratitude to a man holding a door (actually for his wife to pass through), I am a bitch. Because I didn’t want a cranky, insufferable old man dictating how I was to conduct myself in my own home, I am a bitch. Because I don’t smile on command, say “No,” mean it, and don’t apologize for it, I am a bitch. Because I won’t get off a leg press because a man (who had been chatting up a woman on the other side of the gym before he came over) wanted it, I am a bitch.
You know what?
You bet your ass I am.