Reclaiming the Word: “Bitch, please”

Tracking the etymology of “bitch” from mythology to pop culture

How the slang term "bitch" has evolved over time.

The slang term “bitch” is a staple of today’s vernacular, especially for members of Gen-Z. We use it as both a term of endearment and as a derogatory remark; “Bitch, I love you,” and “god, you are acting like such a bitch,” have wildly different connotations despite their rhetorical similarities.

While the word is as versatile as it is popular, “bitch” historically served to undermine the power of women.

“Bitch” originated in Ancient Greek mythology with Artemis, the goddess of chastity, the moon, and hunting, who travelled with a pack of dogs. Threatened by her power, men compared the goddess to her companion dogs, her “bitches,” as an attempt to disempower her.

Today, the Oxford English Dictionary (OED) defines “bitch” as both a female dog and a derogatory description of a lewd or sensual woman. Negative connotations make a not-so subtle appearance in the verb “bitching,” which the OED defines as being “spiteful, malicious, or unfair [...] to deceive (in sexual matters).”

Calling a woman a bitch in both its traditional and modern usage connotes undertones of untrustworthiness, inferiority, and promiscuity.

If you’re still confused as to why “bitch” has sexist roots, consider the immediate emasculating and degrading effect of using the word to describe a man. Why? Because by calling your friend “a little bitch,” you’re suggesting that he is being weak and—dare I say it—feminine.

In the 2016 American presidential election, many Trump supporters framed opponent Hillary Clinton as ‘The Bitch’ in an attempt to challenge her popularity, professional status, and her legitimacy as a candidate.

Many saw this derogatory usage as an opportunity to shift the meaning of the word. In a 2016 New York Times opinion piece entitled “The Bitch That America Needs,” Andi Zeisler reframes Clinton’s “bitch” nickname into a “bad bitch” mentality, highlighting her inspiring and revolutionary progress and actions on behalf of women.

The term’s etymological shift is emblematic of a larger pattern where members of marginalized communities have begun to reclaim the derogatory slang used to put them down, subtly challenging hierarchical patterns through language.

Understanding the term’s distinctly patriarchal and sexist connotations allows us to err with caution in our ever-growing use of the word “bitch.” We should have the right to call our friends “bitches” as a form of endearment—if our friends are comfortable with that and understand the word’s redefined connotations. 

“Bitch” has some serious etymological baggage; however, many women today have reclaimed the term as a big ‘fuck you’ to the patriarchy. Women have earned our right to the word “bitch,” and we should be able to use it as we please.

Is it only acceptable for women to call other women bitches? Where do genderfluid, nonbinary, and transitioning folks land in this unspoken, linguistic cluster? There’s no single right answer to these questions, but before you start throwing the term around, reflect on your own gender identity and those you are speaking to.


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