I’ve never been comfortable with the word “bitch.”
It’s one of a couple words that are implicitly “female” that gives me an uncomfortable feeling in my gut, that makes me squirm and feel vaguely upset.
I especially don’t like the word “bitch” (or “slut” or “whore” or words much worse than that) when they are used by women to refer to other women.
Culturally speaking, there’s been a societal shift, where “bitch,” “slut,” and “whore” have become terms of female endearment. Or that’s what many who use the words would assert. But using those words implies a dubious polysemy. The decade old movie, Mean Girls, sums this up succinctly: “boo, you whore!” These are words exchanged by people who call one another “friends,” and yet their entire character arc (and the movie’s plot) is based on backstabbing and false friendship. Because of this, the female re-appropriation of “bitch” (et. al.) ultimately has no power, as it’s used as a word to degrade and insult other women.
Bitch Planet, Kelly Sue Deconnick’s new gender and race barrier-breaking comic, released last week. I’m a big fan of Kelly Sue’s, and naturally the title was on my pull list from the moment it was solicited, but I felt this sense of trepidation about the title. I had a concern that “Bitch Planet” would be a name assigned by the female characters, as a sort of tongue-in-cheek reference to themselves.
Instead, Bitch Planet was so much more.
The comic is about women who are deemed “non-compliant” by society for a multitude of reasons (they murdered, stole, or simply got mad at their cheating husbands and made a toothless threat). These noncom women are sent to another planet to serve life sentences for not fitting in. The patriarchy has colloquially deemed this place “Bitch Planet.”
The women don’t call each other “bitches” (at least not in the first issue), and instead of pitting themselves against one another, trying to prove their innocence over someone else’s guilt, they fight the guards, and ultimately the patriarchy, of Earth. They fight for themselves and they fight for each other, implicitly struggling to survive and, hopefully, escape the figurative and literally cages that bind them.
This is the right way to use “bitch” as a literary device, and I hope Deconnick continues the comic in the empowering and clever direction it is headed.
What it ultimately comes down to is: there’s power in a woman re-appropriating the word “cunt” to mean something beyond a brutish insult. But there’s no power in women calling one another names; it looks like Bitch Planet is going to embrace that and be a real mouthpiece about the state of women in society and where the world we live in could be headed if we don’t do something about it.
And that’s pretty bitchin’.