How The “B” Word Can Still Sting
9:30 am, March 6th | by Laura Donovan
Three summers ago, a French teacher told me through suppressed sobs that the “b” word is the worst thing you could ever call a woman. Though many would say the “c” word tops the list of derogatory descriptions of females, the “b” word isn’t exactly a universal term of endearment.
That said, many have argued that the “b” word, which has tripled in TV show usage over the last decade, is not as offensive as it once was. Referencing the new ABC sitcom “GCB,” which initially stood for “Good Christian Bitches” and evolved into “Good Christian Belles,” The Grindstone editor Meredith Lepore attests in a Monday column that the “b” word may be viewed as a compliment now:
“Because the B word has taken on this almost comical, larger-than-life image it almost makes it less offensive. In fact in 2007 when The New York City Council tried to put an official ban on the word, New Yorkers were furious. They said ‘they were taken aback by the idea of prohibiting a term that they not only use, but do so with relish and affection.’”
The “b” word is used much more liberally these days and has even inspired some spin-off words, but all of this could hardly be considered advancement. Next month, the network will air a new pilot titled “Don’t Trust The B—- in Apartment 23,” which was almost renamed to “Apartment 23.” So why did “GCB” change and not “Don’t Trust The B—- in Apartment 23″? ABC Entertainment Group senior vice president Channing Dungey told USA Today that “GCB” would be hard to sell with the swear word at the end: “It was clear to us out of the gate it would have been very challenging to call it Good Christian Bitches, but what we really liked was the abbreviation GCB. We felt it was catchy, and also eye-catching in terms of marketing.”
Only time will tell the success of those shows and whether the “b” word will have any effect on the upcoming program. It could appeal to those who find the “b” word empowering, like psychiatrist Carole Lieberman, who told The Grindstone:
“Bitch or bad girl means an independent woman who seems to have confidence and chutzpah. She is intimidating. People fear her and want to emulate her at the same time. This woman with attitude is actually hiding insecurities, but on the surface she seems fearless. So people are jealous of her.”
In a nutshell, it has the Miranda Priestley effect. As pointed out by USA Today, feminist publication, Bitch magazine embraces the word. While some would be honored to hold this title, nothing changes the fact that it’s a foul word, and Amy Siskind of women’s group The New Agenda says we’re all capable of coming up with something more creative at the end of the day.
“What, are we running low on words? Let’s try using ‘girlfriend’ as a term of affection and connection – I know we do,” Siskind told The Jane Dough of the women at her organization. “Sister is good too!”
Fear of Flying author Erica Jong told The Jane Dough that its “the intention that makes the word, not the word itself.”
“As long as our culture is sexist, our language will also be,” Jong said. “In my time, I have tried to rehabiitlate and make beautiful the words c–t, p–sy, bitch. But it’s of no use. These words are used as insults against women and you can’t overcome that vile intent. Men insult women to silence us–and often men succeed. Until our society is equal, our language will be full of insults made of female words.”
Mark Grimm of Mark Grimm Communications expressed a similar sentiment to The Grindstone:
“I don’t think anyone in business would like to be called a ‘Bitch.’ The word does conjure up notions of independence and assertiveness which are good traits. But the negative connotations that go with it are unflattering, particularly when people are recognizing the value of teamwork in business operations.”
There’s also more to confidence than exuding surliness, and attaching the “b” word to strength sends the message that women need to be nasty to succeed.