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Is ‘bitch’ specifically offensive to women?

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On Friday 20th October, Labour MP Clive Lewis used the phrase ‘Get on your knees, bitch!’ at a Labour Party Fringe Conference, directed at the male actor, Sam Swann, leading to outrage. Fellow Labour MP Stella Creasy condemned Lewis’s words as it ‘reinforces menace that men have the physical power to force compliance’. Are views like this a hyper-feminist overreaction to ‘a joke’?

Others were angry simply over the use of “the B-word” by a politician. To these people, it would appear that the word has lost its misogynistic undertones and become gender neutral. But there is no getting away from the fact that it denotes a power relationship where the ‘bitch’, male or female, is somehow submissive and deserves to be put down.

In our society, use of the word ‘bitch’ is justified to shame and subdue someone who is catty, shallow, jealous, vain and hyper-emotional. We all know the origins of the word bitch, meaning female dog. You only need to look a little deeper to see that historically, the traits described were almost exclusively feminine.

Are views like this a hyper-feminist overreaction to ‘a joke’?

Rebellious, or perhaps just strong, women were labelled as ‘hysterical’ to condemn women beginning to think with their own mind. A man is not ‘catty’, he is strong-willed and determined. The Clive Lewis case may show that it is now acceptable to call a man a bitch, but it is still not possible to do so without referring to problematic patriarchal structures and reinforcing why feminism still isn’t truly a mainstream ideology.

Women do not support other women and hordes of girls (and boys) of all ages are using the word against one another and reinforcing the idea that ‘nice’ girls are meek, and other girls are ‘bitches’. Neither trait is negative; we are obliviously holding one another back and allowing each other to be limited. Women are expected to be, and accepted as being ‘bitchy’, stabbing other girls in the back rather than building each other up.

Yes, a man can be bitchy and can bitch about others. They can have the traits of a bitch but most would hesitate before actually calling one a ‘bitch’ unless as a joke to ironically enforce coercion. Lewis’s comment was a joke, and to many even questioning it is extreme and unnecessary. But it certainly calls into question the conflicted ethics of today’s mainstream politics – this comes not long after Labour launched their investigation into sexual harassment and assault.

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