The “B” Word

This is a 1990 piece by Judith Stone from Glamour magazine. I liked it enough to give it a place on my personal website in the mid-90s, and it turned out to be one of the most popular pages on the site.  To this day, it still gets a huge number of hits on the site.

I thought it was worth giving a home here, as well.  Obviously, this is a copyrighted work reproduced without permission.  If Judith Stone, her representatives or anyone from Glamour object, I’ll remove it of course.

Why are you being such a Bitch?

SOME DAY A LOVER OR male colleague will ask you, perhaps quite publicly at the office, perhaps privately in the boudoir, why you’re being such a bitch. You’ll need to have some responses ready.

Let’s save the wrong answer, the one with which I personally am most familiar, for last. Here are several good options, reflecting a variety of philosophies. By all means add your own. Collect them, trade them with your friends, redeem them for valuable prizes like self-respect and peace of mind.

The question: “Why are you being such a bitch?”

Possible response #1: “That depends on what you mean by being a bitch. Do you mean, why aren’t I doing everything your way without a fuss? Because I disagree with you. Do you mean why am I disagreeing with you? Because I think you’re wrong. Do you mean why am I behaving like an equal or even an adversary and not in a quiet and self-effacing manner? Because I am your equal and sometimes your adversary. Do you mean why am I not being nurturing and supportive at this moment? Because I’m pissed off.”

Possible response #2: “If I fetched your slippers, had your puppies and rolled over and played dead, then I’d be a bitch. What I am now is an enraged woman.”

By the way: What’s the male equivalent of bitch, denoting dog, connoting shrew and hinting at hormonal imbalance? Son of a bitch is a possible correlate; the big difference is that it can be said admiringly—”you smart SOB,” “you lucky SOB”—while bitch cannot. A cur is base or cowardly, not spiteful or shrewish. And come to think of it, why is shrewishness a female trait? We all know there are mean-mouthed, spiteful and domineering men, yet they are usually called not shrew but CEO.

Possible response #3: “If being a bitch means standing up for yourself in a forceful way, why wouldn’t I want to be a bitch?”

Possible response #4: “I guess I do get sort of whiny and critical when I should be launching a good, honest fight. But in this relationship I haven’t found a way to express anger straightforwardly without getting more grief than I can handle. Like many women I was raised to believe that my anger is unacceptable, unjustifiable and unattractive, and that’s hard to get over. Buster.”

Possible response #5: “Because you’re being such a bastard.”

Now we’re ready for a variation. Suppose you`re faced not with a question but a statement: “You’re being a bitch!”

Possible response #6: “Yeah. So?”

Own the word bitch and you detoxify it. Cheerfully accept the epithet as if it were an award of merit; assert your right to have the same angry or even irrationally irritable moments anyone else has, and you’ll catch your accuser off guard. At the very least, he’ll have to think about what he really means by bitch.

Generally, the word is used to win arguments, keep the upper hand or defend a weak position. Brandishing “bitch” is supposed to make you back off, get it? Focus shifts from the subject at hand to your alleged personal deficiencies. He calls you a bitch knowing you’ll take it personally, worry that you’re turning into Lady Macbeth, fold up and offer…

The wrong response: “Do I sound like a bitch? I don’t mean to. I guess I’m on edge; I’ve got a lot on my mind. I’m sorry. I hope you don’t think I’m mad or anything. I was just trying to make the point that…

I’m not advocating, for either sex, ruthlessness or gratuitous meanness. Neither men nor women should get away with wanton infliction of pain; no one should sling insults just to watch people shrivel like salted slugs. But both men and women are allowed to get angry, take a stand, even have bad days when they’re snappish and grumpy (after which an apology may be called for).

Look, he wants his way, you want yours. Does that make either of you a bitch? Mostly men use the rhymes-with-rich word to mean “she who behaves in a way I wish she wouldn’t.” What’s so scary about that?

by Judith Stone —Glamour, June 1990

5 responses to “The “B” Word

  • Lady from Manila

    I chanced upon this post on your Top Posts and Pages last week. There was no date so it took me almost an hour searching for it this weekend in your Index, SB, and BB files. Thank you for reminding me of this wonderful (Raves) section on your blog where this article resides.

    The term may not be as pejorative as it used to be – but still, I’ll pass touching on the subject of women being bitches to one another. Maybe you already have an idea how savage it can get. All my life, I’ve done my best refusing to take part in bitchy circumstances with my fellow gender (ok, maybe I’ve been a bitch at certain times in my life) though I myself until now keep on getting surprised how almost all women can be very good at this “art” – in various degrees – whether it be inside the office or out in a marketplace.
    Could it have always been a latent quality in us? 🙂

    Anyway, what I came here for is to ask your opinion if men indeed fancy this quality in women. You see, “Why Men Love Bitches” by Sherry Argov was an international bestseller that takes on the unique perspective men prefer strong, feisty women over the submissive or “too nice” ones. It’s a unique perspective that may have a little truth in it – but on the whole, I have misgivings about the book and the author’s claim that men don’t go for the “yes woman.” My observation is just different.

    Have a fantastic week ahead, WS.

    • Wyrd Smythe

      I’ve heard many stories about how women treat each other in the business place and elsewhere. I’ve wondered if it’s due to a perception of a scarce resource or something basic in personality or perhaps is due to lack of competitive sports early in life leading to an inability to compete in a “fair” sense.

      It does seem as if men are more prone to understand that, in war, there is always an “after” so it might not be a good idea to completely nuke the countryside, since you may be the one that has to clean up after. Or try to make use of bridges and roads that used to be there. Or just try to have decent relations with that country after the war. Men learn to compete hard on the playing field, but then set it aside and go out for beers afterwards, ’cause it was all in good fun no matter how intense the competition might have been on the field.

      Women, it seems (as a general view), seem more prone to the idea that, ‘Well, if war is required, let’s go all the way and play for keeps.’ In some ancient society, enemies were given to the women… and that was a pretty horrible fate.

      To the extent that the cat/dog metaphor for women/men is valid (and I think it does point out certain differences), think about how dogs and cats differ in terms of hunting and prey. Dogs hunt in packs for food and bring down their prey as quickly as possible and eat it. Cats… cats hunt alone and like to torture their food. Vicious, feral creatures, cats.

      Which, when you come down to it, makes “bitch” rather an odd word for a woman.

      But “panther” is already taken by a completely different concept.

      And, ironically, we use “pussy” to mean a wimpy type (as in pussy cat); a kitten.

      Quite the tangled word web we’ve weaved!

    • Wyrd Smythe

      Oops, sorry, went off on a tangent and didn’t answer your question.

      I can’t speak for other men. It’s pretty clear my tastes in women aren’t typical. I definitely prefer strong and feisty women, even difficult women. They need a good deal of grit to be around me, so no wilting flowers need apply. Submissive women bore me. The “too nice” ones are usually so shocked and horrified once they get to know me (and have fled screaming) that they’re not an issue.

      Very seriously, I believe that people of character don’t see much value in “yes people” of any stripe. People of character value those with their own minds.

      • Lady from Manila

        Although we are a lot less dangerous than men, I hold the opinion women are more complex beings compared to men in view of the bitchiness factor – and our high emotional quotient.

        You prefer difficult women? But I kind of subscribe to the notion that opposites attract. For instance: If you have a strong personality, imagine what could ensue in times of heavy disputes between you and your feisty woman (ok, so it’s assumed it makes for sensational intimacy in bed ;-)).

        After your last comment, I began to wonder what your wife was like. One thing definitely ran through my mind: She must be a very intelligent lady. Am I right?

        Enjoy your break, dear WS. Take care.

      • Wyrd Smythe

        It might be due to having been born in New York City, but to me “loud” is completely separate from “loving.” That is, good, successful (i.e. “loving”) relationships can be loud or quiet without changing the “loving” part. (Loud relationships, of course, require that both parties be loud.)

        Opposites do attract to some extent. Totally opposites only attract with magnets and electricity. People who are truly total opposites rarely work (except maybe in the movies). I do think some relationships are built by people with tons in common… those relationships are often very successful, but maybe a little dull. Unsurprising, at least. The thing about differences is that they bring something new into a relationship. I’ve benefited from learning about the interests of my past lovers, and I know I’ve added to their lives as well. (My ex-wife was opposed to dogs, beer and steak when we married… now (bitter irony) she loves all three.)

        It is true that relationships between two strong parties can be volatile. Conventional wisdom is that only one person can occupy a given peak in the emotional landscape. If one tends towards emotionalism, the other is almost forced to a more logical peak just to balance things out. That was the case in my marriage… I had to put my own emotions on hold, because my wife was so free with hers. That was a significant point of conflict, her inability to shift roles and compromise. (And, yes, conflict and high emotion can definitely make the sex more intense.)

        My ex- is quite intelligent and educated, yes. She runs the Registrar’s Office for a local college. She’s also a bit narrow-minded and rule-bound, which was a key source of conflict for us. My “Breaking the (Art) Rules” post was subtly directed at her memory… and explanation of one of our core conflicts, since I tend to view other peoples’ rules as suggestions. (My own are much more inflexible!)

        Let’s see,… you’re off to a week’s work, aren’t you. Well, have a good week, dear Marj.

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