Earlier this year, Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (AOC), our lord and saviour, alleged that her colleague, Republican Ted Yoho had berated her outside the House of Representatives, their workplace, and called her “a fucking bitch”. Ocasio-Cortez made it clear that his words were not “deeply hurtful or piercing”, because visceral contempt towards AOC, and women in general, is not new in a field which is inherently and historically sexist.
Ocasio-Cortez is often criticised for her leftist views, which she has said stem from her marginalisation—as a child of an immigrant, a member of the working class, as a woman. She’s labelled as a progressive politician, urging for progress because she understands what it’s like to live in a world that fights to conserve the status quo; one that sustains a congress in which women only account for a quarter of representatives. The right-leaning status quo that opposes the march to equality and forces a situation in which equality has to be fought for (and isn’t simply given).
Female politicians are often insulted—by the press, the public and their colleagues—in a way that male politicians are not. The word bitch immediately and deliberately discredits women who are brave enough to voice an opinion in a world that constantly reminds us how unimportant and one-dimensional we are. AOC reiterated that she wasn’t profoundly offended by the word or the public accosting, but she felt that to accept violent language towards women would be to accept violence towards women, and that she could not do. Although Ocasio-Cortez is sent to the Capitol to represent her local constituents, the day that she responded to Yoho’s slurs, she made all women feel seen.
When Representative Yoho attacked AOC on the House steps he added to the insult, saying that she was not of sound mind and that she was dangerous. Which got me thinking, what does one actually mean when they call someone a bitch? In Yoho’s case I think that “bitch” is synonymous to “threat”, because the power AOC has to propel change in congress, and the weight that her opinion holds, scares him. Is she dangerous because she’s crazy or is she dangerous because she’s powerful? And if it’s the latter, can you think of a time when a powerful man has ever been referred to as a bitch? No, because powerful men are called leaders.
The word, which once harmlessly referred to a female dog, has evolved into a slur that’s now just a stand-in for “woman”, with “bitch” being everywhere in pop culture. In ’99 Problems’ Jay Z uses it to refer to women in general, whereas Kanye West uses it to describe a woman of lesser value in ‘Bound 2’ by suggesting, “one good girl is worth a thousand bitches”. Tyler, The Creator’s ‘Bitch Suck Dick’ objectifies women in a similar way. Women have since tried to reclaim the word, with Lil Kim’s ‘Queen Bitch’, Britney Spears’ ‘Work Bitch’ and Nicki Minaj’s ‘Baddest Bitch’ celebrating the unapologetic nature of difficult and disagreeable women. In 1995 Madonna accepted the term as a badge of honour, stating, “I’m tough, ambitious, and I know exactly what I want. If that makes me a bitch, OK.”
But this begs the question: is “bitch” even a word that women want to rebrand and claim as our own? To noramlise the word further, and to use it as a term of endearment for our female counterparts, invites men to use it too. This makes it harder to see links between the word and patriarchy, desensitising us to the harm and hatred at its core. The word is yet to be rehabilitated as something entirely positive and its meaning changes depending on who’s using it, but ultimately the word is a form of linguistic violence that operates to belittle its subject.
If one thing in life is certain, it’s that all women will be called a bitch at one point or another. But remember, often when people criticise us they’re projecting their own insecurities: if someone criticises you for being too much it’s because they don’t feel enough, they see themselves as lacking, and they’ll lazily rely on a slur to take you down a peg. The word “bitch” has a sense of finality to it and using it signals the end of a conversation, as if there’s nothing left to be argued. It seems to say: she’s a bitch so her existence is invalid.
So the next time someone calls you a bitch, ask yourself: what are they really trying to say? Because to discredit a woman for simply having an opinion is nothing more than a manifestation of small dick energy. Looking at you, Congressman Yoho.
Lead image via Rachel Joanis.