Gay men have a “bitch” problem

I’m a huge proponent of the right to self-identification. If feminists wish to identify as “bitches” in order to disrupt the perception that it is wrong to be smart, powerful, and shrewd, so be it.

My problem is with gay guys. We use the word “bitch” way too often and way too freely. For example, “Hurry up, bitch! We’re going to be late.” We mean it as a term of endearment on par with “honey,” “sweetie,” or “sugar.” Other men can be bitches by virtue of their attitudes, actions, or words. We mean it as a gender-neutral designation, free of any misogynistic intent.

The problem is that a word like “bitch” can never be free of its misogynistic intent when used as a sentence modifier.

I’ve had this debate with many of my gay friends when I call out their use of the word. Their responses tend to include phrases like “I didn’t mean it to be sexist, you’re reading too much into it…” or “I’m actually reclaiming the word for women.”

Regardless of conscious intent, calling someone a bitch is basically saying the worst thing to be is a strong female. “Bitch” developed as a putdown, a way for men to write off serious challengers with a vagina. If a woman in corporate America has the same gruff attitude as her male colleagues, she’s a bitch. If a woman refuses a man sex, she’s a bitch. If a woman chooses education over starting a family, she’s a bitch. Because we live in a heterosexist culture, “bitch” will always carry the baggage of being a dehumanizing insult. 

That is not to dispute the serious efforts made to lessen the sting. Some feminists actively pride themselves on being bitches just as some of us pride ourselves on being “queer.” And that is great for us to decide for ourselves.

“Bitch” should not be a word queers throw around with such reckless abandon. We don’t need a permission slip to use the word. The bottom line is that when a gay male calls another person a bitch, we are contributing to our own struggle.

Surviving in a heterosexist culture requires alliances. Feminists are our natural allies. Feminists share the same concerns as gay males for equality of opportunity, employment, fair housing, medical services, adoption, and so on.

Words have consequences. We can shrug our shoulders and laugh about it but as an oppressed minority, we have an obligation to other oppressed minorities. As males, we have authority with other males. If we challenge our heterosexual brothers, fathers, colleagues, and friends on their use of the word “bitch” we force moments of reflection on just what they’re saying and meaning when they call a woman a bitch… a process I believe we need to have as gay males.

Confronting prejudice through language is important. We first have to be mindful of our own words and what message when we are sending. To call a friend a bitch is never value-neutral. It is fraught with sexist intent. You cannot reclaim an insult by using it as an insult.

We have to overcome our language problem if we are going to be good allies to our women friends, mothers, and sisters. If we want the truly self-described, empowered “bitches” to rule, we have to give them the respect they deserve.

Disclaimer: This post was written by a Feministing Community user and does not necessarily reflect the views of any Feministing columnist, editor, or executive director.

I'm a first year Master of Theological Studies candidate at Vanderbilt University Divinity School in Nashville, Tennessee. My research interests are in gender and sexuality; political and social theory; normative ethics; and visual studies. I am especially interested in queer/feminist alliances and the ways in which language constructs reality. I identify as a radical queer so I'm used to getting blank stares at parties. I love cat videos, dark chocolate, and the holy trinity of Judith Butler, Michel Foucault, and Susan Sontag.

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