Words as a source of both power and empowerment: Part II, Pondering usage of “bitch” in feminist circles and lacking gender neutral pronouns

by Kat


“When it’s being used as an insult, ‘bitch’ is an epithet hurled at women who speak their minds, who have opinions and don’t shy away from expressing them, and who don’t sit by and smile uncomfortably if they’re bothered or offended. If being an outspoken woman means being a bitch, we’ll take that as a compliment.” ~ bitchmagazine.org/about-us

So I’ve been reading Bitch Magazine since undergrad and found their naming conundrum, as described in the caption, completely fascinating. To identify as a “bitch” is to call oneself an empowered woman who doesn’t apologize for taking up space in a conversation, but at the same time, the term has a lot of baggage. “Bitch” is a word that patriarchal power structures have used to tear down women, but feminists are reappropriating the term. It’s okay to be a bitch. I remember first purchasing the knitting book, Stitch and Bitch, and wondering how I felt about this term featured on the front covered. It was around that same time, sophomore year of college, that my inner feminist was beginning to awaken. Knowing words like “consciousness-raising” and “patriarchy” helped enhance my understanding of the women’s movement(s).

More recently, I’ve noticed how even in my relatively progressive church, using masculine language when referring to God is pretty common. These references feel limiting somehow, as if church is just one more place where kyriarchal (1) structures appear. When I was first looking for a church, I found one that, although it wasn’t as good a fit as my current place of worship, used gender-neutral language across the service. I’ve attempted to carry this tradition with me as I participate in my current church, so I refer to God the parent (not father) and rarely use masculine pronouns when referring to the divine.

It’s interesting how we as a society have had trouble establishing  gender neutral pronouns (2). There’s not really an easy answer to this either: I personally use the “Ze/Hir and its derivatives” invented pronouns when I remember to do so (3 — See table) because it’s one of the easier ones to which to adapt modern language. But that’s a personal choice; I’ve also seen they used as both a singular and plural options when referring to people, and I wonder if that system could work as well.

Through these observations, both in pondering the usage of bitch in feminist circles and our the continued absence of a widely used gender neutral pronoun, I’m reminded of how written and spoken language influences the lives of women. I feel similarly about Rudy Simone’s coining of the term “Aspergirl” (4). It’s a portmanteau: Aspergers + girl = Aspergirl. I love how she said that Aspergirl sounded like a superhero, instead of a person with a neurodevelopmental condition — sounds way less clinically than Asperger syndrome.

I like when communities such as the Aspergirls create and own their own words. It’s empowering to label yourself, before someone else provides a stigmatizing term for your ways of being. So dear readers, what do you think about this issue?

  1. http://www.deeplyproblematic.com/2010/08/why-i-use-that-word-that-i-use.html
  2. http://www.theawl.com/2011/01/our-desperate-250-year-long-search-for-a-gender-neutral-pronoun
  3. http://genderneutralpronoun.wordpress.com/tag/ze-and-zir/
  4. Simone, Rudy. Aspergirls: Empowering females with Asperger syndrome.