Banning the B word?

The New York Times reports today that the New York City Council is considering a proposal to ban the word bitch. This proposal follows a similar ruling which banned the use of the n-word last February.

The term is hateful and deeply sexist, said Councilwoman Darlene Mealy of Brooklyn, who has introduced a measure against the word, saying it creates “a paradigm of shame and indignity� for all women.

While the article mentions no details about how a ban like this would be enforced (NYPD giving tickets for profanity?) they do talk to quite a few random people on the street to gauge their reactions to such a proposal. Most people interviewed are against the idea, arguing that is a too crucial part of their daily speech–they use it to refer to their friends, spouses, in their stand-up comedy or in their every day.
While I agree with the Councilwoman’s sentiment above, that in many of its uses, the word bitch is derogatory toward women–eradicating its usage isn’t going to solve the larger problem of the word’s sentiment, or the fact that women who are assertive or opinionated are considered bitches. The idea of fighting sexism by regulating our language seems to me like putting a politically correct band-aid over the larger problem we face–mistreatment and disrespect of women.
What do you all think?

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48 Comments

  1. Posted August 7, 2007 at 8:50 am | Permalink

    Didn’t we reclaim bitch?
    They should announce that they’re banning street harassment instead. Impossible, I know, but at least it would be a statement.

  2. SarahMC
    Posted August 7, 2007 at 8:54 am | Permalink

    This is stupid. Banning a word is not going to “cure” misogyny. It’s just a band-aid measure that won’t actually make women safer or less maligned. What a waste of time.

  3. T
    Posted August 7, 2007 at 9:12 am | Permalink

    Just curious why,in an article about how the use of “Bitch” can be harmful to women, is it okay to spell it out? When we talk about the word “Nigger” we have to say and spell it as the “n-word”. Is one more harmful than the other? Do women as whole deserve less respect? Please don’t confuse what I am saying, both words are equally offensive and I am not advocating for the use of either. I have just been in many conversations where we have talked about the use of language and find it is exceptable to say words such as “Bitch”, “Fag”, “Pussy” but when it comes to the “n-word” it is just that, the “n-word”. Just curious why using words that make woman=bad are okay to say?

  4. Posted August 7, 2007 at 9:13 am | Permalink

    I too appreciate the sentiment but wish elected officials at every level would just stop wasting time on symbolic gestures.

  5. BabyPop
    Posted August 7, 2007 at 9:25 am | Permalink

    Banning words? Communist, I say! And, yeah, it is hateful and deeply sexist, just like “nigger” is hateful and deeply racist, but we don’t need the goddamned thought police up in here criminalizing words.

  6. B.D.
    Posted August 7, 2007 at 9:38 am | Permalink

    A rather toothless effort. I suggest the politicians work on something more relevant to their constituent’s lives like funding more women’s shelters or providing more assistance to low income workers or pursuing harassment and rape cases with greater zeal. If said politicians want to spend their “free” time talking about sexism and language, by all means join the conversation and promote dialog. Just leave this nonsense off of the public’s dime.
    Question: Will they force news stands and bookstores to remove Bitch magazine from the shelves? Will they prosecute Joan Collins if she uses the word in an interview?

  7. Kimmy
    Posted August 7, 2007 at 9:40 am | Permalink

    Just as banning the word “rape” in a trial can’t change whether a rape occurred, banning the word “bitch” won’t keep people from thinking of women (and treating them) as bitches. If only changing people and their thought processes was so easy!
    If we could change the motivations and the thought processes behind those kinds of words, I think the words would lose their power anyway. Then you could call someone a bitch and it wouldn’t matter. This, though, is useless and a waste of time.

  8. Posted August 7, 2007 at 9:44 am | Permalink

    Ah, prohibition. It’s why there aren’t any more drugs available on the streets.
    What about ‘bee-aytch’ (also spelled ‘bi-otch’)? Because that’s how I like pronouncing the movie that had Barbara Hershey and Bette Midler in it.

  9. Posted August 7, 2007 at 9:46 am | Permalink

    While I am not a big fan of reshaping language and feminism, I do believe the B word is one that can be used as a word of power, rather than one used by the patriarchy as a misogynistic way of describing a strong, independent woman.
    But then again, that’s just me. Maybe my being a big fan of the “Bitch Manifesto” has something to do with this.
    This piece inspired me. I think I am going to pull out some thing from Feminist Theory class on the word and blog about it the next few days. :)
    Kick-ass site, by the way.

  10. alexmlwallace
    Posted August 7, 2007 at 10:07 am | Permalink

    I think that Councilwoman is a bitch for having the audacity to
    (a) think that banning a word solves anything
    (b) think that it’s even possible to ban a word
    (c) especially a word as ubiquitous as bitch
    (d) and assuming that bitch is only used in a sexist manner (Hint: Wrong)

  11. jeff
    Posted August 7, 2007 at 10:08 am | Permalink

    I agree with the sentiments that this wouldn’t do anything, but I’m a little shocked nobody so far has mentioned that this is clearly grossly unconstitutional.

  12. Posted August 7, 2007 at 10:20 am | Permalink

    Knowing someone is refraining from calling me a bitch because they’re afraid of a ticket rather than my wrath is cold comfort.
    Also, treating the symptoms won’t cure the disease.

  13. Azumanga
    Posted August 7, 2007 at 10:22 am | Permalink

    Maybe on some occasions, some people really do deserve being called a bitch?

  14. werechick
    Posted August 7, 2007 at 10:24 am | Permalink

    Isn’t this about 30 years too late to really be relevent? What about the aforementioned Bitch magazine? And what about the Bitch, Phd?
    While bitch does tend to be used in misogynistic rants, for the most part, it seems to have evolved into a different place now. It’s now the official female equivilent of “asshole.”

  15. itsnotfluff
    Posted August 7, 2007 at 10:29 am | Permalink

    Azumanga,
    What sort of situations come to mind?
    In terms of confrontations and conflicts, when someone throws “bitch” out there, I think it says more about the person who says it than the person whom it’s directed toward. And it ain’t pretty.

  16. SarahMC
    Posted August 7, 2007 at 10:32 am | Permalink

    You’re right, Jeff. Bitch may be a nasty word, but banning it? Where are we?
    Perhaps we should outlaw back-talk in order to “cure” unruly kids.

  17. manifestadestiny
    Posted August 7, 2007 at 10:38 am | Permalink

    I guess I only know what I feel. There is a bridge near my house that had the “n” word spray-painted on it. I called the town, and within a day, it was removed. The same bridge, a year later, had the “b” word on it. I called. I called again. I called a third time and said I would take it off myself if they didn’t do it. A week and a half later, it was removed. It took roughly two months for them to remove it. I know I got the vote last, but come on.
    Of the first instance, I did not want to live in a community that would be hateful to another person. Of the second instance, I did not want to live in a community that would be hateful to me. Am I being selfish, and why do I even have to ask that question?
    Both words were offensive to me. A week earlier, I heard a man shouting the “b” word at someone in a hostile way in front of a Kmart–it echoed in the parking lot–and I felt like I had been assaulted. Is it any consolation for me to remind myself that it wasn’t me he was shouting at? Why should anyone get that kind of treatment?
    I understand that law enforcement isn’t always the way to go, and that our court system is severely flawed. But where can we find justice, or even healing? If this woman wants to do something because she sees a problem, at least she is doing something. At least she is raising awareness.

  18. florafloraflora
    Posted August 7, 2007 at 10:42 am | Permalink

    1) Yeah, they’re way out of date; the word “bitch” in 2007 is less like to mean an obnoxious woman and more likely to mean “chump” or “fool”, for either gender.
    2) They’re putting the cart of good manners before the horse of non-sexist thinking.
    What a waste of time.

  19. SarahMC
    Posted August 7, 2007 at 10:47 am | Permalink

    florafloraflora, people call men bitches to emasculate them, to degrade them to “woman status.” That’s why it’s an effective insult against guys; it’s suggesting they’re a “chump” or “fool,” like a woman. It’s more insulting to women when men are called bitches.

  20. florafloraflora
    Posted August 7, 2007 at 10:50 am | Permalink

    SarahMC, you’re right, it’s problematic that “you’re such a girl” is an insult. I still think outlawing words is stupid because you can’t outlaw the sentiment behind them.

  21. SarahMC
    Posted August 7, 2007 at 10:56 am | Permalink

    Oh absolutely. I just take issue with the notion that “bitch” as an insult has nothing to do with gender. Sure, men are called bitches too, but what that means is, “you’re a woman,” and it’s meant to be an insult. Banning words is not cool though.

  22. SeattleMeg
    Posted August 7, 2007 at 11:02 am | Permalink

    My first thought was, “Won’t that make dog breeding a difficult industry?”
    Then I agreed with others: I don’t like the fact that it’s used negatively for women, but it’s not going to go away just because some city council says “Ew, icky, nobody say it…”
    I would also like to add that I am a Pagan (albeit not Wiccan), and I DESPISE when someone says witch when they mean bitch. It’s even more misogynistic, monotheistic, and childish not to say what they mean.

  23. Azumanga
    Posted August 7, 2007 at 11:10 am | Permalink

    itsnotfluff: Well, about a month ago a teenager pushed me over as (I found out afterwards) they decided I had pushed in front of them in a queue, causing all my shopping to roll off down the street. I called her a “little bitch” at that point, as she laughed at me as I gathered up my shopping.
    OK, it wasn’t a particularly good thing to do, and I’m not saying I’m proud of it, but I really wouldn’t want the word police to have wandered by and decided I deserved fining or arresting for it.

  24. judgesnineteen
    Posted August 7, 2007 at 11:17 am | Permalink

    yeah, I don’t like that idea. First because I think banning a word is wrong in principle, and second because I don’t think it would help. I think it would just give people who don’t get that the word is sexist fodder for griping about feminists.
    The story about how they wouldn’t remove the word bitch is awful, though. But I don’t think this solution for that problem is the right one.

  25. Posted August 7, 2007 at 11:23 am | Permalink

    Well, the way the word is directed at women are still quite insulting in the year 2007; I don’t think it’s a “waste of time” as FloraX3 says. If I here such a word directed at a woman in a misogynistic way at a bar or social situation, I am sure going to confront the word. To say that “a word doesn’t matter” is to brush aside sexism and discrimination. I’ll bet the reaction to the word “nigger” wouldn’t be just to ignore it.

  26. Posted August 7, 2007 at 11:24 am | Permalink

    if you read the whole areticle, you’d see that it’s entirely symbolic – there wouldn’t be any “punishment” or ticketing for using the word.

  27. Posted August 7, 2007 at 11:25 am | Permalink

    Well, the way the word is directed at women are still quite insulting in the year 2007; I don’t think it’s a “waste of time” as FloraX3 says. If I here such a word directed at a woman in a misogynistic way at a bar or social situation, I am sure going to confront the word. To say that “a word doesn’t matter” is to brush aside sexism and discrimination. I’ll bet the reaction to the word “nigger” wouldn’t be just to ignore it.

  28. Posted August 7, 2007 at 11:32 am | Permalink

    While I agree that banning a word may not be very effective and that there’s perhaps better ways to invest time and money that will benefit women in better ways, I also feel compelled to point out that language is a huge indicator of culture and society, and I actually do think that singling out a certain offensive word, and saying “this is not ok anymore” speaks volumes and can in the long-run change the way people think. Language is how we express ourselves. It’s how we get out ideas. Language is powerful. Why else were we so outraged when that judge banned the word “rape” in the trial? B/c words mean something. And if you made it so magically no one could use the word “bitch” anymore, overtime it very well could change the way people think. I’m sorry, maybe it sounds wierd, but from what I know about language and words, it’s not so far-fetched.
    I also find it offensive how many of you are dismissing this word as “not that bad” or just a word to throw around, ignoring that many women do still feel like it is a very offensive word, and that many people do very much use it as a deeply insulting word. Why is it such a horrible thing that someone is actually pointing it out as a word that is (or at least certainly can be) derogatory to women? (The “n-word” isn’t always used as a slur, either, but I think all of us can agree that it’s not a word to be used.) Isn’t that part of what we’re trying to do here, point these things out to people and try to get them to stop doing things that are degrading to us? Recognizing “bitch” as such is the first step.

  29. Posted August 7, 2007 at 11:39 am | Permalink

    I am a humanist sort of feminist, and find freedom of expression to be a feminist value. It pings me as hyprocrytical to support infringing on it…” I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it.” works better for me.
    As for defending yourself against the word, its the same question as defending oneself against other forms of misogyny. Agitate, confront, change. It sounds pat…but creating more ideological damage in the name of self protection has to be weighed carefully.

  30. Posted August 7, 2007 at 11:42 am | Permalink

    Ok, so I just read the article, and yes the ban is purely symbolic– no cops writing tickets for use of this word. Which, in that case, I fully support. I’m sort of appalled at how many people claim to use this word, even using it with their wives? That would not fly with me, no matter how “affectionately” you mean it. You can find other, better words to use with each other.

  31. florafloraflora
    Posted August 7, 2007 at 11:49 am | Permalink

    I also feel compelled to point out that language is a huge indicator of culture and society
    Marcy, I agree that language is an indicator, but I think it’s mostly a one-way street: culture shapes language, not the other way around. I would love it if banning the word “bitch” could bring on enlightenment and a new order in gender relations, but I just can’t see how it would happen.

  32. SunlessNick
    Posted August 7, 2007 at 12:15 pm | Permalink

    I would also like to add that I am a Pagan (albeit not Wiccan), and I DESPISE when someone says witch when they mean bitch. It’s even more misogynistic, monotheistic, and childish not to say what they mean.
    Right there with you SeattleMeg.
    As for “bitch” itself, I don’t feel comfortable with banning words, no matter how good a reason can be presented to.

  33. Posted August 7, 2007 at 12:17 pm | Permalink

    this is a pretty stupid idea. Symbolic bans of language don’t really change anything. Last time I checked, rappers still used nigger and that got buried by the NAACP at their national convention. So, clearly, this doesn’t mean anything.
    Addressing language doesn’t get at key problems. Let’s work on solving those instead of making cosmetic changes like these.

  34. Posted August 7, 2007 at 12:22 pm | Permalink

    Banning the word won’t change the attitude that often lies behind the use of it. If someone hollers “bitch” in the street, that has nothing to do with the word bitch and everything to do with their misogyny.

  35. Posted August 7, 2007 at 12:45 pm | Permalink

    I have to agree that this whole thing seems pretty stupid to me. Banning words? Really? Are we in Elementary School or something?
    Plus, I’ve reclaimed bitch for myself so I think even more strongly that this is a bad idea.
    Also, agree with my fellow pagan sister that when I hear “witch” used that way it cuts deeper than “bitch.”

  36. Posted August 7, 2007 at 12:52 pm | Permalink

    Banning “bitch” won’t work, it’s true. What annoys the hell out of me in this NYTimes article is that the “general public” people who make commentary on whether this would be an effective and useful piece of legislation are men. The women who are interviewed are the woman who initiated this measure in the council and Lakoff, the linguistics professor from Berkeley. We’re going to get their opinions anyway — their statements are a given. Who cares if men from the general populace think it would be ineffective? Who cares if they would lose half their dialogue skills to this possible ban? That pisses me off. Would it be impossible to interview the people — women — who would be affected the most by this ban, who, in fact, are the point of this ban? UGH.

  37. ShifterCat
    Posted August 7, 2007 at 2:22 pm | Permalink

    So, are they also planning to ban “bitchin’”? As in, “Check out my bitchin’ car”?

  38. Mickle
    Posted August 7, 2007 at 2:34 pm | Permalink

    “I just take issue with the notion that “bitch” as an insult has nothing to do with gender. Sure, men are called bitches too, but what that means is, “you’re a woman,” and it’s meant to be an insult. Banning words is not cool though.”
    ditto.
    Plus, one of the problems I’ve run up against in a place where derogatory language is banned (the library I work at) is that it makes it difficult to discuss – with the kids who say stupid things like “fag” and “bitch” – why such language is Not Good.

  39. Erica B
    Posted August 7, 2007 at 2:58 pm | Permalink

    Usage of “bitch” can vary widely, but a critical problem with banning it is that it actually has a meaning of “female dog” (admittedly that usage is much less frequent!) I don’t think there’s any such alternative usage for “the n-word”.
    In terms of making a symbolic statement, though, it could be nice. But that’s really all, just a nice thought. It won’t change anything.

  40. Posted August 7, 2007 at 3:12 pm | Permalink

    Again, it’s not about and shouldn’t about banning language, per se, but the way language is used.
    The best way to combat misogynistic ways of using such words: to reclaim them. Just as love was rejected by the 2nd wave of feminists because it often resulted in patriarchy and misogyny, and then reclaimed to be a feministic value in the 3rd wave, we can do the same with the word “bitch.”
    In the end, outside of politics and policies, language and gender equality and justice might not mean much, but in terms of conciousness raising, it can do a whole lot.
    That’s my penny anyway.

  41. kissmypineapple
    Posted August 7, 2007 at 4:18 pm | Permalink

    I, too, am against banning words, but am appalled (though not really surprised) that there are people who don’t want it banned because that’s the word they use to describe their wives. Wowsers. Our culture’s relationship with women and family is so twisted. We’re all about “family values” but we push wife-hate as though it’s one of them. Gross.

  42. yesthisismymajor
    Posted August 7, 2007 at 4:54 pm | Permalink

    The word “bitch” originally meant a woman who was aggressive and didn’t conform to her assigned gender role (quiet, stays at home, etc). For example, career women were, and still are, often called “bitches” for being tough when women were supposed to be meek. That’s why feminists reclaimed “bitch;” they were asserting that being an empowered and self-assured woman was GOOD. If we ban the word, we submit to the notion that all of that word’s connotations truly DO represent qualities which women should not have. In effect, we continue to devalue female assertiveness.
    The problem with the word has never been the word itself. The problem is that it has been used as an insult, and banning it will only make this problem worse.

  43. Nicole
    Posted August 7, 2007 at 6:47 pm | Permalink

    What happened to the First Amendment? I think this councilwoman is a fascist bitch! I think it’s offensive to indiscriminately refer to the female population as bitches, but some individuals earn the title. This woman certainly has!

  44. VioletStarr
    Posted August 7, 2007 at 7:07 pm | Permalink

    Wouldn’t banning it be somehow more sexist?
    That another word for a woman(derogatory or not) is something that’s banned? what about bastard? I don’t see anyone clamoring to ban that.

  45. Posted August 8, 2007 at 12:23 am | Permalink

    I think one of my favorite magazines would be illegal to talk about.

  46. manifestadestiny
    Posted August 8, 2007 at 8:33 am | Permalink

    I really don’t think the “b” word originally meant a woman who was aggressive and didn’t conform to her assigned gender role; I think that was the name used to put those women back in their places–you’re just a female dog taking a screw from the alpha dog, so stop being so uppity. Regardless of how we feel we’ve “reclaimed” it, as long as it can be utilized by someone to hurt us, it is not in our power. Boys, I’m Taking Charge Here is something you have to school people for them to know about it, and anyway, it’s a bit of a stretch. “Bastard” was meant to insult a person because, once again, there’s something wrong with the mother–basically, she’s a whore. You’re a bastard, you’re a son of a bitch–your mother is ill-reputed. If you care about your mother, you have to defend her; if you feel compelled to distance yourself from her in order to be respectable, you’ll do that.
    When you make someone “your bitch,” you are making them your slave, you can tell them to do things, you can bugger them, and they will roll over and take it willingly–they are usually so stupidly in love with you or scared of you that your will supercedes theirs. I don’t want to be someone’s bitch–do you?
    Right now I might be said to be “bitching.” Has anyone heard a song by the Dude of Life made with Phish called “She’s bitchin’ again”? In one fell swoop he’s made his significant other’s grievances illegitimate with the title “bitchin’” just because he doesn’t want to deal with them. We all know this stuff, but some of you seem to think it’s more important to be free, even if it’s to contribute to your own subjegation.
    Okay, let’s look at it like the “n” word. Black people say it to each other to “reclaim” it (even though I don’t know where they think the violence goes when they use it–please watch this video– http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wD-UpHlB9no ), but they don’t want white people saying it to them. Do we women want to be able to say it to and about each other but not let men say it? I don’t want to say it to women, and I don’t consider a woman a friend who calls me one.

  47. Posted August 10, 2007 at 10:42 am | Permalink

    Etymological point o interest: “son of a bitch” is a direct translation from the Old Norse! I neer kent it been around sae lang. And aye, it comes frae “she-wolf” and neer meant wifie til the 15th century. Een then it had nowt tae dae wi “gallus”.

  48. AlekNovis
    Posted January 2, 2008 at 6:52 am | Permalink

    I didn’t read most of the discussion… and i’m not a native english speaker… but isn’t the word in it’s original meaning a certain animal? That’s how I’ve learned it.
    I thought only some people used it for other meanings, besides it’s primary zoo-logical meaning.

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