The B-Word

I encourage you to watch this music video, “Bitch Bad” by Lupe Fiasco, and think about the meaning of “bitch” (and similar words) in society today. Like those other “four-letter words,” we throw it around so often that it ceases to have any real meaning or shock value and becomes mainly used as a placeholder when another word would often be more accurate.

There are those who label themselves “bitch,” as something of a badge of honor. In some segments of society, to be a “bad bitch,” is a good thing. It shows toughness and a “don’t mess with me” attitude. Women use it to empower themselves, but not necessarily each other, as, conversely, they use “bitch” to talk down about other women whose actions they do not approve of.

“Slut” is used the same way. I know girls who joke around and call each other “sluts” and “skanks” for the fun of it, but when they talk about other girls they do not like, they use “slut” in a more derogatory way. I could discuss the concept of “slut-shaming,” but that’s an entire blog post in itself.

They’re “just words.” That part is true. But words hurt, words heal, and words influence. In Lupe Fiasco’s song, he talks about how “bitch” is perceived differently by young boys and young girls; how young girls aspire to become “bad bitches,” in order to attract the attention of young men, who may in fact want a woman who respects herself.

In a post I wrote a few weeks ago, I said that musicians have a great power to influence. There may not be much profound meaning in modern music (and that is a shame), but I think the message of this particular song is well worth listening to and thinking about.

6 thoughts on “The B-Word

  1. That is a very good point, that even if girls try to use the words as a badge of honor about themselves, they still use them as a negative when talking about other girls. I’d never thought about that before.

    I know it’s popular these days to think that those negative words (the racial ones, too) can be turned around into something positive. I don’t think language works that way. Whether you’re some rap group or the Chicago Manual of Style or Humpty Dumpty, you can’t just decide what words mean. Meanings change over time, of course, but that process is slow and it doesn’t just happen because you want it to.

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    1. Right. It’s impossible for one individual, or a few, to change language. Language changes because an entire culture uses words in different ways over time.

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      1. That being said, I’ve never been all that crazy about “lady,” either. It can be a way of grading women against a standard (is she enough of a lady? is she “ladylike”?).

        My ex-wife doesn’t have a lot of “ladylike” qualities.

        She’s a drummer, and a black belt in karate. She has been known to employ fists in conversations where most women wouldn’t (not to really hurt but to make a point). She has had a lot of outdoor jobs that require physical effort, and she is comfortable using strong language. All of which is absolutely fine, but not very “ladylike.”

        She tried high heels once and fell down a flight of stairs, so she sticks to sneakers.

        So, better than “lady,” I tend to like “woman.” Or “person.” 🙂

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        1. I don’t consider myself much of a “lady” either; I can’t stand high heels, makeup, what’s considered “fashion” nowadays, etc., and when I hear the word “lady,” I always think of the stereotypical Victorian ladies.

          So yes, “person” is a perfectly fine label. 🙂

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  2. Linguistics is such a sticky wicket . . . it’s amazing that we are able to communicate in writing at all with all the different meanings for a single word, without the inflections to help us catch the drift.

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