Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Bitch in Poetry

The Wom-Po listerv, to which I belong, has a discussion going on about the use of the word "bitch" for women. It started with a clip where political commenter talking heads were talking about Hillary Clinton and whether she should be called a "bitch" and when it was or was not appropriate. I think I can link to the whole thread should you wish to read more. But today, I posted this discussion which I think I will share here.

For me, bitch can DEFINITELY be an empowering word but my willingness to see it that way might be a bit of a generational shift, too. I identify as third wave feminist, just as those at the magazine Moira quotes do. So we are women who have grown up with Second Wavers' ideas as a norm, that feminism is kind of "a given" for us, and yet, we have to work through some of the same issues, anyway. (See Merri-Lisa Johnson's Jane Sexes it Up for a very frank discussion of sexuality and body-studies work in Third Wave feminism--it has a cool image of Second Wave as sort of a cool older mentor-type "Aunt Feminism").

Just as a previous poster noted, it IS very much like minority groups of all sorts who reclaim a word and take pride in it. If you as a member of the group use it, there's power in the ownership. If someone else who is outside the group uses it then it is not at all the same. Intent is everything here.

There's a blog online, Bitch PhD that also relates to this issue. I can't find her "declaration" that used to be there... I'm sure I'm just not looking in the right spot. But her banner headline pretty much explains it--picture is worth a 1,000 words, right?. :) and she has a lot of the same rationale as the post from Bitch Magazine that Moira posted.

Let me open yet another can of worms, though. There is a word that very, very few women would ever use for themselves, that has not made it into the empowerment phase of it's life cycle.... it starts with a "c"--- you know the one. (I started to say no one would use it, but then remembered a book titled this, too). There's even apparently, a coloring book-- although it's out of stock. I think of Georgia O'Keefe, and smile.

But Barbara Walker discusses the history of "that word" in the Women's Encyclopedia of Myths and Secrets and it's really interesting how a word can change from sacred to profane.

It, too, was a name of a goddess, the "Yoni of the universe." So, when goddess worship was then destroyed (see the Chalice and the Blade by by Riane Eisler) of course the word became denigrated by the "victors"-- phallocentric, patriarchal religions (not just Christianity, mind you, but one of the first to do so) who stripped religion of any of its female nature as much as possible in order to have full control.

If you look at some words that are from the same root: cunning, ken (knowledge/wisdom), kunda (like kundalini), cradle, you can see how much the word still has power in other forms. Walker says it is "not slang or dialect, but a true language word" (although she's quoting someone, and I am too lazy to look up the footnote, which is not in MLA so I don't have a last name).

Interestingly, and now that I've got the book off my shelf I have to share, Walker also says a bit about bitch. She says it "was one of the most sacred titles of Artemis-Diana, leader of the Scythian hunting-dogs". Many of the incarnations around the world of the goddess show her with hunting dogs or cats, because one of the incarnations of the Goddess IS hunter. (I'm thinking of Hrana Janto's lovely Goddess Oracle,--especially Hecate ).

So, to come full-circle from my first statement: I think a word is hurtful depending on how YOU choose to take the power from it. I remember an anthropology professor who used "dirty" words in class and said "it's a word-- it's up to you how to take it." But it's about power-- if someone who has power over you uses it as a way to hurt you, then it's hurtful. If it's meant to be hurtful, believe me, it's still "fightin' words" for me, too.

But if you refuse to let it hurt you, and say "Damn right, that's what I am" then they no longer have the power over you. In the Madonna song "Human nature" she says "I'm not your bitch"-- and there's a woman who has been called a bitch. But you see, she says she's not "your" bitch. She owns her own bitch-ness. :)

And to finally relate it back to the clip, HRC as a "bitch" and the way the women in that clip were spoken over by the males in the discussion: it was very interesting to me that the men asked their opinions and then spoke over them. It reminded me very much of an argument I once got into about the movie Bladerunner with two men who tried (unsuccessfully) to shout me down. (I argue that the main character date-rapes another-- not a popular argument with the guys who said "he's just trying to FORCE her to realize she loves him...." FORCE being the operative word there....)

In the situation of the undoubtedly well-spoken, powerful women in the clip, I would most likely have spoken more loudly and argued back, but I do find that very few women I know argue the way I do. Most women would prefer to not be in that confrontation (and believe me, I am not madly in love with it when it happens, but I do it if I feel it's necessary). AND, most interestingly, I was labelled in graduate school "arrogant" and "difficult to work with" by a (probably) male professor (I'm not sure it was him-- it's secondhand rumour, but I think it was.) Because I refuse to back down in conversation, and am, yes, sometimes, a bit of a bitch.

So there... I'm a Goddess and that's all there is to it. The Goddess is both positive AND negative, just as most human beings (and actually, most gods) are.