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Guest Post: Bitch? Please.

Television
by Emilie Spiegel
March 29, 2012 10:45 AM
6 Comments
  • |

I couldn’t sleep the other night so I decided to get into the new ABC series Don’t Trust the B---- in Apartment 23 (It had been pre-released online in advance on its April 11th network premiere). When that was over, I started on the new Texas housewife comedy GCB. By the time I’d gotten through both series’ pilots, I still couldn’t nod off, only now I was up because I was good and mad.

Though we’re told GCB could stand for “Good Christian Belles” as well as “Good Christian Bitches,” the fact remains the same that the show draws most of its comedy and plot development from grown women treating each other horribly.  Don’t Trust… similarly centers on a selfish, duplicitous woman who thrives on taking advantage of other females and sexually manipulating all-too willing men.

I actually find both shows pretty well done, and amply buoyed by the performances of great female comedians (GCB’s Kristin Chenoweth and Don’t Trust’s Krysten Ritter.)  My issue here is less with the quality of the shows than with what their existence suggests about the way we talk about women, and the kinds of behaviors we accept-- and expect.

When did it become this acceptable to call women “bitches?” And no, don’t blame Meredith Brooks—she was reappropriating the word, not using it to revel in the spectacle of women treating each other badly. And why is it so funny/enjoyable/acceptable to watch women try to destroy each other? Do we, on some level, buy into that sexist bullshit that women are always inherently in competition for male attention? Or is it that we recognize there are only so many opportunities for women out there, and so decide that we all have to fight each other to get at them?

I’m reminded of Tina Fey’s awesome speech in Mean Girls, when she advises her students “You have got to stop calling each other ‘sluts” and ‘whores.’ It just makes it ok for guys to call you ‘sluts’ and ‘whores’.” Maybe let’s apply that lesson to the word “bitch” and the behaviors it connotes. Backstabbing and devaluing each other as women only makes it easier for men to do the same, so if we’re going to watch these shows, let’s remind ourselves that funny as they are, women treating each other like this is actually pretty tragic.

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Emilie Spiegel is a grad student, studying the effects of Media Cultures on young women. She starts a PhD program in September.

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6 Comments

  • Karen | March 29, 2012 2:37 PMReply

    I came upon your article after searching "name calling bitch." I am a 35 year old woman who has been called "bitch" twice by perfect strangers in the past 2 weeks. First by a man who rolled down his car window next to me in traffic and asked, "Bitch, Can I cut in front of you so I can make a left?" WHAT?!? Over my dead body. The second from a girl who spotted a posted picture of a mutal friend and I on Facebook. She commented, "Who's the bitch?" That "bitch" is me...and I'm anything but. I don't get it. I do not accept it and I really hope this doesn't become as commonplace as I think it's is about to become. Thank you for your commentary.

  • stephanie rosenfeld | March 29, 2012 12:06 PMReply

    In answer to "when did it become acceptable to call women bitches"? I think: When rap music introduced the term into popular culture, and it became cool, and a generation of young women who largely don't even think about feminism or recognize their own collusion in the culture's widespread disrespect of women popularized its use. (I'm not bashing these women -- I have a 23-year-old daughter who identifies as a feminist, but many of her friends actually believe feminism is obsolete IF they think about it at all.) Then, I think the use of "bitch" as friendly "girl-talk" filtered up to the later adopters -- like older women, the whole "talk-show-empowered go-girl culture." I try to have this discussion ("Let's really think about what we are doing when we call each other "bitch" -- or send the message to kids, teenage boys, men, etc., that it's just fine to call us bitches") whenever it comes up, and 99% of the time it seems like the people (women included) doing it haven't even thought about it at all. Or, think I'm a bitch -- and not the fun kind.

  • MT | April 8, 2012 11:18 PM

    I do understand and wholly agree that we shouldn't be using the word bitch to describe any woman. But we can't blame RAP music for that. People were freely using the word bitch way before Rap popularized it in the 80s

  • grrljock | March 29, 2012 2:51 PM

    I have the same perception as you, Stephanie. I hate this word and hate the fact that younger people use it as friendly girl-talk. Ugh. It. Is. Not. Cool. At. All.

  • Max | March 29, 2012 11:39 AMReply

    "And why is it so funny/enjoyable/acceptable to watch women try to destroy each other?"

    Not to be coy, but isn't it equally weird (or not weird) that we enjoy watching men destroy each other? Which is the premise for roughly 90% of all drama produced.

  • Emilie | March 29, 2012 12:45 PM

    But drama implies tragedy and weightiness. Comedy implies frivolity. As though there weren't horrible stakes

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